Ukraine Crisis Has Sent Shockwaves
Ukraine Crisis Has Sent Shockwaves
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 Luhansk People’s Republic has carried the crisis to the next stage.
A day later, Putin took a further step and announced the start of “special military operations” in Ukraine. Ukrainian cities have been targeted with missiles and aerial bombings. Russian soldiers are reported to have moved into Ukraine from several points, including Belarus and Crimea. Fighting is continuing and thousands of people are fleeing. The world is in a shock in the face of what Biden called a reckless and unprovoked attack. Many of us around the world thought that there would be some sort of de-escalation after Russia’s recognition of the breakaway republics.
What is Russia’s gameplan? Putin’s moves may be seen by some as brilliant and courageous but for most, as madness and foolishness.
What may Russia’s game plan be? Taking over a whole country of around 40 million people with outside military assistance and an improved military is not the same thing as taking over Russian minority-dominated areas. Invasion of Ukraine would not be sustainable and it would be self-defeating for Russia.
Among Russia’s aims could be; to cripple Ukraine, kill its fighting spirit, secure the Donbas region (whatever its boundaries are considered to be), cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea, topple the government and pave the way for a Russia friendly government.
To comment on what drives Russia to do what it is doing is easier.
NATO’s eastward expansion and threat to its security have been its constant argument. Putin said Ukraine has been turned into being hostile against Russia and hosts on its territories weapons of the West. Putin has also blamed the West for constantly lying and trying to deceive Russia. There may be a certain degree of truth in some or maybe all of these claims.
But overall, what drives Russia’s strategy and actions is something else. Russia has not been able to come to terms with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its consequences. It has not been able to digest losing its superpower status.
In the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, Russia was not able to do much against the West’s shaping the new global order. Now things are different. Its military is in good shape, possesses very effective military capabilities, and has strong leadership. It also seems confident that economically it can sustain and counter any difficulties.
Putin’s Russia must be considering itself correcting what he referred to as 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 newly independent states which were parts of the Soviet Union until 1990 have been Putin’s main instruments in realizing its ambitions.
Throughout centuries, during the Tsardom and later on during the Soviets, Russia settled ethnic Russians in conquered lands, driving away local populations. Forced population transfers during Stalin’s time completed what was started during the Tsardom. Crimean Tartars, Circassians, and Ahıskans are among the major victims of these policies. Hundreds of thousands have perished during the process.
Since 1990, Transtinyester, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk have come under Russia’s control one after another.
What is in progress reminds me of “Anschluss” and annexing Sudetenland, extending it to the whole of Czechoslovakia later. Putin, with his ways and means, resembles the person who gave the orders back in 1938. Just a few days ago Putin had said that Russia had no intention to invade Ukraine. Just like in Munich back in 1938.
Poor leadership and performance in the West encourage Russia:
The USA has been withdrawing in a very selfish and destructive way. Recall what happened in Iraq, Syria, and most recently in Afghanistan. All these and more, have created some very serious trust and confidence issues with the USA.
The European Union is desperately hopeless with too many different interests, over-ambitious leaders with limited capacities, and a lack of meaningful common policies including in the defense field.
Ukrainians were very vocal and loud about their bid for NATO membership. The European Union and the USA, the West in general, encouraged Ukraine in various ways. Ukraine, which was only happy to be encouraged, is now suffering the consequences.
Can NATO intervene? Despite several problems, NATO is the world’s most powerful politico-military organization. Well prepared and ready to counter threats.
US President Biden and Secretary-General Stoltenberg has from the outset made it clear that Ukraine maybe 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 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 9/11 terrorist attacks against the USA.
What NATO has done on several different occasions previously has been taken to take collective defense measures, such as in response to the situation in Syria. But this is different than Article 5 and is also not applicable to Ukraine itself.
In short, Ukraine has the West’s support, it has received and will continue to receive self-defense assistance, but it does not come under NATO’s protective umbrella.
On the other hand, if this crisis is somehow spilled over to a NATO member country, within the framework of Article 5, NATO will respond.
Can sanctions change the course of events? Sanctions pouring in from the West look good and impressive on paper. But how effective they would be and for how long it will continue will depend on a number of factors. Unilateral sanctions cut both sides. In time, those countries which have applied sanctions may also be hurt. Parallel economies and ways to evade sanctions sooner or later are in play.
How willing are countries to carry on with sanctions, how well is Russia prepared to survive under sanctions, and whether it has been able to find alternatives are other factors to be considered.
Russia has energy resources as a weapon. Nearly 40 percent of Europe’s natural gas imports come from Russia. Europe would take a hit from rising prices and shortages in supplies. On the other hand, Russia would also lose if it can not sell its natural gas.
To minimize the negative effects of disturbances in natural gas exports to Europe, Russia has sought alternatives and this is where China comes in. The two countries recently signed a new agreement on increasing Russian natural gas exports to China.
US policies against China and Russia have brought these two countries closer to each other for some time now. The spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China made it clear once again China’s opposition to unilateral sanctions. In 2021 trade between the two countries stood at around 146 billion dollars which represented an increase of 36 percent compared to the previous year.
Russia has violated the territorial integrity of a UN member state and used military force to invade its territories. It must not be allowed to get away with what it is doing. Russia’s reasonings for its actions are mostly a smokescreen. Putin is designing Russia's near abroad with military force.
“If this is what happens to the biggest and strongest, just imagine what may happen to others” must be the thought among officials and peoples of former Soviet Republics.
It is a sad day for the United Nations. Deliberations there and the UN Secretary General’s desperate calls once again revealed how ineffective and sorry to say but even useless, the Organization may be in desperate times.
The situation in Ukraine should have reminded all that when deterrence is weakened, security is weakened; when deterrence is lost, security is lost. This situation could go from very bad to a catastrophe. What is hoped is the immediate end of hostilities, withdrawal from Ukraine territories, and resumption of diplomacy.