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Putin invading Ukraine would cost Russia billions. Here's a breakdown of the costs

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today, a defiant Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of two pro-Russian territories in eastern Ukraine. And he ordered Russian troops into those breakaway regions, escalating the threat of war. Now, a war would be expensive for Russia. A military invasion and occupation of Ukraine would cost Russia billions, not to mention political costs and the further economic costs that would come with international sanctions.

NPR's national security correspondent Greg Myre is here with more. Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Alisa.

CHANG: Hi. OK, so let's start with the military costs right now. Exactly what sort of military cost is Russia looking at at this point?

MYRE: Well, this has already been a very expensive military buildup, keeping large numbers of troops in the field in the Russian winter for months. But it's really just a small down payment compared to a large-scale war and an open-ended Russian occupation of Ukraine. So if Russia does go that route and take over in Ukraine, the Ukrainian army could easily morph into a guerilla force. The U.S. and NATO are arming Ukraine with rifles and ammo and anti-tank weapons.

And we should really note Russia does have limited resources compared to, say, the U.S. The U.S. military budget is at least 12 times larger. The Pentagon burned through more money in January than Russia will spend in an entire year. So I spoke to Angela Stent, a Russia expert at Georgetown University who's met many times with Vladimir Putin.

ANGELA STENT: If there is a full-fledged invasion, then, of course, that's hugely expensive. Most people believe that even with 190,000 troops, that might not be enough for a full-scale invasion. And there certainly aren't enough troops for an occupation, so that would require hundreds of thousands of troops more.

CHANG: OK, well, beyond the potential costs on the battlefield, what price do you think Russia could pay on the political front?

MYRE: Well, we had a really good example this weekend at this annual Munich Security Conference. Usually, the talk is about NATO lacking a clear mission, and the U.S. complains that European countries need to pay more for defense. But this year there was a very clear response of, Russia is a threat; Europe needs to be unified; NATO needs to send more troops to its eastern flank.

We saw immediate criticism today coming out of Europe after Putin made these moves. So Russia is already paying a political price in Europe, and Angela Stent says Putin is also likely to face blowback domestically.

STENT: Just a few months ago, Putin published an article telling Russians that Russians and Ukrainians are one people. Now he's telling them - or might be telling them, you're going to go to war and fight your Ukrainian brothers and sisters. There will be body bags. That is not going to go down well in Russia.

CHANG: Well, speaking of domestic blowback, I mean, it seems pretty clear that Russia will face additional economic sanctions, though we don't know exactly what form those sanctions might take. Do you have a sense, Greg, of what kind of economic cost these sanctions could impose on Russia?

MYRE: Well, they're probably going to target the banking and financial sector, but that's not the most important part of the Russian economy. It's oil and gas, and the world still needs this energy. And therefore, Russia's energy sector may not be heavily sanctioned.

But this turmoil in Ukraine is boosting world oil prices. It's making more money for Russia, actually, at least in the short term. But the Russian economy will take a hit. European countries will also suffer, and the consequences will ripple across the world.

CHANG: That is NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you, Greg.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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