Watching the US retreat from Afghanistan and Biden’s stance on avoiding long-standing military standoffs, Russia has decided to test the waters once again — adopting an aggressive stance against Ukraine.
It has amassed 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine. An invasion would threaten instability like the world has not seen since the Second World War.
But will Russia actually invade? Such a move would not be unprecedented. In 2014, a massive uproar ousted the pro-Russian government in Kiev, Ukraine. It led to the annexation of Crimea, eventually culminating in a ceasefire in 2015 but not before the deaths of thousands of soldiers. However, the situation this time around is different.
Russia wants an assurance that Ukraine will never join NATO. It also wants the US to remove nuclear weapons from Europe and withdraw troops from former Soviet countries. Essentially, Russia wants to restore its old sphere of influence and ensure no further eastward expansion of NATO. Putin likely considers the fall of Soviet Union a tragic event. Now, aged 69, Putin wants his legacy to be the restoration of Russia to its former glory.
The US has made their position clear. Any such demands are non-starters. Every country has a right of self-determination and can make their own decision on joining NATO. While Biden has said he will not be sending troops to Ukraine as it is not part of NATO, his administration is taking steps towards deterrence. The US has supplied anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine for military support. The US is also sending approximately 5,000 troops to NATO allied forces on Ukraine’s borders.
Russia has tactfully excluded Ukraine from talks because the country has made its intention about joining NATO clear
Additionally, the US has threatened economic sanctions against Russia if the country invades Ukraine. The electronics industry, including laptops, tablets, phones, and gadgets, would be hard hit by such sanctions. The effects of this would be devastating as it would hit Russia where it hurts the most.
Putin is unlikely to take his chances with such an approach, as he would lose massive domestic support from a citizenry heavenly reliant on American products. Furthermore, Putin is mindful that Russian sentiment in Ukraine has waned after his last adventure in Crimea. A military invasion would result in a mass uprising in Russia and push Ukraine further towards the West – an eventuality Putin will not risk under any circumstances as it considers Ukraine to be the heart of the old Soviet Union, and central to Russian identity.
Tactical concessions can be made by both sides which will allow them to maintain their principled stance on certain issues.
Absent from any such discussions is Ukraine itself. Russia has tactfully excluded Ukraine from talks because the country has made its intention about joining NATO clear. In June 2017, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted legislation reinstating membership to NATO as a strategic foreign and security policy objective. Reaffirming that position, in 2020 President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson that Ukraine wishes to join NATO, as it would boost their security and defence.
Ukraine would also like Russia to end its pursuit for a sphere of influence and has consistently asked the US for support in this regard, strategically or militarily. Due to these positions, Ukraine has publicly resisted Russia’s stance.
So, with Ukraine having no seat at the table to discuss its own future, and the US and Russia embroiled in a new era Cold War, it begs the question – what happens next? Will this turn into a case of mutually assured destruction or can both sides make compromises to end this stand-off and ensure stability in the region and peace for Ukraine.
The answer to that question lies in concessions. Tactical concessions can be made by both sides which will allow them to maintain their principled stance on certain issues.
Firstly, to satisfy Russia’s primary demand, the US can reasonably concede that Ukraine will not join NATO in the next 10 years. While this may seem to take away the country’s right of self-determination, on closer inspection that is not the case.
The process of accession to NATO involves assessments of an individual invitee’s political, military and legal obligations to the alliance; as well as willingness and ability to meet security challenges and contribute resources to NATO’s common budget. NATO also proposes a series of reforms before a country is allowed to join. Ukraine’s political and economic situation is in such a state of turmoil that it is unlikely to meet any such demands in the near future. Therefore, an assurance that Ukraine will not join NATO in the next 10 years is a very reasonable concession.
Secondly, the US should remove troops that it has placed in the Baltic states.
Thirdly, the US can assure Russia that no economic sanctions will be imposed against it as long as they get certain concessions in return. And they are as follows.
Firstly, Russia must also remove troops that it has amassed at its border with Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus.
Secondly, it must not place a nuclear weapon in Ukraine. Russia disagrees with the presence of American nuclear weapons in Europe and wants to ensure that it also has weapons of its own within striking distance of the US. Doing so would create a situation reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is the last time the world came close to annihilation.
The US must also assure Russia that any attempts at cyber warfare will be met with a reciprocal response. Both countries have planted malware in each other’s infrastructure, which has the capability to hijack network at a moment’s notice.
Furthermore, any attempt to plant a pro-Russia president in Ukraine, as reported by the UK last week, or create a fake insurgency to justify a military invasion, as reported by American intelligence, would be met with renewed economic sanctions.
Unfortunately, Ukraine will likely be a pawn in the process. It continues to be a bystander as two superpowers make decisions about its future. However, such concessions and assurances are necessary to avoid a full-blown war.
If Russia was to invade Ukraine, it would only be able to do so in February and March. Equipment gathered at the border includes a lot of heavy tanks and armoured personnel carriers which can only cross the border if the land is frozen. The ground will only stay frozen during these two winter months before mud season comes.
Only time will tell if Russia will denounce diplomacy and invade Ukraine. And winter is here.
Very clear explanation of the issues