The Ukraine crisis has engaged the World for the past fortnight and more.
Even as the Russian forces massed on the border with Ukraine, exercises were held by Russia and Belarus in the North on the Ukrainian border and summit diplomacy was at a new pitch speculation of whether brinkmanship by Russia will lead to a War has been rife for which there are no ready answers.
Yet the line between present level of brinkmanship that is practiced by Russia and the West led by NATO and the United States appears to be thick for now, when will it dilute or disappear remains to be seen, here is a prognostication.
Genesis of Current Impasse
The only certitude is the practice of brinkmanship through a show of force but not as much readiness to use it shown by Russia.
On the contrary quiet resolution and confidence of Ukraine may be seen as a foil to prevent Russia from extending the envelope into launching operations across the border having massed adequate quantum of troops for a limited invasion.
The unity of the West rallying around calls by the United States and NATO which has been practicing heightened summit diplomacy with Russia to defuse the crisis has not been successful so far in achieving tangible results - that is pull back of Russian forces from the frontline.
This is not likely to come about until Russia has achieved the political objective of NATO rescinding on plans for expansion to Ukraine or Kyiv abdicating such a course voluntarily.
That is the basic Russian demand outlined by President Vladimir Putin from time to time apart from guarantees of security.
From the Russian point of view – Ukraine is the last frontier between Russia and NATO.
Post Cold War the dynamics in Europe has changed to the detriment of Russian security as per Mr Putin’s perception.
Much of this has been due to soft power – political and economic which led to the demise of Communism from Central and Eastern Europe and collapse of the Soviet Union.
While a degree of stability was anticipated post the end of the Cold War -NATO expansion is seen by Russia as contrary to larger expectations of the stability which assured Moscow’s concerns were met.
However, NATO’s expansion the reasons for which were seen by Russia as to contain it has meant that today Russia has only Belarus and Ukraine as buffers.
While Belarus remains in Russian sphere of influence, Ukraine is seen falling out and prospects of NATO reaching the borders of Russia will increase insecurities in Moscow.
Thus, Russia is determined to prevent the same and the brinkmanship and show of force is to achieve this is political objective.
Options to Defuse Crisis and War Indicators
The crisis could be defused if Russia’s demands could be negotiated in a manner that Ukraine’s sovereignty in decision making is maintained while the West – US and NATO are not seen as appeasing Mr Putin.
This equation is as simple but as Clausewitz said in war – and brinkmanship the simplest things are the most difficult and so it appears to be presently.
Importantly for Russia and perhaps Ukraine the political objective is existential in nature. Moscow can thus be expected to continue brinkmanship or even wage a war to achieve the same.
For the United States and NATO, the objective is to prevent Russia’s aggressive politicking present and future, ensure that international order moves on a widely accepted path and not through force or coercion.
These objectives are not existential in nature and will come into play only once Ukraine is physically seized wholly or partially by Russia if at all, there will be a direct threat to a NATO member.
Till then US and other NATO members will continue to exercise pressure on Russia in varied ways diplomacy through an information surge on a militaristic and aggressive Mr Putin and deterrence will be the way ahead.
Diplomacy and Influence Operations
Diplomacy through summitry has been emphasised while information management is continuing and the Munich Security Conference slated from February 18 to 20 will be the main arena as some of the top world leaders including the US Vice President Ms Kamala Harris will attend the same.
The information weight being exercised on Russia was evident during the Background Press Call Previewing the Vice President’s Trip to Munich, Germany at the White House held through teleconference on February 16.
US Senior Government official [deliberately not to be named] continued to emphasise that Russia while claiming to be withdrawing troops was not pulling back from the border but had in fact increased the same by as many as 7000.
The official claimed that while Russia stated that it was prepared to engage in diplomacy this was a façade, “to publicly offer to talk and make claims about de-escalation while privately mobilizing for war”.
He also claimed that there could be a false flag operation and said, “We continue to receive indications that they could launch a false pretext at any moment to justify an invasion of Ukraine. That false pretext could take a number of different forms: a provocation in the Donbas; a claim about NATO activity by land, at sea, or in the air; an incursion into Russian territory”.
“We have already seen an increase in false claims by the Russians in the past few days, including reports of an unmarked grave of civilians allegedly killed by the Ukrainian armed forces, statements that the U.S. and Ukraine are developing biological or chemical weapons, and that the West is funneling in guerrillas to kill locals. Each of these allegations is categorically false, and we should expect more false reports from Russian state media over the coming days. We’ve seen this playbook before: their previous military incursions into Ukraine and in Georgia,” he added.
Thus the brinkmanship on both sides is expected to continue information on one hand and physical deployments on the other.
Caught between the two – West and Russia while having to maintain sovereignty and perhaps Sanity, Ukraine continues to keep the fingers crossed as the beeline of evacuations in expectations of a war has commenced.
Economic hardship for Ukraine is preordained for now.