The Swedish daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD), recently examined the most difficult countries in the world to invade, which includes Russia, Switzerland, and New Zealand. The paper said an invasion of Russia would become a “military nightmare” for foreign armed forces. While SvD did not define who precisely that enemy would be, our suspicions point to the countries intertwined with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The topography of the region, distance, and military power are some of the critical components that determine the country’s defensive capabilities, explained the paper.
Topography Map of Russia
Based on these benchmarks, the Swedish paper said, “whoever thinks the idea of invading Russia must be prepared to handle all kinds of terrain.”
Invading armed forces must face topographical disorientation, as the enemy would face challenging mountain ranges, a vast amount of woodlands, frozen tundra, powerful river systems, and dense forests, the paper warned, adding that temperature volatility — “crispy summers and chilling winters” could present difficulties for troop mobilization efforts.
Common Invasion Routes Into Russia
“And then we have the Russians themselves, who for thousands of years, having participated in both large-scale wars and guerrilla warfare, gained a lot of experience,” the paper said.
The history of Russia starts around 882 when Kievan Rus established the first Eastern Slavic state. However, the country ceased to exist after a few hundred years. Modern Russia was formed by Grand Duchy of Moscow, which became the Tsardom of Russia. Its traditional starting date is 1283, with the reign of Daniel I, under Mongol rule.
Since then, Russia has dealt with its fair share of attacks. Below is a list of invasions, which does not include revolutions, wars of aggression/expansion, border conflicts, and coalition wars that Russia fought. It is important to note, very few invaders have ever succeded in conquering Russia.
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Transylvania (1558–1582): In the late stages of the Livonian War, a long, confusing, and bloody war in which Russia (under Ivan “the Terrible”) fought with Poland-Lithuania and Transylvania, Russia was invaded in 1577. The city of Pskov was unsuccessfully besieged.
Crimean Khanate (1570–1572): The Crimean Tatar kingdom invaded Russia, defeated a Russian army, and managed to besiege Moscow and burn much of it to the ground, although the invasion itself was ultimately repelled.
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1605): A succession dispute in Moscow prompted Poland-Lithuania to throw support behind a pretender czar in order to extend control over Russia. Their invasion, assisted by allied boyar (nobility) and Cossack forces, managed to reach Moscow and install “False Dmitry I” as czar. The Polish maintained their puppet czar for all of ten months, until a revolt threw them out of Moscow.
Swedish Empire (1610–1617): Taking advantage of political instability, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden attempted to install his brother as czar. Though he was unsuccessful in doing so, Sweden captured Novgorod and cut off Russian access to the Baltic for almost a century.
Swedish Empire (1708–1709): Under Charles XII, Sweden invaded Russia as part of the Great Northern War. Scorched earth tactics, a particularly harsh winter, and the Battle of Poltava caused the utter destruction of the Swedish Army.
French Empire (1812): Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia. While he captured Moscow, the Russian winter, scorched-earth tactics, Cossack raids, and the Battles of Borodino whittled Napoleon’s army to almost nothing, defeating the French.
Japanese Empire (1904–1905): From 1904, the Imperial Japanese Navy besieged Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War. After destroying the Russian Navy, Japan launched a ground invasion into Russian-held territory, culminating at the Battle of Mukden. This event’s place on this list is questionable, however, as Russia itself was not invaded, and all the fighting took place in Russian-controlled Manchuria and Korea.
German Empire and Austria-Hungary (1914–1917): During World War I, German and Austrian forces made huge territorial gains into Russian territory, even threatening St. Petersburg (Petrograd) by the end of the war. The Russian Revolution and the rise of the USSR ended Russian involvement in the war. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk made Russia the unequivocal loser, forcing it to give up much territory.Nazi Germany (1941–1945): Operation Barbarossa was Hitler’s grand scheme to exterminate Jews, Slavs, and Bolsheviks through a complete conquest of the Soviet Union. The Eastern Front of World War II was the bloodiest and most traumatic war ever fought on Russian soil, even though it resulted in eventual defeat of the invaders.