The crisis around Ukraine had been looming for some time, with efforts to prevent further escalation. President Putin’s recognition of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic took the crisis to the next stage.
A day later, Putin took another step and announced the start of “special military operations” in Ukraine. Ukrainian cities have been the target of missiles and aerial bombardments. Russian soldiers reportedly entered Ukraine from several points, including Belarus and Crimea. Fighting continues and thousands of people flee. The world is in shock over what Biden called a reckless and unprovoked attack. Many of us around the world thought there would be some sort of de-escalation after Russia recognized the breakaway republics.
What is Russia’s game plan? Putin’s actions may be seen by some as brilliant and brave, but for the most part as madness and stupidity.
What can Russia’s game plan be? Taking over an entire country of around 40 million people with outside military aid and an upgraded army is not the same as taking over areas dominated by the Russian minority. The invasion of Ukraine would not be sustainable and would be doomed to failure for Russia.
Among Russia’s goals could be; to cripple Ukraine, kill its fighting spirit, secure the Donbass region (regardless of its borders), cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea, overthrow the government and pave the way for a government friendly to Russia.
It’s easier to comment on what drives Russia to do what it does.
NATO’s eastward expansion and the threat to its security have been his constant argument. Putin said Ukraine had become hostile to Russia and was harboring weapons from the West on its territories. Putin also blamed the West for constantly lying and trying to deceive Russia. There may be some degree of truth in some or perhaps all of these claims.
But overall, what drives Russia’s strategy and actions is something else. Russia was unable to accept the collapse of the Soviet Union and its consequences. It has not been able to digest the loss of its superpower status.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Russia could do little against the way the West was shaping the new world order. Now things are different. Its army is in good condition, has very effective military capabilities and strong leadership. She also seems convinced that she can economically support and counter all difficulties.
Putin’s Russia must consider correcting what he calls the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century: the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia is now designing its near abroad, shaping a new world order, and Putin is building his empire.
The Russian minority in the newly independent states that were part of the Soviet Union until 1990 were Putin’s main instruments in achieving his ambitions.
Over the centuries, during Tsarism and later during the Soviets, Russia settled ethnic Russians in conquered lands, driving out the local populations. Forced population transfers in Stalin’s time completed what had begun under Tsarism. Crimean Tartars, Circassians and Ahıskans are among the main victims of these policies. Hundreds of thousands of people perished in the process.
Since 1990, Transtinyester, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk have successively come under Russian control.
What is going on reminds me of the “Anschluss” and the annexation of the Sudetenland, then extending it to the whole of Czechoslovakia. Putin, with his ways and means, is like the one who gave the orders in 1938. Just days ago, Putin said Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine. Like in Munich in 1938.
Poor leadership and performance in the West encourages Russia:
The United States withdrew in a very selfish and destructive way. Remember what happened in Iraq, Syria and, more recently, Afghanistan. All of this and more has created very serious trust issues with the United States.
The European Union is desperately hopeless with too many different interests, overambitious leaders with limited capabilities and a lack of meaningful common policies, including in the area of defence.
Ukrainians have spoken loud and clear about their candidacy for NATO membership. The European Union and the United States, the West in general, have encouraged Ukraine in various ways. Ukraine, which was only happy to be encouraged, now suffers the consequences.
Can NATO intervene? Despite several problems, NATO is the most powerful politico-military organization in the world. Well prepared and ready to counter threats.
US President Biden and Secretary General Stoltenberg have made it clear from the outset that Ukraine may be a partner but is not a member of NATO. Thus, any aggression against Ukraine is not covered by Article 5 of NATO’s founding document, the Washington Treaty. The principle of collective defense is enshrined in this article. This means that an attack against one Ally is considered an attack against all Allies. The first and last time Article 5 was invoked in NATO history was after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
What NATO has done many times before has been taken to take collective defense measures, for example in response to the situation in Syria. But this is different from Article 5 and is also not applicable to Ukraine itself.
In short, Ukraine has the support of the West, it has received and will continue to receive aid for self-defense, but it does not fall under the protective umbrella of NATO.
On the other hand, if this crisis spreads in one way or another to a NATO member country, within the framework of Article 5, NATO will react.
Can sanctions change the course of events? The sanctions pouring in from the West look good and impressive on paper. But their effectiveness and duration will depend on a number of factors. Unilateral sanctions cut both sides. Over time, countries that have applied sanctions could also be affected. Parallel economies and ways to evade sanctions sooner or later are at stake.
How willing countries are to maintain sanctions, how prepared Russia is to survive under sanctions, and whether it has been able to find alternatives are other factors to consider.
Russia has energy resources as a weapon. Nearly 40% of European natural gas imports come from Russia. Europe would be hit by rising prices and supply shortages. On the other hand, Russia would also lose if it cannot sell its natural gas.
To minimize the negative effects of disruptions in natural gas exports to Europe, Russia has been looking for alternatives and this is where China comes in. The two countries recently signed a new agreement on increasing exports of Russian natural gas to China.
US policies against China and Russia have brought these two countries together for some time now. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson once again made clear China’s opposition to unilateral sanctions. In 2021, trade between the two countries amounted to approximately $146 billion, which represents a 36% increase from the previous year.
Russia violated the territorial integrity of a UN member state and used military force to invade its territories. He must not be allowed to get away with what he does. Russia’s rationales for its actions are mostly a smokescreen. Putin designs Russia’s near abroad with military force.
“If this is what happens to the biggest and strongest, imagine what can happen to others” must be the thought of the leaders and people of the former Soviet republics.
It is a sad day for the United Nations. The deliberations there and the desperate pleas of the UN Secretary-General have once again revealed how ineffective and sorry to say, but even useless, the Organization can be in desperate times.
The situation in Ukraine should have reminded everyone that when deterrence is weakened, security is weakened; when deterrence is lost, security is lost. This situation could go from very bad to catastrophic. What is hoped for is an immediate end to hostilities, the withdrawal from Ukrainian territories and the resumption of diplomacy.