Your questions answered: If Russia ‘prevails’ in war, how will it hold a country where it is hated?

We’ve been putting questions on the Russia-Ukraine war to experts and experienced journalists.

The latest comes from Ann R, who asks: If the Russians “prevail”, how will they manage to hold a country where almost everyone hates them? Do they hope to deport all the population and repopulate with loyal Russians?

Security and defence analyst Professor Michael Clarke says this…

A very good point! And the answer is that it is numerically impossible. Putin believed, sincerely, but totally wrongly, that Russian troops would be welcomed in Ukraine by a good part of the population and the rest might be sullen etc. but would get used to it.

Instead, he is faced by a united, deeply hostile country where the numbers come into play. In any society, anywhere in the world, these numbers more or less apply. 

For an essentially settled society, there are normally two security people (police, militia, gendarmerie etc.) per 1,000 of the population. 

For societies in disorder, that ratio goes to 20 per 1,000, as it did for a short time with British security forces in Northern Ireland. In Afghanistan the Soviet Union had far more than that ratio – up to 40+ per 1,000 at least. 

So, if you assume that 20:1000 would be Russia’s minimum requirement to control a disordered, conquered Ukraine of 44 million people, then Russia would have to garrison, indefinitely, about 850,000 troops there. 

On full, total mobilisation, the Russian army is just on 1 million. It struggles at present to mobilise 500,000 in reality and its normal peacetime strength before this war was 280,000. 

Occupying a hostile country means you have to rotate troops in and out to give them some relief, so Russia would need at least twice the 850,000 to keep control for more than a year: i.e 1.7 million just for the Ukraine occupation. 

Russia also has borders with 14 other states, many of them now quite hostile. You can cut the figures any way you want, but at  minimum of 20 per 1,000, Russia will never have enough, even if it mobilises totally and even (perhaps especially) if it resorts to ultra-Gestapo tactics in Ukraine.