NATO troops will not fright Russian troops in Ukraine. But that does not mean Russia would not face western weapons.
Let’s be very clear: despite all the noise from NATO and western capitals, we know damn well that if the Russians advance into the rest of Ukraine neither Europe nor the US will send troops to fight them.
There is simply not enough popular support at home to allow that. But Putin also knows that Ukraine, with a population of 40 plus million, can put soldiers into the field and the west will be a lot more comfortable about arming and training those troops. Indeed, many in the west could see an armed conflict as an opportunity to see the new revitalised and equipped post-Soviet Russian army in action, and see how western weapons and tactics play out against it.
It also allows the west a free “pop” at the Russian armed forces, indirectly contributing to the actual destruction of Russian armour and aircraft with no danger of retaliation against NATO forces. Sure, Putin will know exactly what the west is doing and may protest, but it counts for little when you’ve just invaded a sovereign democracy. He knows that a retaliatory strike against NATO forces outside Ukraine is a whole different kettle of fish.
Ukraine forces will have access to NATO intelligence and satellites and perhaps even NATO air defences. After all, if anyone knows how easily advanced air defence systems can slip into the hands of undesirables it’s Vladimir Putin.
What starts as Putin flexing his muscles could turn into a nasty proxy war with NATO, and one NATO can afford fiscally far more than a Russia under post-invasion sanctions.