Latest signs and signals from Russia and Ukraine
democracy, security, and self-determination are in the balance.
It’s astounding how many articles in my Twitter feed claim to know what Putin will do next. Some more nuanced analysts make assertions supported by historical facts and data, but proceed with caveats; that’s my kind of journalism. No one, not even the most seasoned Kremlin experts know what will happen next and that secrecy is a hallmark of Putin and Russian strategy. He makes the moves and the Kremlin disseminates mis/disinformation to keep the world guessing.
After months of getting up on the history of the region and relations between Russia and the West, I got to a point of exhaustion. It felt like every take was so much like the one before. I think the bigger picture and forecasting what the future will look like whether Russia invades Ukraine or not is what we should be discussing.
The framework of security in Europe is at stake
Russia has repeatedly turned away from agreements that have kept the peace across the continent (Europe) for decades. And it continues to take aim at NATO, a defensive, voluntary alliance that protects nearly a billion people across Europe and North America, and at the governing principles of international peace and security that we all have a stake in defending.
To allow Russia to violate those principles with impunity would drag us all back to a much more dangerous and unstable time, when this continent and this city were divided in two, separated by no man’s lands, patrolled by soldiers, with the threat of all-out war hanging over everyone’s heads. It would also send a message to others around the world that these principles are expendable, and that, too, would have catastrophic results.
True to form, Putin has made a bet that the West will not react in an extreme manner. They have failed to impose meaningful sanctions in the past and his annexation of Crimea went relatively smoothly, so why not push further? He will continue to poke and prod to see what he can get away with. Eventually though, when his unreasonable demands are not met, we can assert his final act will involve some sort of military incursion.
Last week, a Kremlin plan to install pro-Russian leadership in Ukraine was also exposed. The thought of military encircling Kyiv and over-throwing the government may sound like a stretch because a full-scale occupation of the entirety of Ukraine admittedly seems beyond what Russian military are capable or feel is a risk worth taking.
Some pertinent quotes from an interview with Hans-Petter Midttun, retired officer in the Royal Norwegian Navy and former Norwegian Defence Attaché in Ukraine on this week’s episode of Explaining Ukraine podcast:
An occupation force can only be maintained through the cycle of first, a period of operations, followed by a period of rest, and lastly, followed by another period of training, exercises and preparation for the next operation and deployment.
Russia runs the risk of initial success turning into a failure. More or less, comparable to what happened in Afghanistan. With that, Russia loses any hope for global power status it might have.
…it also worth reminding ourselves, that nations do not wage war for war’s sake, but in pursuance of policy in which a state of peace is the main objective.
…a full scale invasion is in direct conflict with its long term strategy. Russia needs Ukraine to become a great power. It is facing mass demographic challenges and it needs Ukraine’s defence industry; it needs a self-sustained Ukraine capable of taking care of its own population; it needs a well-functioning agricultural industry; it needs to secure a well-functioning country. A full-scale war is extremely counter productive.
If Russia were to attack Ukraine, this Nordstream II project would stop cold…it is not yet operational and any conventional war fighting in Ukraine is bound to damage the existing Ukraine gas transmission system. The loss of energy security will force Europe to intervene actively.
More likely, Russia will be looking to occupy and perhaps annex more ground in the east and/or along the Black Sea coast or Sea of Azov.
The idea of an attempted partition of Ukraine has been discussed as well, however, also seems unfeasible considering the points noted above. Either scenario however, is only accomplished with a large-scale operation.
Ultimarely, Ukraine needs Western support because without it, Russia may be able to take control of the security order in Eastern Europe and that would have generational implications.
The state of European security and cooperation is on shaky ground as it is and Moscow is unlikely deterrable. What matters now is cohesion. Preparation is key.
Ukrainian distancing from Russian influence
Some analysis does still assert that Putin is bluffing, but Ukraine’s steady distancing from Kremlin associates and recent pro-Ukrainian language and media policies are clear agitators which if not intervened with, will likely invite more serious action at some point in time.
I can understand the Kremlin not having their mind made up yet as to what level of pressure they will exert on Ukraine and how deep it believes it can penetrate beyond its borders, but I cannot see why they would spend the money moving military materiel from Siberia to Ukraine’s border? The sheer amount of which that has been moved as of late is staggering as well.
Look no further than the Conflict Intelligence Team for proof of that. Russian military analyst Rob Lee also goes into detail on this in this week’s episode of the Foreign Office podcast; a great listen.
Swift delivery of arms and support from other nations
There is clearly an international understanding that Putin could call for invasion at a moment’s notice: Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and U.S. have all contributed defensive weapons to Ukraine in recent weeks. The U.S. is also putting 8,500 troops on ‘high alert’. I do not get the feeling that Western leaders are willing to bet any of this is merely a bluff.
Russia is now positioned on three sides of Ukraine, in effect, surrounding it. Why set up in this aggressive fashion, if not seriously considering an invasion?
Source: NY Times
Ukrainian national identity
Since the 2013-14 Euromaidan, Putin no longer has an ally in Mariinskyi Palace. Yanukovych was run out of the country after protestors rose up against his failure to seek an Association Agreement with the EU. I may have cited this a few posts ago, but it is worth mentioning again: 58% of Ukrainians support joining the EU and 54% are in favour of NATO, according to a poll conducted by the Center for Analysis and Sociological Research. Ukrainians want to be more closely aligned with the West. They see the economic and security benefits and realise making new alliances and working toward EU and NATO membership means a more prosperous and safe future.
The election of Zelenskiy in 2019; a very pro-Western president, also demonstrates this sentiment. Since assuming office, he has become even more closed off to Moscow and made a couple of choice decisions which show he seeks to reduce Russian influence in the country. Namely, his order to have Viktor Medvedchuk arrested in 2019 for allegedly funnelling money into separatist-controlled regions of Eastern Ukraine.
In the same year, the Ukrainian Parliament also adopted a new language law which is focused on the Ukrainian language functioning as the “State Language”.
More recently, in February 2021, he closed three Russian language television networks, citing their spread of “Kremlin-funded propaganda” as the reason why. For these reasons among others, Putin surely feels some recourse to hit back at Ukraine for distancing itself from his sphere of influence.
Ukraine entered a new era of self-determination with Maidan, and seems desperate to continue cultivating a national identity separate from Russian influence and its Soviet roots.
Above all else, the Ukrainian people deserve freedom from Russian influence and intervention. Ukraine deserves the right to have autonomy, security, and to select for themselves a government which will lead them in a direction they so choose. This alone should, in an ideal world, be enough to promote cooperation within Europe and Western nations, who claim to place a high value on liberal democracy.
There are myriad more reasons to be invested in the situation developing along Ukraine’s borders, but for now these sit heaviest on my mind.