If the Russians had taken Kyiv… Day by day

I present an alternative course of history. What if the Russians had achieved their goals and seized Kyiv in February 2022 in a brilliant four-day campaign and, as a result, established a sympathetic government fully implementing Moscow’s will? The story begins on 28th February 2022.

(Source: flickr)

28th February 2022. After the previous day when we could all see on TV screens President Zelensky evacuating from Kyiv with half of the government in an American helicopter from the American embassy, the Russians announced the suspension of the active phase of military operations in and around Kyiv, and soon they were to do so throughout Ukraine. At the main intersections of the city and its bridges, permanent reinforced posts of the Russian army are already visible. 


In the evening of 28th February, after a short two-day break, Ukrainian state television started broadcasting again. Immediately, the speech of the new self-proclaimed “interim” Prime Minister of Ukraine, a man previously known from 30 years of living in St. Petersburg, was broadcast.

There have been reports that Belarusian troops have entered Ukraine from the direction of Pinsk and Brest, and together with Russian troops are heading to Lviv, Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk to cut off Ukraine and the possible pro-independence guerrillas from help from Poland. The main goal was to nip in the bud the Ukrainian guerrillas, which the Americans planned to train and had been preparing for this long before the war. In the evening of 28th February, the first contacts took place at points of contact with the Polish army and Polish border guards, who vigilantly were monitoring the situation on the other side of the border.

The situation in Ukraine remained tense, but with the government and the President fleeing, visible signs of Russian control of the capital, and the massive surrender of successive Ukrainian units, regular Ukrainian units slowly laid down their arms. Morale plummeted after social media saw a helicopter hoisting the fleeing authorities from the capital city of Kyiv, and television calls for an end to the fighting and a return to normal life were broadcast on television. Individual soldiers and units, remaining faithful to the Ukrainian cause, headed west, into the wild Carpathians, to continue the underground and guerrilla warfare. 


1st March. The new government in Kiev announced a political manifesto with a detailed economic program written in advance, no doubt still in Moscow. The government promised to fight corruption and oligarchy, return to normal relations with Russia and cheap raw materials, and guaranteed all civil liberties. It urged people to return to work so that businesses could build “the wealth of the country” in peace. The new government also promised huge non-repayable financial aid from Moscow, as well as a credit line and large orders from Russia for industry in the Donbas. There was a subtle suggestion that Ukraine would join the union of Russia and Belarus.   

Russian troops continued “cleaning” the area, while secretly catching people from proscription lists prepared before the invasion. These people were considered “fiery Ukrainian nationalists,” unsuitable for cooperation with Russia. Sporadic fighting in the Donbas and Kherson regions continued for about a week. Other cities in western Ukraine, west of the Boh River, were occupied in cooperation with the Belarusian army.

Russian diplomats sent notes to all countries with which diplomatic relations had been maintained, informing them about the establishment and recognition of a new government in Kyiv and the end of hostilities, and announcing, “with joy, the return of Ukraine to the family of closely cooperating nations.”


In the evening of 1st March, the remaining units of the American 82nd Airborne Division landed near Rzeszów. The American 172nd Airborne Brigade landed near Wyszków. American raptors appeared in Łask, similarly in Powidz. The Polish Army remained in a state of readiness from the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, some of its units were sent to the east. For a long time, American and NATO AWACS have been circling over Poland to control the situation close to the border with NATO countries, on the eastern flank. 


Seeing the progress of the Russian troops and the achievement of the Polish and Romanian borders by the Russian and Belarusian advances, the Americans, through military channels, asked the Russians to establish deconflicting procedures close to possible points of contact with NATO troops in order to control the situation and prevent “undesirable escalation.”


2nd March. After a decision made by the government in Warsaw the day before, drivers in Poland saw long columns of vehicles of the 10th and 34th armoured brigades heading from western Poland to new deployment areas in the eastern suburbs of Warsaw. The idea was to protect Warsaw if the Russians wanted to carry out any offensive action against the Polish capital, located only 200 km from the border with Belarus. On the night of 1st-2nd March, the government in Warsaw held an emergency meeting and made the following additional decisions: cancelling all military passes, handing out mobilisation cards to all eligible and trained reservists, which turned out to be only 12,000. The government did this covertly so that the press would not inflate the topic that “Poland is announcing mobilisation.” A decision was made to submit a bill to parliament on a law restoring the obligation of universal military training, and an inspection was ordered of military and material warehouses, as well as shelters – all this in the event of war. It was pledged to keep the provisions of the night emergency meeting strictly secret from the press and journalists, but this proved impossible, and soon the inhabitants of Poland were talking about only one thing: whether the Russians would attack us and whether the Polish government had started war preparations. During the night, the government also made a heroic decision to accept all refugees from Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of whom were already on the border — it was estimated that there could even be several million. 


Poland’s Minister of National Defence has been authorised by the government to start extensive military purchases on a global basis. 

From the morning of 2nd March, more traffic to the west was observed on Polish roads. Apparently, some citizens wanted to move away from the border or leave Poland. People were also buying plane tickets to Western Europe.

On 2nd March at 12:00, the Russians announced that “the 11th corps from the Kaliningrad region, so far participating in the special operation in Ukraine, is returning to its home area of stationing” and that they expect “neither Poles nor Lithuanians will interfere in this process.” At 14:00, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement that the Russians would be conducting exercises with non-strategic nuclear weapons that evening, which may include firing a cruise missile with a nuclear warhead and a real nuclear explosion, but this had not yet been decided. The decision would be made during the exercises. He made it clear that the warhead would have a non-strategic or, if one prefers, tactical power and would not affect the US-Russia strategic nuclear balance in any way to Moscow’s satisfaction.


Moscow, on the other hand, is not satisfied with the conventional imbalance and “the Americans pushing their fingers into regions of the world distant from America” and the Russians with “the current policy, among others, towards Ukraine, want to restore the disturbed balance.” The spokesman added that “the countries of Central and Eastern Europe that are seeking war should rethink their attitude and security policy in the face of the achievements of the Russian army on the Dnieper and its dominance in this part of the world.”  


On 2nd March at 22:00, the world’s news agencies reported that the Russians had conducted a real nuclear test in the Far North by firing a manoeuvring version of the Iskander missile. The government in Warsaw issued a statement of condemnation and at the same time Americans began to be pressured to deploy their nuclear forces in Poland as soon as possible. The Americans flatly refused, at the same time persuading Poland to accept the Ukrainian government-in-exile and that it could influence the situation in Ukraine from Warsaw and Rzeszów. The Americans also insisted that Poland decide to help in the expansion of the Ukrainian partisans in the Carpathians.


Polish intelligence reported that a large part of the Ukrainian army, along with its supplies, had been absorbed by the Russian army, thanks to which the Russian forces were growing.


3rd March, 11:00. The Russians announced that due to the “unclear situation” in Ukraine, they are establishing a no-fly zone for six months up to the line of the Wisła, effectively blocking air traffic over half of Poland and the entire area of the Baltic States. At the same time, the Russians stated that some planes would receive permission to fly and that temporarily all American military planes had such permission, but not Polish ones. And there will be no exceptions to this rule due to the attitude of Warsaw, which “wants to drag the superpowers into a world war for its own selfish interests.” At the same time, the Russians immediately announced publicly (and made sure that it would reach the world’s public opinion) that American planes would, in principle, be allowed into the forbidden zone. Strict enforcement of the ban was announced against Polish aircraft and it was announced that the S300/S400/S500 systems, together with modern interceptor aircraft, would be deployed to western Belarus.

The Americans immediately asked the Poles not to fly east of the Wisła River “until the US and NATO had agreed on common rules for dealing with Russian extortion.” American planes began to fly on patrols of eastern Poland, and the Polish Air Force ceased its activity. President Joe Biden said at an evening press conference that “we don’t want any more trouble in the east: Ukraine was not in NATO, it had no security guarantees, the US government is helping refugees and has helped the legitimate government of Ukraine to settle in Poland.” At the same time, he urged the Poles to behave in a way that would ensure the maintenance of peace in the world.

Alarming voices appeared on Polish social media and opinion-forming centres that the Russians were beginning to gain agency over the Polish state, but these were soon extinguished by a chorus of voices that the most important thing is “NATO solidarity.” The argument that the Americans were losing credibility was dismissed with the traditional argument that, “after all, American troops are stationed in Poland, in even greater numbers than before 24th February.” Leaks appeared in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs before midnight that the German Chancellor had spoken with the Prime Minister and Jarosław Kaczyński, appealing for “Polish reason” and “moderation” and suggesting that Poland should not announce any military reforms or do anything that would indicate the possibility of escalation and war in the face of an already very difficult future in this new geopolitical situation in Europe. This, as Chancellor Scholz said, could irritate Moscow even more and, after all, “we need peace and cooperation” in Europe. 


This happened right after the operator of the Russian gas system had announced a stoppage in gas transmission to Germany, arguing that it was necessary to carry out a review of Nord Stream, while ensuring that this was a one-off action and that it would last no longer than one day.


The German press, terrified of war in the east and a potential gas crisis, wrote respectfully about Russia’s lightning-fast military campaign, praising the new Russian army after the reforms of Serdyukov and Shoigu, and speaking contemptuously of corruption and nepotism in the Ukrainian army. Suggestions were made that the annexation of Ukraine would “finally allow us to solve the unresolved issues after the collapse of the Soviet Union.” EU commissioners have become vocal about the need for an all-European peace conference that would “finally” settle all disputes on the continent. Commissioners from old Europe started talking about a single area of security and cooperation from Vladivostok to Lisbon. 


4th March. In the morning, the mood of a gradual calming down of the situation was spoiled by the Russians, who announced that the next Zapad exercises would take place in the autumn of 2022 and that Ukraine would also take part in them. Two hours later, Lukashenko asked Moscow in a television appeal to tighten trade union cooperation between Russia and Belarus and expressed his joy that Ukraine would join the union state. Immediately afterwards, he appealed for sending more Russian troops to Belarus, “suffused with success in Ukraine.” He made this request because of the militant attitude of Poland and “hostile circles in Warsaw.”

In response, the governments of the Baltic states introduced compulsory military service immediately and carried out partial mobilisation, ignoring the structures of NATO and the US. The American ambassador in Vilnius was furious about this move, which had not been agreed with Washington. Lithuanians pressured Poland to do likewise. The Poles, however, did not want to do this, remaining under the influence of the US, Berlin and Brussels. No moves towards escalation, no high-profile military reforms, say the Germans. No provocations against the Russians, say the Americans, while increasing the presence of their air force in Poland, but not land forces.

At 19:00 that day, at a press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov repeated his demand to the US and NATO to comply with the demands contained in the ultimatum of December 2021, setting the deadline for its fulfilment at the end of April 2022. He also announced far-reaching steps against the militant attitude of the Baltic states and Poland, without specifying what exactly he meant by this. This was not the case for Romania, which remained strangely calm in the face of the collapse of Ukraine and did not announce any measures to increase its security or reform its military. Romania remained as if on the sidelines of European affairs. On the same day, at 22:00 Moscow time, the ambassadors of the Baltic countries and Poland were summoned to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow and presented with a list of Russian demands. In the case of the Baltic states, this meant a reduction of the army by 50% and the liquidation of the reserve replenishment system and the training of citizens; as well as the obligation to consult energy and raw materials policy with Russia; finally, the establishment of transit rules for Russian shipping companies through these countries. There was also a strangely worded demand to consult with Russia on investments and expansion and repairs of expressways and motorways, as well as ports and transshipment installations. The same demands were made to Poland, but in addition, Moscow demanded from the Poles that no units of the Polish army should be stationed east of the Wisła, and that they could not train there or appear there at all. In addition, the Russians demanded the signing of a gas contract, the dismantling of the gas terminal in Świnoujście, a controlling stake in the nitrogen plant in Puławy and in the container port in Gdańsk for jointly established Polish-Russian joint ventures. 

Warsaw’s reaction was firm and uncompromising. Without undue delay, the Prime Minister said that there was no question of accepting such demands and that Poland was about to change its security policy and to greatly expand the Polish army. He also made clear that Poland is a member of the most powerful alliance in the history of the world — NATO.

German diplomats expressed themselves in a different spirit than the Polish Prime Minister, suggesting that “heating up the situation” does not serve anyone’s interests. Russia has indeed broken the UN charter, but no one wanted a world war, so Warsaw should tone down its rhetoric and not add fuel to the fire with its “mobilisation” movements. The German press immediately picked up on the topic and began to blame Warsaw for wanting to “push the EU into a war with a nuclear superpower.” Meanwhile, after the Russians took Kyiv, “their demands will certainly not concern the core issues of Europe.” In any case, the Russia-NATO Act of 1997 states that “significant NATO troops were not to be stationed on the eastern flank anyway” and the Russians remain “an essential element of the European balance, so we have to get along with them.” 


The Americans took a different stance: they condemned the “Russian aggression” against Ukraine, Lavrov’s baseless December ultimatum and the ultimatums against the Baltic states and Poland, but at the same time called on the government in Warsaw to moderate and tone down. They also refused to transfer their nuclear capabilities to Poland, despite Warsaw’s firm request after the Russian nuclear test, and decided not to increase the presence of land forces in Poland. Through military channels, they signalled to the Russians their readiness to talk about a “strategic balance in Europe,” promising them that they would not sell the Poles any weapons systems that would be offensive or could change the balance of power in this part of Europe. 

In the Polish world of experts, the issue of the credibility of American security guarantees began to be raised and they began to wonder what they actually refer to. Or the extended nuclear umbrella? Would the triggering of Art. 5 definitely be automatic?

5th March. In the morning, there was a sudden attack of immigrants on the Polish border from the Belarusian side, including a rather narrow point on the Bug, which immigrants swam as much as possible. Among them, many Spetsnaz operators and Wagnerites broke through to Poland in civilian disguise, whose task was to instigate riots, set fire to public authority buildings, disturb the population and wreak havoc in the towns of eastern Poland. Over the next three days, the Polish government quite effectively stopped the successive waves of refugees from penetrating more deeply into Poland, but there was widespread concern that the Russians were beginning to transfer more military units to Belarus, having started a “Strong Barrier” military exercise on the Polish-Ukrainian border, claiming that they were only planning to prepare to repel “Polish aggression against Western Ukraine.” 


In other words, within a few days, an additional 37,000 soldiers appeared on Poland’s eastern border with Ukraine. In addition, an unknown number of Russian military personnel found themselves in Belarus, or rather carefully concealed.

9th March. At night, a raiding column of Wagner Group mercenaries entered Poland in the strength of about a thousand soldiers, without insignia and in uniform, armed to the teeth and took up positions near Hajnówka, not far from a large refugee camp. The surprised border guards did not intervene. In any case, they had no way of dealing with such a large number of people with heavy mechanised equipment. In Warsaw they did not know what to do.

The Wagnerians took defensive positions at the refugee camp and broadcast a statement to the world that they had come to protect “innocent children and women from barbaric Poles who are pushing for war and repressing civilians.” In the commentary to the statement, it was added that Poles are unable to live peacefully in this part of the world because, for example, they have not met Moscow’s expectations in recent days, which would bring lasting peace to Europe. The government in Warsaw was furious. America as a patron and guarantor of security did not instruct what to do. The time difference made it difficult to even reach American decision makers. And the American military in Poland and Europe did not have the authority to make decisions, much less to make decisions towards allies. SACEUR considered that this was a situation that was not close to triggering Art. 5. And no political consensus will be reached between the Allies on this issue. Valuable hours were wasted during which the Polish army could have intervened. The German government issued a statement calling on both sides to come to their senses and end the tension peacefully. Berlin made it clear that it does not see the need for consultations within NATO and we are not dealing with a situation that could mean the need to activate Art. 5 and NATO’s solidarity response to an attack on its member. 


In the meantime, some of the Wagnerians also occupied the commune office and school buildings near the refugee camp. Finally, the Americans were contacted, who ordered moderation and toning down, and certainly not shooting at the Wagnerians, who at that time were beginning to act playfully in Hajnówka and the surrounding area: they set fire to the church and terrorised the population in search of food. Civilian casualties could appear at any moment. The Polish army and uniformed services withdrew during the decision-making confusion, so as not to escalate the situation, which smelled like a world war. Moscow vehemently denied that these were its troops. The Americans continued to tone down, the Germans were simply aiming at accepting Russian demands and forcing Poland to accept the facts that had occurred near the border as completed.


In Warsaw, fear and panic reigned in the government. Finally, key questions emerged: what about Art. 5? When does it actually work? What about our decisions? When can we take them alone, given that we are in an alliance? What about our own responsiveness? Why are the Americans telling us to tone down the situation? What about their credibility? Why do we wait for Washington’s reaction with every case? Why does Germany behave like this and what about the solidarity of the West, NATO, the EU? Why did no one oppose the invasion of Ukraine by force and why is no one now armed against Russia’s hybrid aggression? Why does the Russian salami-slicing and slow-boiled frog strategy work? Are the Americans just weak? Not to mention European countries… 


It’s a pity that these questions were not answered much, much earlier.

If the Russians had taken Kyiv… Day by day
Autor Jacek Bartosiak
CEO and Founder of Strategy&Future, author of bestselling books.
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