Lessons from the Future: Part III
by Edder Zarate
This four-part series imagines the possible scenario of a future war between Russians and Western forces. In Part I, these hypothetical events are written in the form of journal entries in a nonlinear timeline, similar to the style of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Parts II and III consist of an analysis of the imagined war while Part IV explains the importance of war preparedness and offers policy recommendations. Each section of this series will be published the subsequent week.
Part III: Analysis (Continued)
Strategic Routes of Invasion: Bulgaria and Romania
In war, three key strategic decisions that generals must decide on are: 1) from where to launch attacks, 2) from where to better defend, and 3) to determine the number of troops to involve. In case of a conventional war with Russia, which appears likely due to recent events (Kerch Strait crisis and war games in Siberia and Norway), the key battlegrounds where armies would meet face-to-face and with full force would be in Belarus and Ukraine. Belarus and Ukraine have vast plains that facilitate the movement of troops across those lands, making a Western invasion of Russia, or vice versa, easy, so to speak. At the same time, however, it is difficult to defend because it has no significant physical geographical barriers. Thus, both Western forces and Russian forces can go back and forth in making gains because holding lines is practically impossible. Knowing this, and assuming that Russia has the initial disadvantages, one must ask how Russia can reduce the burden of losing soldiers and territory in this battleground when Western forces are gaining? One way of doing so is to divert Western forces from this battleground. Russia can accomplish this by launching a southern invasion into Central Europe via Bulgaria and Romania. This would force southern flanks of Western forces fighting in Ukraine to deviate from the main battleground, thus easing things for Russia.
Knowing that this possibility of diverting forces from the main battleground exists for Russia, the new set of questions become: would Russia consider it? If so, under what circumstances? For Russia to consider this option, circumstances must be in place that would allow her to 1) be able to make a rapid invasion and 2) be able to hold territory efficiently. Let us assume that Russia chooses to invade but, unlike this series’ war scenario, Turkey chooses to participate in war and takes the West’s side. Would Russia be able to make a rapid invasion and hold territory efficiently? The answer is no. This is because Russian forces would be sandwiched by NATO forces attacking from the North of Romania and NATO forces attacking from Turkey. Russian forces would have to divert their forces to multiple fronts, which would make rapid invasion and the ability to hold ground difficult. Therefore, as long as Turkey remains a key ally of the West, meaning non-hesitating participation in a war vis-à-vis Russia, then it is very unlikely for Russia to attempt to use Bulgaria and Romania as routes to strategically deviate forces from Europe’s key battleground and or to invade Central Europe.
Now, reverting back to this series’ war scenario of the future, where Turkey is assumed to not take sides in World War III because Russia has found a way to neutralize her, it is very likely that Russia would use Bulgaria and Romania for strategic purposes—whether to break southern flanks from the main battleground or to invade Central Europe. The important question to ask now, however, is when would it become more strategically important for Russia to invade Bulgaria and Romania? Would it be better for her to invade at the initial stages of war, during times of stalemates in war, or during times of desperate need in war? To answer this query, one must first keep in mind that Ukraine and Belarus are difficult lines to hold. Therefore, if Russia was to choose to invade Bulgaria and Romania during initial stages of war, it would have to be for the purpose of making a rapid invasion into Central Europe. Yet, if rapid invasion were not accomplished promptly, most likely due to a large concentration of Western forces across the Carpathian Mountains and Transylvanian Mountains, then the use of Bulgaria and Romania as invasion routes would have been fruitless.
In times of desperate need, which constitutes a time in war when a party is taking severe and rapid losses, nearing complete defeat, Russia’s decision to play the Bulgaria and Romania card would have to serve the purpose of simply deviating forces from the main battleground in hope that a miracle, such as, Russian forces recoiling back with full force—resulting in a turning point of events, occurs. There are two points in war in which Russia could find herself in times of desperate need: at the beginning and at the near-end of war. It can arise at the beginning of war if Western forces decide to concentrate its strength in Poland, Slovakia, and Czech Republic to launch a full and quick invasion of Russia via Belarus and Ukraine, just as Napoleon, Wilhelm, and Hitler did. Or it can arise at the near-end of war when so many lives and resources have been lost and Russian leadership can no longer replenish them. Towards the end of war, Russia would choose to invade Bulgaria and Romania in an attempt of a successful invasion which could lead to a great victory somewhere across the war theatre causing soldiers’ morale to be boosted, which can prompt Russian forces to make a comeback. For this to occur at the near-end of war implies that Russia has already lost too many soldiers and resources, which makes it very unlikely for Russia’s invasion of Bulgaria and Romania to serve its purpose. Therefore, it would most likely be fruitless for Russia to invade Bulgaria and Romania at the end of war. At the beginning of war, Russia would choose to invade Bulgaria and Romania for the purpose of deviating forces in an attempt to reorganize their military positions and strengthen their defensive postures as to not allow any further losses. This would mean that Russia would be able to establish a perfect defensive line, not allowing Western forces to make any further advances. For Russia, this would be crucially important because it would still be the early months of war, so soldiers’ morale would not be completely tarnished and could still be manipulated in a way that soldiers can hold their postures very heroically, not allowing complete defeat to occur. Yet, the problem is that Western forces’ morale would be high as well, given the early gains of victory; so even if the West was taken off-guard by Russia’s invasion of Bulgaria and Romania at the beginning of war, they can still reallocate their forces with soldiers heads raised up high and thus, do well to fend off Russian offensives. Hence, ultimately, by simply maintaining a defensive line, Russian forces can be overrun in Bulgaria and Romania.
During times of stalemates, Russia can choose to invade Romania and Bulgaria to either deviate Western forces from the main battleground or to launch a counteroffensive in attempt to invade Central Europe or achieve some larger strategic goal. Since war is at a stalemate, meaning that neither side is making advances across theatres of war, then a successful invasion can be the turning point of this war. Therefore, for Russia, invading Romania and Bulgaria during stalemates serves larger purposes, making it more significant and valuable to save this option during stalemates. In addition, since stalemates can last years, Russia can patiently wait to invade Bulgaria and Romania when the West less expects it, increasing her chances of success.
Edder Zarate is a second-year M.A. candidate at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. He specializes in Foreign Policy Analysis and International Economics and Development. He is a pragmatist at heart and a devil’s advocate by choice. He currently serves as a Senior Editor for the Journal.