Ukraine Russia conflict is escalating. Many wonder why Russia has started to invade Ukraine and what are the consequences of this crucial conflict for the region as well as the whole world.
Ukraine Russia Conflict; Why is Russia invading Ukraine?
The short version is that the U.S. has cobbled together a coalition of right wing nationalists, and other anti-Russian groups to sow discord in the Ukraine to reduce Russian influence in the region and for economic reasons. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been infighting.
A huge problem now is that if the Ukraine joins NATO, it would be a security risk to Russia, and could possibly cause WWIII if antagonisms and posturing continues. In the West, we are constantly told by the media that it is the Big Bad Putin who wants to devour Europe, and that the noble West must “stare him down.”
Imagine if Russia assembled a band of communist militias and anti-American extremists at the border of Mexico, for the purpose of “reducing American influence in the region.” The Americans would shit an egg-roll crying foul. The President would invoke the Monroe Doctrine, and we would likely have WWIII. Scratch that. We would probably nuke them.
As for the details, the best overall summary I have found is:
First of all, in the heart of it it is not Russia-Ukraine dispute, but the civil war between Western and Eastern Ukraine, which supported different political lines for decades. It’s not the first time in the last 100 years when many people in East and West of Ukraine support or fighting or help different sides in a war. It’s at least third time. After its independence from USSR Ukraine almost immidiately became politically divided. Candidates from West never had good chances in the East and vice versa. It has many reasons, — historical, political, economical, cultural. Federalist-separatist moves took place long before this year — in Crimea even in 1990s, and in East in 2005 (Yanukovich Party of Regions tried to initiate some federalism). Also, Yanukovich’s party of Regions was official parther of Putin’s party since 2005. This was negative only for West, not for East, which continued to support Putin’s partners against the West.
Second, it’s a dispute over Crimea. Crimea became part of Ukraine only in 1955. Some Russians never considered Crimea Ukrainian, and some Ukrainians too: while only pro-Western choice was considered “pro-Ukrainian” by West, Crimea always voted for pro-Eastern. Majority of Crimeans never felt themselves Ukrainian — poll of 2008 “What culture do you think you belong to?” said that 55% are of Russian culture and 15% of Soviet. So for majority of them Russian action last year are like “back home”, not like invasion and annexation. Donbass also wasn’t fond of Ukrainian politics and people there didn’t felt themselves closer to the West of Ukraine than to Russia or Belarus. Actually in 2010-2011 two of famous Ukrainian writers called Donbass and Crimea “part of the Russian nation” and said like “everything Ukrainan is alien for that regions”.
And third dispute is that Russia backed and backs people in the Crimea and in the East of Ukraine with pro-Russian (or pro-Soviet) positions. For some time it wasn’t even considered bad by majority: historical maximum of support for Yanukovich was detected in April-2010, when so-called Kharkov Articles “lower gas prices for Black Sea fleet stay” were signed. Maidan parties were very much against the deal. In 2014 pro-Western “pro-Ukrainian” decided to capture the power by coup and monopolize the power. The Maidan coup and further actions of pro-Western parties destroyed any legitimacy in the eyes of majority in the East and pro-Eastern, all prospects with such “new authorities” were percieved as just negative (chauvinism, austerity etc). So from the pro-Western point of view Russia backs illegal separatists, from pro-Eastern criminal coup new government in Kiev started to use army to suppress those who were against the illegal coup and attempts to supress any opposition, and Russia helps those who are punished for their inloyalty to chauvinists and criminals.
Ukraine Russia Conflict; Cold War Period Matters
All goes back to Cold War. After the WW2 the US were gathering everyone they could find against the Soviet Union . That’s how Western Ukrainian lobby started to form in Washington.
The ideas were (and are) pretty simple:
- if the US are big country in the world of small countries, the US call the shots and boss everyone (one Quoran suggested me to read on Banana Wars as good historical example)
- if the US own some manufacturing, and the small countries don’t, they have to buy from the US big companies.
- if the US own and lock something, Russia can’t use it
Meet Kateryna Yushchenko (foremost on the photo below), the former first lady of Ukraine in 2005–2010, born Catherine Claire Chumachenko in Chicago to immigrants from the Left-bank Ukraine. She is a former U.S. State Department official. She worked as a special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs.
While a popular narrative in West is that the USSR was “just evil empire”, the ideology of the USSR prescribed to bring all of its parts up.
Ukraine produced one of the most mass planes in the world, An-2:
And the hugest cargo plane in the world, An-225:
Ukraine was building Soviet carriers (this one was sold to China):
The Soviet fearsome ICBM “Satan” were also developed in Ukraine:
And another Soviet fearsome Grad MRLS was often seen on chassis from Soviet Ukrainian KRAZ:
But there was a problem: Ukrainians weren’t that pro-Western, disliked NATO operations like Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and could easily swing back to Russia (see Gallup polls in Ukraine of 2008–2010).
So the US needed something which could deny Ukraine to Russia regardless of what happens, and they found it in Ukrainian oligarchs, nationalist and pro-Western, caring not how Ukrainian people may suffer (see Gallup polls in Ukraine of 2015–2019).
At present the US do just the same what they were doing earlier: they try to deny Ukrainian resources to Russia.
I think that deep in their hearts the US leaders realize that they can’t keep Ukraine forever. The majority of Ukrainian people are rather swinging than pro-Western, they think that the state should provide to people affordable energy and jobs, they are somewhat socialist. But the US partners can sell out and destroy manufacturing capabilities of Ukraine, so Russia could’t use them either.
And that’s what happened as well. Ukraine owned by Americans doesn’t produce what the Soviet Ukraine could.
The West will spin the narrative that Big Bad Putin has “stolen” Crimea and is now trying to “steal” the Ukraine, after having “meddled” in its politics for years.
The real victims here are the ordinary citizens, caught between the U.S. (and Western European powers) trying to play Cold War with Russia, for political and economic purposes, and Russia, which is threatened by the Ukraine joining NATO and doesn’t want that to happen, for obvious reasons, and due to the political forces in the Ukraine seeking to kick and punch Russia as much as they can. These tensions have existed for so long. They won’t be easily resolved.
What are the consequences of Russia invading Ukraine?
It would definitely be game-changing event in contemporary European politics and security. It would be biggest military conflict in Europe since WWII and I believe that it would start some kind of new-epoch in European history, in a lot of senses. No obviously there is big if, because nobody except Russian ruling class really knows if there will be invasion or not, but it there is one, there will be many very impactful consequences.
Now I think we should examine motivations of Russia for its expansive politics in the first place. Russia is a very specific country with paranoid and defensive mentality. It comes from the flat plains of north-eastern Europe, with almost no natural borders and enemies to all sides.
A Quick History Recall
Throughout its history, Russians were attacked from everywhere. Mongols, Tatars, Turks, Poles, Swedes, Germans, Lithuanians, even the French. Everybody tried to take a piece of mother Russia. It is fair to admit, that most of those failed. It gave Russians very specific approach to geopolitics.
Basically Russia tries to conquer as much land as possible to move its borders away from its core lands for protective reasons. You can see it in current lack of understanding between the west and Russia when trying to resolve the current crisis. While the west is mostly seeing it from the perspective of an aggression towards a sovereign nation, Russia is seeing it as a part of a power struggle between Russia and USA. In the west, joining NATO is seen mostly as a deliberate act of a sovereign nation choosing its fate. Russia just sees it as a power move of USA controlled alliance against Russia.
Now Russian current western borders are almost undefendable. They are just thousands of miles of flatlands from the Baltic to the Black sea. Ideal for tanks to roll over (remember Barbarossa?). One can argue that nobody is really attacking Russia or planing to, but it is fair to admit, that Russians just sees it from pragmatic and long term point of view.
The fact, that Europe is now full of pacifist environmentalists does not mean it will be that way in 50 years. There is argument to be made that Russian anxieties and fears were not taken into account after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s (expansion of NATO into eastern Europe) and Russia was disrespected (bombing of Serbia, traditional ally). But it is also necessary to say that it is nobody’s fault but Russias, that half of the people from Baltic to Adriatic and Black See hates and fear them. That is on them. That is not USA-made anti-Russian propaganda, that is just historical memory of a whole region.
Now as I mentioned before, Russian leadership sees its current western border as a catastrophe in the making and want to do what it has always done. Move them far away to find some kind of natural border that is defendable. From the Moscow point of view, the cold war borders of the eastern bloc were a dream.
Russia controlled the Northern European plain (from where the most horrendous attacks in Napoleonic wars, WWI and WWII came) up to its narrowest and most defendable point in east Germany. Russian population centres in European Russia were safe. Now Russia is today just a shadow of SSSR, so this kind of expansion is unthinkable, but there is this map (it is from a book by Peter Zeihan, I know that he is controversial, but this map makes perfect sense):
It shows the most desirable borders of current Russia from the strategic point of view. It expands Russian borders/zone of influence or control to closest geographically defendable barriers. So from the Blacks Sea, over the Carpathian mountains, through to narrower part of Northern European plain in the middle of Poland and then the Baltic Sea. Now I am not saying that Russian leadership really want to wage a huge war in Europe to get these borders. I can not know. But it would definitely be in sync with long term Russian strategic thinking. And when you look at the circumstances of international situation it is clear, that if there was a time for some kind of actions, it is probably now.
Europe is tired and demoralised by the ongoing coronavirus crisis and it is in no position to cause serious troubles to Russia. The most important continental powers, Germany and France, are really far from taking some kind of resolute position against Russian aggression. In the case of Germany, one would almost think that there is some kind of secret treaty of cooperation between them and Russia. USA are dragged down in their internal political and societal debate that is causing them to be more inward focused. And it is also important to note, that Russian long term position is not getting any better. On the contrary.
The longterm trends are not playing in favour of Russia.
Russia economy is just not showing any sings of modernising and moving away from being just a hydrocarbon supplier to mostly more developed economies. But even if right now, and in the years to come, the Europe’s dependance on Russian gas and oil will still be significant, the long term strategy of most of the world is moving away from hydrocarbons for ecological purposes. Now even if lot of those goals are utopian and probably won’t be realised in its entirety, every kind of reduction of Russian hydrocarbon usage in Europe (planned massive building of nuclear power plants, potential technological breakthrough in smaller modular reactors, development of storage of electricity from renewables in hydrogen…) is huge blow for Russian economy and budget.
Demographics of Russia are also very concerning. Russian population will steeply decline in coming decades, so apart from labour shortages and potential troubles with declining percentage of ethnic Russians within Russia and growing number of mostly muslim ethnic minorities, there just will be much less young men in military age. It is very hard to wage expansionist war with that kind of demographics, because young man are scarce and if tens or even hundreds of thousands of them are being brought back in coffins, public opinion can quickly turn against the war effort. Now most of eastern Europe is in somewhat similar situation, but you need more manpower for offensive war than for defence, usually.
Then there is the overall change in balance of power. While Russia is clearly a military superpower and will remain much stronger than any individual country in its proximity, the balance of power is still changing and it is not in their favour. Economies of countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland or Romania are growing fast and are modernising. That means more resources that can go into militaries. Military budgets had been growing since 2014 in eastern Europe and this trend is likely to continue, even more so if Russia is aggressive against Ukraine. But there is also pretty strong possibility that in case if Russian expansion in eastern Europe, Sweden and Finland might join NATO or some kind of new anti-Russia coalition and also significantly ramp-up theirs military budgets. That would also significantly change the balance in the region. Sweden definitely do not want the Baltic sea becoming Russian lake.
Russia and China alliance against the West
Russians love to talk about alliance with China against the west, selling their natural resources to China and overall kind of restructure their connection to the west and start to be truly Eurasian, with the bigger emphasis on the Asian part of the word. But that is very unlikely to really happen for several reasons. Russia just can not change the fact that 75% of its population lives in its European part. Asian Russia is mostly empty and lacks infrastructure. Also the biggest Russian natural resources are mostly in north-eastern Siberia, which is very very far away from Chinese coastal population centres and the infrastructure is not there.
China and Russia also do not share many common interest other than standing against US-led international order. Actually, in the long run, it would be unexpected if China does not start to look at the resources rich and mostly empty Russian far East. The ratio of Russians v. Chinese at the border of Russia and China is flipping 18:1 in the favour if Chinese (and that does not include the non-ethnic Russians and Chinese in Russia already). When you read about the situation there, there already is significant Chinese economic and demographic influence.
There is also the soft Russian underbelly in Central Asian -stans. That is a region experiencing rapid population growth (73 mil. people as of 2020) of mostly muslim population where Russia has to compete for influence with both China and Turkey. It will be increasingly harder for Russia to maintain their footprint in the region.
I think that if Russia invades Ukraine, it will definitely win the conflict. It would probably instal some kind of puppet leadership that would make Ukraine neutral country on paper, a pro-Russian one in reality. It is really hard to predict how massive would the losses on both sides be. I am by no means military expert, but I red a lot of analysis that sad that while Ukrainian military is clearly much weaker than the Russian one, it is much more capable than it was in 2014.
Ukraine got more internally united as a country and the morale of the military and the nation as a whole is supossedly on pretty high level. It got weapons and training from western officers. So the losses inflicted on Russian military by Ukrainian defence forces might be significant, even if Russians would clearly got the upper hand. I do not know how would this affect Russian public opinion regarding the conflict, but probably not that much.
The western response would take a form of economic sanctions. The question is how severe they would be. I would say that the main question is if Germany would succumb to the pressure and allow expulsion of Russia from the SWIFT international banking system and also stopping the NordStream 2 from functioning. Now if these sanctions will go through, Russia will handle it. Russia has lot of money in their war chest (it is in hundreds of billions dollars at least) and is pretty self sufficient in many important ways (grains, gas, oil, metals..). But it would sentence Russian economy to serious marginalisation for decades to come. There would be massive capital flight out of the country and probably also significant brain drain of the best and brightest (which is already happening). This would have significant impact on Russian position over time, because there would be less resources for the military, which is cornerstone of Russian power.
Now if Germany would torpedo the sanctions, Russia would be hit much less hard, so its position would not be that affected. But additionally, I think that it would fundamentally affect the relations between European countries. I believe that eastern European countries would definitely lose all, if they have some now, faith in the German determination to anyhow defend its eastern partners. Yes, Ukraine is not in NATO or in the EU, but if Germany would not be willing to do as much as use serious sanctions against Russia in case it attacks Ukraine, it is unlikely it will do much about other theoretic acts of Russian against countries in central and eastern Europe. I think it might lead to creation of same new security alliance in Europe. There already have been talks about new security alliance between UK, Poland and Ukraine. I think that another countries interested in this kind of project would be Sweden, Finland, Baltic countries, Czech republic and Romania.
USA would probably strongly support creation of this structure. There would also very likely be huge wave of migration out of Ukraine into eastern EU countries. It might even reach millions of people, if the conflict is bad enough. Now eastern European countries like V4 should definitely try to take i as much refugees as they can, since Ukrainians are people of similar civilisational background and they would also be authentic war refugees. The arguments that V4 countries legitimately used against taking migrants from middle east would not apply here. Ukrainian experience with Russian oppression is also relatable for most ex-eastern bloc countries.
We hope that the invasion will be ceased soon. It would truly flip the European security architecture on its head completely and new epoch would begin. Yeah, the conflict is here 2014, but full scale invasion would be completely different animal. It would be even much more serious than Yugoslav wars. While Yugoslav wars were really horrendous from humanitarian point of view, they did not have the potential to lead to other and very large scale conflicts. They were confined within Yugoslavian territories and the biggest consideration for the rest of the world were losses of lives and refugees (but they often went to other Yugoslav countries). But Russian army rolling over Ukrainian territory and being in regular war with regular army of another European state would hyped up the tension in the continent to highs not seen in a decades.