This article was written earlier this week, prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
If you are like me, then you may have found your last few weeks fraught with worry. Newspapers, media outlets and social media accounts have been firing out a torrent of information about the situation in Ukraine. Phrases which (in the west at least), have been recycled from wars far gone, such as ‘troops surrounding the border,’ ‘invasion is likely imminent,’ and ‘the prospect of the biggest war since WW2,’ have littered news articles and the collective consciousness alike. Many may find themselves asking themselves why this is happening? After all, I thought the horrific events of WW2, the establishment of the UN, and the possession of nuclear weapons by all the world’s great powers was supposed to prevent this very scenario from coming into fruition.
To insinuate that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is a recent development would be a false supposition. In early 2014, a group of covert Russian troops occupied a region of Ukraine named Crimea within the south of the country (see map below). In addition to this, fighting broke out between Pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian Government in the Eastern Donbas region (see map below). These separatists wished to gain autonomy from Ukraine and secede their regions to Russia, a plan that (shock horror!) was not condemned by the Russian Government. This mini conflict was eventually won by the separatist forces, in large part thanks to the provision of Russian military equipment.
In recent weeks, tensions between Russia and Ukraine have severely escalated. The pro-western Ukrainian Government wishes to ensure the stability and autonomy of its state by joining NATO. However, Russia, and in particular President Vladimir Putin, has declared that such a move would constitute a significant violation of Russian security. Putin argues that Ukraine would take advantage of their affiliation with NATO to re-occupy Crimea. In truth, however, The Russian Government dislikes the notion that Ukraine has any sovereignty whatsoever, and a decorum of European and American leaders have argued that Russia will use the pretext of Ukraine joining NATO to invade Ukraine in its entirety (which, rather ironically, only gives Ukraine another reason to join NATO).
Western intelligence has produced an accumulation of dismal reports on Russian troop formations in the last few weeks. They estimate that around 150,000 troops sit around Ukraine’s borders with both Russia, Crimea, and the neighbouring Russian ally of Belarus. Putin has also declared that the Russian backed separatist region of Donbas has the right to self-sovereignty; a move which is not only a flagrant violation of international law but has also acted as a legitimisation for Putin to pour thousands of Russian troops into the area.
So what are we to make of this turn of events? One thing that is a certainty is that direct combat between NATO and Russian forces is unlikely. Both the US and UK have declared that their forces will provide only firearms and field hospital equipment to the Ukrainian military. But Russia does, however, run the risk of triggering severe economic sanctions against themselves. And some would say Putin has allowed Russia to become the enemy for many in the west to unite against. Ironically, a Russian move to invade Ukraine may bring about a more united Europe, a revitalised NATO, and the boost Pro EU and anti-isolationist leaders (in particular Emmanuel Macron in France) need to retain their position in upcoming election cycles, under the pretext of a robust response to Russia.
Whilst Vladimir Putin may have made his shiny forehead the centre of attention, and potentially altered the short term geo-political power dynamic somewhat into his favour, the events that have occurred and will occur in Ukraine are likely to have profoundly negative implications on Russia’s long-term strategic goals. The globalist reality of the 21st century makes Russia particularly reliant on Europe and its other neighbours, for example. The EU is responsible for 27% of all Russian exports, and so any European economic sanctions on Russia from this affair will affect Russia’s economy direly. Moreover, an increasingly isolationist Russia would make Putin more reliant on and therefore vulnerable to Russia’s own domestic oligarchy, thus exposing the fragility of his own grasp on power.
But despite the innate futility of a complete Russian invasion of Ukraine, history tells us that such a move is far from impossible. And if it does happen, innocent civilians will die, Europe will become far more heavily militarised, and over-inflated defence budgets will drain resources from already austerity-drained institutions. We will all suffer the consequences of this political catastrophe.