Russo-Ukraine War As A Black Swan Event: Potential Catalyst For A World War 3.0? –


Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and supported separatist movements in eastern Ukraine in 2014. The conflict has escalated despite diplomatic efforts to pacify the situation, with both sides accusing each other of aggression and violations of sovereignty and international laws. The conflict is already devastating for the Ukrainian people and has important geopolitical ramifications not only for the Europe, but as a black swan event had an unexpected and catastrophic widespread global multilateral consequences. Even it is anticipated that the emerging scenario out of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine could spark World War 3.0.

The theory of the black swan was initially proposed in 2001 by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who is a writer and investor. Simple meaning of this metaphor is the event which is highly unbelievable one and if the same has had happened, would have left very indelible and drastic impacts over several facets of life. Many scholars argued that the Russian attack was unexpected (Choudhary, 2022), which has left inedible imprints on every facets of the Ukrainian people as pointed out by many scholars, commentators, journalists etc.

Russo-Ukraine War 

The Russo-Ukrainian War is an ongoing global conflict that was kicked off in February 2014 between Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine is being supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries whereas on the other Russia is being supported by China along with other countries. In the aftermath of Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, Crimea was annexed by Russia and pro-Russian separatists were backed by Russia in the Donbas conflict against the Ukrainian military. During the initial octennial period of hostilities, there were also occurrences of naval altercations, cyberattacks, and escalated political animosity. In February of 2022, Russia initiated a comprehensive military operation against Ukraine.

The circumstances that transpired in the beginning of 2014, namely the Euromaidan protests, resulted in the Revolution of Dignity and the removal of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (2010-14), who was known for his pro-Russian stance. Subsequently, there was a surge of pro-Russian protests in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine. Concurrently, unidentifiable Russian military personnel entered the territory of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and assumed control of governmental key locations, and essential facilities. Following a controversial referendum, Russia expeditiously annexed Crimea. The Donbas war was initiated in April 2014 when pro-Russian separatists, armed with weapons, took control of government buildings in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and declared the establishment of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) as sovereign entities.

The separatist factions were provided with significant, yet clandestine, backing on part of Russia. Meanwhile, efforts by the Ukrainian authorities to recapture the territories held by the separatists proved unsuccessful. Despite Russia’s denial of involvement, it has been confirmed that Russian troops were actively engaged in the conflict. The Minsk II Agreements were signed by Russia and Ukraine in February 2015 with the aim of resolving the conflict. However, the agreements were not fully executed in the subsequent years. The conflict in Donbas has evolved into a protracted and violent struggle between Ukraine and Russian-backed forces, characterised by intermittent truces but a lack of enduring resolution and minimal alterations in territorial jurisdiction.

Apart from the internal dynamics, the external factors and actors such as the US, EU, NATO interferences catalysed the explosive situation. The current crisis in Ukraine can be interpreted as a clash of ideologies between Western principles, represented by the European Union, the United Nations, and on the other hand, communistic ideology of Russia. Russia perceives the liberal democratic position embodied by the European Union, NATO, the United Nations, various non-governmental organisations, and the United States as existential threats for its survival and status as a major power. The Kremlin seems to be operating independently as a complex web of alliances endeavours to contain the proliferation of Western ideology in countries that were previously affiliated with the Soviet Union.

Mearsheimer (2014, p. 79) has argued that the actions, engagements the liberal beliefs of the West had instigated Putin’s reactions. He further argued that the strategy employed by the West to detach Kyiv from Moscow has involved the dissemination of Western values and the advancement of democracy in Ukraine and other post-Soviet nations. This approach frequently involves the provision of financial support to pro-Western entities and individuals. Conversely, the Western powers express theirs concerns regarding the proliferation of communism and, somewhat paradoxically, nationalist ideology within the Eastern European countries as well as the safeguarding of human rights in Ukraine. The actions undertaken by Russia, driven by ideological considerations, have given rise to doubts regarding their conformity with international legal norms, thereby exacerbating an already intricate and contentious scenario. 

Realizing the expansion of interferences and influences on part of NATO, Russia established a substantial military deployment in the beginning of 2021, along its borders being shared with Ukraine, and other countries such as Belarus. However, the Russian leadership consistently refuted any intentions to launch an attack on Ukraine (Taylor, Adam: 24 February 2022). Whereas on the other hand, the expansion of NATO was criticised by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who also called for the exclusion of Ukraine from any potential membership of the NATO. In addition, he articulated irredentist perspectives and challenged the legitimacy of Ukraine’s existence (Düben, Björn Alexander: 1 July 2020). In February 2022, the Russian government acknowledged the independence of the DPR and LPR. 

President Putin declared a “special military operation” in Ukraine and proceeded to launch an invasion of the area. On the morning of February 24th, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was commenced subsequent to Putin’s announcement of a “special military operation” aimed at “demilitarising and denazifying” Ukraine (Waxman, Olivia B.: 3 March 2022). Subsequent to the aforementioned event, Ukraine was subjected to missile attacks and airstrikes, which were carried out in various locations, including Kyiv. This was shortly followed by a significant ground invasion that occurred on multiple fronts. The declaration of martial law and a general mobilisation of all male Ukrainian citizens between the ages of 18 and 60, with a prohibition on their departure from the country, was announced by Zelenskyy.

The Russian invasion received global condemnation due to its classification as a war. The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution that called for the complete withdrawal of Russian forces. Additionally, the International Court of Justice issued an order for Russia to halt its military operations, while the Council of Europe expelled Russia taking into account its invasion over Ukraine. The US and EU along with many other countries imposed and implemented sanctions that had indelible impacts on the economy not only of Russia, rather more critically affected the EU and global economies. 

Advent of the Ward War 3.0?

Given the various actors and factors in the beginning of the 20th century, the humanity has witnessed the two world wars, which caused massive losses of men and material wealth. The Russo-Ukraine conflict once again turn into World War 3.0 as the same has been dividing the world into two alliances and counter-alliances i.e., West and East. In the West Group, the US, EU, NATO and several other countries are there. The other group is Russia, along with many other countries including China. 

On what basis/arguments, one can anticipate the World War 3.0 can take place? Are there any congruencies are emerging in the scenarios between the previous world wars and the on-going Russia-Ukraine conflict. Some commentators/strategic thinkers are visualizing some similarities between these two scenarios. 

Nationalism and territorial disputes were identified as fundamental factors that contributed to the outbreak of both World Wars. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine can be traced back to Ukraine’s aspiration for autonomy from the Russian influences whereas on the other hand, Russia’s aspiration is to establish its dominance in the post-Soviet countries including Ukraine. Secondly, the three wars/conflicts under consideration could be characterised by military aggressions on part of one against the others. Specifically, Germany’s invasion over neighbouring countries during the World Wars and Russia’s invasion over Ukraine and heightening conflicts with other neighbouring countries such as Sweden, Finland along with several others countries are notable examples wherein one could find a lot of strategic and tactical homogeneousness. Thirdly, the two World Wars were catalysed by the alliances and counter-alliances systems pre and post-world wars, fighting against one another. In these alliances, multiple countries had provided strategic and tactical support to either of the opposing sides. Similarly, the ongoing conflict, wherein Ukraine is receiving strategic and tactical support  from numerous actors such as the US, Canada, EU, NATO etc., whereas Russia has been receiving support from selected allies including China to whom the western world is perceiving as their existential threat. Still some countries are not supporting the EU and NATO over the issues, rather they are still pursuing neutrality posture. 

  The concept of a “third world war” is not new ones, as many analysts and experts have warned about the potential for another global conflict in the 21st century. What are the potential ramifications of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine escalating into a global conflict of unparalleled magnitude? A conceivable scenario involves the intensification of the dispute to a level that triggers the participation of other notable international actors. In the hypothetical scenario of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia or a military attack on Russian forces by Ukraine, it is possible that other nations may respond.

Russia is a major military power, and any conflict involving Russia would have significant global implications. Whereas on the other hand, NATO is a military alliance that includes many Western countries, including the United States, Canada, and many other powerful European countries. If Russia were to invade Ukraine, it could trigger a response from NATO as well, potentially leading to a larger conflict. China is also a major player in the global geopolitical landscape, and its relationship with Russia is significant. If Russia were to become embroiled in a conflict with NATO, China could potentially offer military support to Russia, further escalating the conflict into the World War 3.0.

Let’s peep into the warnings/statement issued by leaders/countries with respect to the Russo-Ukraine conflict may turn into World War 3.0. In this respect, a Russian Security Council official warned that, the conflict in Ukraine would unavoidably spiral out of control and turn into World War 3.0 if Ukraine were admitted into the U.S.-led NATO military alliance. According to a report by TASS, Alexander Venediktov (Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security Council) made a statement that, “Kyiv is well aware that such a step would mean a guaranteed escalation to World War Three.” Referring to the Russo-Ukraine conflict, U.S. President Joe Biden has also warned the global community the threat of a nuclear Armageddon. Recently, a French intellectual Emmanuel Todd came up with an interesting claim that the conflict in Ukraine is a World War because it is existential for both Russia and the US, and as a result, neither side can back down. He further argues that if Russia is successful in Ukraine, it could encourage China to launch an invasion of Taiwan and could also encourage other potential aggressors in other parts of the world, which would put additional strain on American hegemony. 

At the last. It is concluded that since its beginning in 2014, the Russia and Ukraine conflict has persisted despite numerous ceasefire agreements. Millions people displaced and thousands lives have been lost in the war. There is apprehension that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine could spread and engulf the major powers like the EU, NATO, the US, China, and Russia. It could be a disastrous as a black swan event if this escalates into a World War 3.0. It should be emphasised, however, that this outcome is not predetermined, and that measures are being taken to avert a worsening situation. In response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, diplomatic efforts have begun and sanctions have been placed on the country. In conclusion, it is important to maintain hope that a peaceful resolution can be found to the Russo-Ukrainian. Diplomacy and dialogue must remain the primary means of resolving conflicts, so the international community must continue to work together to prevent further escalations of the same.

Dr. Bawa Singh is an Associate Professor, Department of South and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India

Dr. Bawa Singh

Dr. Bawa Singh is an Associate Professor, Department of South and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India

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