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Hal Brands

Aiding a Ukrainian Insurgency Would Be Painful and Costly

If the Kyiv government falls, it would be tempting to try to bleed the Russian victors. But insurgencies inflict a high toll on all sides, and can spread across borders.



Photographer: Aris Messinis /AFP/Getty Images

Suppose Russia succeeds in toppling the Ukrainian government or seizing much of the country. Moscow’s slow start notwithstanding, this could well happen: The balance of combat power is likely to favor Russian President Vladimir Putin as the war rolls on. So what happens then?

One option being debated in Western policy circles is funneling arms, money and other support to a Ukrainian insurgency. The strategic case is compelling, but no one should kid themselves about the costs. Waging insurgency would be a frightful business for the Ukrainians doing the fighting, and supporting it would require the U.S. and its allies to brace themselves for escalation.