Tensions between the United States, Russia, and NATO allies have been growing over the last weeks. Rumors of a possible Russian invasion in Ukraine have spread after the deployment – Ukrainian defense officials say, of more than one hundred thousand Russian military troops along the Ukrainian Eastern border.
Relations between Russia and NATO have been running out since the end of October 2021, when Russia suspended its diplomatic mission to NATO in response to the latter’s decision to revoke the accreditation of eight Russian diplomats retained to be undercover intelligence agents. Consecutively, the situation aggravated as the friction on the Russian-Ukrainian border worsened more and more as weeks passed. The US and NATO fear that Moscow is actually preparing to invade Ukraine, even though Vladimir Putin has rejected these “provocative” accusations. Nevertheless, the Putin presidency has several times held an expansionist policy in order to annex the Russia-speaking territories of the former Soviet Union. The 2008 South Ossetia War and the 2014 annexation of Crimea are probably the main past evidence of such an aggressive attitude.
On the other hand, the Kremlin complained of NATO’s menacing posture and showed its concern about Ukraine’s prospect to join NATO. Indeed, Ukraine-NATO relations have strengthened over the last years, and several media and experts have affirmed that the US is providing military support to Ukraine. As reported by the Russian News Agency, Ambassador to Washington – Anatoly Antonov, has stated “Militarily speaking, this range of weapons funneled to Ukraine [from the United States] is expanding more and more. The Stinger [man-portable air-defense systems], Javelin [anti-tank weapons] and even our Mi-17 [helicopters] got there“. Moreover, President Putin said that Russia cannot tolerate the risk of Ukraine joining NATO, because that would result in military bases and troops being placed in the territory of Ukraine. Russia could never accept such a political and military scenario, as it would feel threatened to have guns pointed against from a neighboring state.
Of course, the United States is carefully monitoring the situation. If Russia succeeded in restoring its sphere of influence over Ukraine, that would be perceived as a Western failure to protect the country. Moreover, “It would also alarm Central European and Baltic states, each with a history of Russian occupation, who would feel they might become the next victims of Russian aggression”, affirmed the journalist and researcher Olga Tokariuk in her article for the Center of European Policy Analysis. NATO and all the European countries are also concerned about the consequent exodus of millions of refugees that a major war could create.
However, how likely is the outbreak of a military conflict between Russia and Ukraine? The Valdai Club Programme Director Ivan Timofeev has tried to answer this question. In his article War Between Russia and Ukraine: A Basic Scenario? he underlined that the costs of a possible war would be much higher than the benefits. Despite the recent history between the two countries has demonstrated how the use of force has alway been an accredited opinion – involved in the Crimea and Donbass conflicts, Timofeev says that this time the circumstances are different.
First, even if Russia won against the Ukrainian troops, the countries involved wouldn’t reach peace quickly anyway. “The war could develop into a long and sluggish confrontation, especially if part of the territory (for example, Western Ukraine) remains under the control of the Ukrainian armed forces”– Timofeev writes. Second, Moscow misses any legitimacy for military intervention. According to Timofeev, “While the situation in Crimea and Donbass arose against the backdrop of revolutionary events in Ukraine and could be construed as part of a civil conflict, then in this scenario, such conditions are not visible”. Consequently, any Russian use of force would result in the country bearing full responsibility for the conflict. Then, new sanctions would be introduced by the Western states, hitting banks or banning Russian oil and gas purchases. In this way, the cumulative damage to the Russian economy would be colossal in scale.
Then, if the conflict seems unlikely, to whom is this threat of war worthwhile? By the Western side, this scenario can be used to fortify Western military aid in Ukraine and strengthen the country on an anti-Russian basis. At the same time, such a situation can be exploited by Moscow as well. First, the Kremlin warned that it would be ready for an armed conflict if NATO continued to support Ukraine. Second, Putin was willing to reaffirm the Russian primary position within the global scenario. And that is exactly what he achieved. Last Tuesday, Putin and Biden spoke for roughly two hours in a video call in an attempt to avoid an escalation. As reported by The New York Times, President Putin demanded guarantees that NATO would stop expansion eastward. President Biden listening to such requests, experts say, is de facto a proof that the Kremlin has obtained an important success for what concerns its diplomatic relations with the US. However, the atmosphere is still hot, and the public hopes it will cool down soon. For sure, Ukrainian people could not endure a new large-scale conflict.
Biden delivers a warning to Putin over Ukraine. (2021, December 7). The New York Times – Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos. https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/12/07/world/biden-putin
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine: How likely is another war? (n.d.). Foreign Policy Research Institute. https://www.fpri.org/event/2021/tensions-between-russia-and-ukraine-how-likely-is-another-war/
Timofeev, I. (n.d.). War between Russia and Ukraine: A basic scenario? Valdai Club. https://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/war-between-russia-and-ukraine-a-basic-scenario/
Why should Joe Biden care about Ukraine? (2021, December 6). CEPA. https://cepa.org/why-should-joe-biden-care-about-ukraine/
Roman. Global Governance student at Tor Vergata, University of Rome.
Passionate about geopolitics and international relations. I like writing: it’s my way to find answers to my doubts.