Modern Diplomacy
Would The Ukraine Crisis be Limited to Ukraine’s Territory?

Significant changes to the international system have transpired since the beginning of the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. Initially, Moscow believed that a diplomatic breakthrough could be attained in February, March, or perhaps April of 2022. Notably, in Istanbul, Russia and Ukraine had come remarkably close to reaching agreements on various facets of the conflict. For instance, discussions had revolved around the demilitarisation of Ukraine, i.e. the permissible size of the Ukrainian army and guarantees that it would remain neutral.

Yet it appears that during this juncture, the US and Great Britain provided a contrasting perspective to Kiev, persuading the Ukrainian leadership that they could effortlessly triumph in the war and under Western pressure, Russia would imminently collapse economically. Regrettably, the inexperienced Ukrainian leadership seems to have accepted this perspective, despite its practical infeasibility, considering the available Ukrainian resources and the extent of support that the West and NATO could viably provide to Ukraine.

Russia is fully cognizant that currently the American bureaucratic procedures governing the allocation of resources essential for sustaining Ukraine are duly reflected in the military budget for the upcoming fiscal year, implying that the conflict is unlikely to conclude within this timeframe. Both the US Congress and the White House exhibit a shared comprehension and alignment in their objective to achieve “victory over Russia” on the battlefield. This institutional consolidation renders the United States a formidable adversary in this conflict, particularly within the scope of the annual timeframe.

Nevertheless, our interlocutors seem to be struggling to fully grasp the notion that Russia possesses invincible military capabilities. Russia has unequivocally conveyed its commitment to pursue its goals through any means necessary, even if it involves prolonged military action. Given such circumstances, negotiations would have been a more rational approach to dealing with Russia. Understanding the significance of Ukraine to Russia and recognising the necessity of engaging in dialogue to address the matter would have been prudent. Russia will achieve its goals anyway.

Denying the possibility of overall negotiation with Russia, from the American side, essentially served as a provocative measure. Therefore, now Russia is on the path to accomplishing de facto Ukrainian demilitarisation, leading to the incapacitation of its military. While Russia was prepared to pursue such a course, it refrained from doing so initially.

To support this argument, one can refer tothe 2008 memos leaked by Wikileaks, authored by the then ambassador to Moscow William Burns: “Ukraine and Georgia's NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia's influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests. Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war.” In sum, these documents explicate that forcing Ukraine towards NATO membership could potentially lead to a civil war in Ukraine that would involve Russia, a development that Moscow preferred to avoid.

This perspective prompts us to consider that the US not only possessed a deep awareness of the unfolding events, but deliberately sought this outcome, utilising Ukraine as a means of extreme containment of Russia. The perceived goal was to inflict damage on Russia's international standing, to disrupt relations with the European Union, and to compel European countries to align with Washington's strategy at the expense of the European economy. Consequently, this strategy aimed to irreparably damage Russia-Europe ties, resulting in what the US views as positive developments.

European countries, with the possible exceptions of Hungary, Austria and Switzerland, have exhibited a unified stance in alignment with the United States. They speak in unison, demonstrating a tendency to avoid expressing dissenting opinions or questioning prevailing narratives. This has created a climate where it is perceived as perilous to raise critical inquiries regarding Ukraine. Western public opinion seems reticent in confronting the crimes committed by the Ukrainian political and military leadership, including actions against civilians on the battlefield. Among Ukraine's neighbouring countries, Poland and the Baltic states appear particularly enthusiastic about confronting Russia relentlessly. However, their leadership may lack the necessary experience to fully comprehend the potential consequences of such actions, which might not align with their expectations. This dynamic raises concerns about possible unforeseen military repercussions arising from the eagerness to engage in prolonged conflict with Russia.

Certainly, the cost of war has surpassed initial expectations, and the depth and intensity of the conflict have proven traumatic for all parties involved. Societies appear fatigued by the prolonged crisis, but this exhaustion has not yet led to significant shifts in public opinion among the European countries. Recent polls indicate substantial support for Ukraine, and the potential to provide ammunition and weapons remains untapped. Russia, well aware of the significant costs of the crisis over Ukraine, has not at all exhausted its potential power. Instead, it retains strategic reserves, effectively creating a second army, and safeguarding its capabilities for potential involvement in other wars or conflicts that may emerge in different regions. This preparedness exemplifies Russia's commitment to protecting its interests and ensuring adaptability to address potential future scenarios of a broader scope.

What are the prospects of the current ever-escalating crisis? While historical events are often characterised as continuous experiments, a resemblance can be observed between the Korean War and the ongoing crisis. The Korean War involved a significant deployment of American forces, resulting in substantial casualties with approximately 40,000 deaths. Notably, other allies were involved, with China and the Soviet Union supporting the North Korean side. Soviet fighters significantly impacted American air warfare capability, resulting in the considerable losses of approximately 1,000 American fighters. Despite the tremendous and devastating nature of the Korean War and hundreds of thousands of losses incurred by both sides, the crisis ultimately remained confined to the Korean theatre without further escalation beyond its borders. But unlike the Korean War, the Ukraine crisis would be limited to the territory of Ukraine only if no armed forces of NATO countries would enter the frontline.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.