Russian Withdrawal From Kherson: Would It Help End Or Escalate The War? – OpEd


In the last few decades, Russia has objected in various ways to Western interventions and the expansion of NATO in its security perimeter and has reacted to being considered a systematic threat by the West. War and economic sanctions have led the two sides to gradually and purposefully conclude that acting in the current difficult situation cannot be achieved by stabilizing peace and security. Eventually, the course of these events left Russia and the Western alliance in no other way but war.

Seeing war as the solution began when the US tried to restrict Russia’s sphere of influence using various means after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Creating color revolutions in the former Soviet countries and the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the installation of missile defense systems as NATO expanded in Eastern Europe put Moscow in a strategic dilemma. Today Russia is facing increasing pressure from four zones in its “near abroad” and its security perimeter.

The US, knowing that Baltic countries have historical concerns regarding Russia and the danger that their residents that are of Russian descent possess, decided to equip them with advanced armaments after they became members of NATO, and deployed significant numbers of military personnel and equipment in the Baltic region. The outcome of these transformations led to the strategic military suppression of St. Petersburg and the isolated territory of Kaliningrad, which is of vital importance to Russia since the ground support of Kaliningrad is only possible through Lithuania and the Suvalki corridor, and that is the only land way or extraterritorial corridor for Russia to reach the Kaliningrad region and the Baltic Sea.

When it comes to the north and polar borders of Russia, Finland and Sweden abandoned the Cold War-era neutrality policy by joining NATO. Sweden is now seeking more active cooperation with NATO and is arming itself with key armaments such as fifth-generation fighters therefore, Russia is also facing the expanding power of NATO in its northern borders and the Barents Sea.

In Eastern Europe, the United States formerly pursued the Reagan-era strategy concerning the membership of Romania and Poland in NATO and the deployment of missile defense systems, the Star Wars project known as SDI, and by getting closer to Russia’s borders without firing a single bullet, the United States has been challenging Russia in its industrial and agricultural heart of the former Soviet Union and its backyard in such a way that Russia, already combating the US in the Ukraine war, must also fight to maintain its existence.

Now that the Russian forces failed to dominate Kyiv, which is known as the mother of all Russian cities, the conflicts have been expanded into the regions of the Eastern Slavs and Great Russia, which in turn is considered a civilizational setback for Russia.

Furthermore, on the southern borders, the United States has put pressure on Moscow through two main axes in the Caucasus region. Firstly, Georgia with a history of war with Russia over Abkhazia and Ossetia; And secondly, the Karabakh region, which in the 2020 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, having the support of Turkey, led to the defeat of Yerevan, Russia’s natural (logical) ally in the Caucasus region. 

Currently, one of NATO’s objectives is putting pressure on Russia on the southern front and providing the West access to the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. This situation puts unprecedented security pressure on Russia.

Accordingly, Moscow’s final response to its security blockade was a massive military invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. An attack that was supposed to be quick and decisive and lead to the fall of Kyiv. Russia’s military attack on Ukraine as a pre-emptive military action caused the already alarming tensions between Moscow and NATO to lead to an indirect military confrontation.

Although the main burden of responsibility for the war in Ukraine is on the Kremlin, NATO’s strategy of completely isolating Russia geopolitically and geostrategically during the past half-century should also be noted. NATO’s continued expansion towards Russia, may not lead to a happy ending, as a nuclear confrontation could be Putin’s next option especially hence he’s nearly defeated in Ukraine.

It should be emphasized that Russian military doctrine considers the use of nuclear weapons necessary (and justified) in two specific scenarios: First, counter response to other nuclear attacks, and second when Russia’s existence is endangered even in a war that Moscow initiated in the first place.

Now, with Russia withdrawing from Kherson and continuing the war in the winter, which can lead to further desperation of the Russian army and jeopardizing the very existence of this country, they would see the use of nuclear weapons justified. In fact, the forced withdrawal of Russian military forces from Kherson, which was one of the most sensitive areas of the Black Sea that could lead to geopolitical changes in favor of Russia, means that the way for Europe and NATO to the Black Sea has opened again. Conquering the Kherson region can even underlie the liberation of Crimea, which Russia has spent billions of dollars to preserve.

Now, by violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Missiles Treaty and developing and deploying these missiles on its western borders, Moscow is aiming to threaten the security of Europe. In his remarks, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg called these missiles very dangerous and added that these nuclear missiles are difficult to detect due to their mobility, and their special capabilities enable them to reduce the warning time and easily hit European cities. Stoltenberg was worried that this would greatly reduce the information retrieved in the event of a nuclear conflict and that the deployment of Russian medium-range SSC-8 missiles eliminating the balance between Russia and NATO has given Moscow the chance of a first strike. The Secretary General of NATO believes that the deployment of this type of missile in the Kaliningrad region will cover all parts of Europe as potential targets. They could be used to destroy many NATO military infrastructures and target vital European cities such as Berlin, London, Paris, and Rome.

Now that the west has transformed the state of the battlefield by supplying advanced ammunition to the Ukrainian army, some other countries in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia are showing interest in joining NATO. Regardless of Moscow’s poor performance in the war with Ukraine, it still has the capability to preemptively attack NATO’s European members and threaten Washington with a nuclear strike to prevent them from sending aid to Europe and even possibly negotiate with the United States for a share in the post-nuclear war order with Europe.

As we observe recent changes, it seems the signs of the Cold War mentality of Western leaders against the Kremlin are coming to a reality, and it shows that the goal of the US and its European allies in the war in Ukraine is not only to prevent Russia’s invasion of this country but also to further drag Russia into war to punish Putin and the Kremlin. In fact, the West and NATO, which were practically prepared to repel Russia’s attack on Ukraine, actually seem to be setting traps for Russia in order to put an end to Putin’s era and inhibit Russia more than before.

Timothy Hopper

Timothy Hopper is an international relations graduate of American University.

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