Tensions between Russia and the US-led NATO alliance are soaring over the possible invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Although Russia has repeatedly said that it does not intend to invade Ukraine, however, the Western alliance is beating war drums for the last few weeks. Diplomatic efforts have not made a breakthrough to overcome the crisis. Russian troops are deployed on its border with Ukraine. Russia is also conducting war games with Belarus army.
The present government in Ukraine seeks full membership of NATO. The military alliance also seems interested to welcome Ukraine and Georgia in the bloc. Russia considers the presence of NATO forces near its border a big security threat. Moscow fears that NATO forces may be deployed with advanced weapon systems including nuclear missiles in case Ukraine and Georgia are included in NATO.
As a former part of the Soviet Union, Russia is struggling to keep Ukraine under its influence which ultimately guarantees protection of Russian security interests. This is the same policy Russia pursues towards Central Asian Republics. There was a pro-Moscow government in Ukraine which was toppled by a popular uprising and replaced with pro-West government. Afterwards, Russia annexed Crimea and started supporting pro-Russia rebels in south east of Ukraine.
Russia demands from the West (US and NATO) a guarantee that Ukraine would not be made formal part of NATO. In other words, Russia wants legally binding security guarantees from the West. On the other side, the US-led western alliance is reluctant to give any such assurances to Russia. Rather it supports the open door policy of the pro-West Ukrainian government. For the US, Ukraine being an independent state reserves the right to pursue an independent foreign policy without any outside pressure/ influence from Russia.
The deadlock has created a situation where the uncompromising attitudes may lead to a full-fledged war that may have spill over consequences for peace and security of the whole world. The US, UK and some other European countries (except Germany) are continuously supplying weapons to Ukraine. It seems like Germany has learned lessons from its past experiences of indulging in useless/others wars. Other than that Germany relies heavily on Russian gas which it fears may be cut off in case of war. For how long would Germany distant itself from the high politics in the region is a matter of time. However, Germany and France may not like war with Russia. German Naval Chief, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schonbach, recently commented that Russian president deserves respect and Russia can be made a friend instead of an enemy.
According to recent developments, the US and UK governments are preparing bills to impose strict sanctions on Russia. They have already threatened Russia of severe sanctions if Ukraine is attacked. UK government of Boris Johnson is asking its Europeans partners to prepare packages of similar level of sanctions against Russia. Not only this, US senators have warned that some sanctions may be imposed on Russia before the possible military invasion of Ukraine.
The prevailing scenario is showing a neck and neck high politics. In order to understand the situation comprehensively, it is essential to focus on the big picture. The US and Britain together are pushing Russia to a corner. Russian President Vladimir Putin would certainly be feeling high pressure of making a right decision at this critical point of time. On one hand, Putin may want to avoid a war with huge expected cost. While on the other hand, the West has created a scenario of serious security challenges to Russia. It is, undoubtedly, a test case for Russian leadership. Putin needs to play very smartly by exploring options other than military invasion of Ukraine.
The US-led coalition, in fact, is less concerned about defending Ukraine from Russian invasion. Their primary interests lie in dragging Russia into a war that would cost it heavy. The US behavior reflects provocation, in other words. Russia’s envoy to UN, Vasily Nabenzya, during a special UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine crisis, said that “Washington and its allies are drumming up the threat of war. The discussion about a threat of war is provocative in and of itself. You are almost calling for this. You want it to happen. You are waiting for it to happen as if you want to make your words become a reality.” Putin has also expressed similar concerns. Hence, it could be considered a trap from the US-led NATO allies. Chinese English daily, Global Times, also shares the same view that there are more chances of starting war by the US and allies side than from Russia.
Under the competent leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia has regained its significant role and influence in world politics. If Putin hastily decides to invade Ukraine (most probably he would not), it may be a blunder on his part. A similar type of mistake Russia made during the Cold War, the military invasion of Afghanistan, which finally resulted in the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Putin has, somehow, recovered Russian economy from the Afghan war consequences. However, it may not sustain cost of another war. Russia, in worst case scenario, may deploy forces, missiles near the US border in Cuba. This strategy seems risky, however, may push US leadership and NATO members to respond positively towards addressing Russian security concerns.
Nevertheless, war clouds have gathered over Ukraine. A wrong decision from the Russian political leadership or a spark based on miscalculations/ miscommunication may lead to a destructive war that may engulf surrounding regions. However, the war is not inevitable. It can be averted and situation can be calmed down. It is pertinent to mention that some invisible forces want wars in the world. They benefit from wars in many ways, politically and financially. Ultimately these forces are seeking to maintain their supremacy in world politics. Russia and Eastern Europe are perhaps their upcoming target areas this time.
Moreover, strong China-Russia partnership hurts ‘others’ interests’. Moscow and Beijing support each other’s formal positions on many issues of international politics. Both the countries are looking for a multipolar world order. Together they are shifting power from West to East. Their mutual alliance undermines the West supremacy in world politics. On the Ukraine crisis, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson said that US should give up its Cold War mentality and refrain from issuing inflammatory statements. China, it seems, understands that a war is being imposed on Russia with a purpose to defeat Russia and make a dent on China’s power potential.
The possible war may create security and economic challenges for Turkey also. Turkey is a NATO member and maintains cordial relations with Russia. Turkey may not like to side with the West against Russia. In case it does, it may face consequences and heat of war may reach Turkey. Hence, Turkey’s future role in the episode would be seen with keen interest. The larger picture depicts that Turkey may be dragged into this war in one way or the other for obvious reasons. A hot seat is ready and Turkey ought to refrain from sitting on it. It is also worth mentioning that Turkey is interested to sell its advanced drones to Ukraine.
A zoom-out view also shows consequences of the possible war for Europe at large. A strong European Union is considered a threat by its ‘competitor’ in world politics. Weakening this Union and its common currency, Euro, would definitely serve the purpose of the ‘competitor’. Brexit strategy could be brought into this calculation in order to understand the whole politics.
Last but not the least, possibility of a war remains there but not inevitable. The situation demands smart diplomatic efforts. There is a serious need for confidence building measures between Russia and US led western alliance. Peaceful means can diffuse the soaring tensions and prevent a destructive war. Russian President, it seems, understands that indulging in war is a planned trap. Further, he may look for other viable options.
*Dr. Amanullah Khan teaches at a university in Islamabad, Pakistan. He holds PhD in Peace and Conflict Studies. He can be reached at: [email protected]