Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan
Amid dark clouds of uncertainty enveloping Ukraine’s horizon, Russia has kept the US and its NATO allies on tenterhooks as to its future intentions to invade Ukraine which it claims has remained part of the erstwhile USSR Empire till 1991.
Russian claim of Ukraine with already weak and compromised sovereignty has brought the US and Russia almost to the brink of war. The concentration of Russian forces on Ukraine border busy in conducting military drills shows Russia’s belligerent mood to attack it, although the Russian President has been trying to convince the world that it has no aggressive designs against Ukraine and that it believes in the diplomatic solution of the crisis. On the contrary, the US has been harping on the possibility of Russian attack on Ukraine claiming that the invasion according to up-to-date intelligence reports on the activities of Russian forces is imminent and can happen any time. Speaking at the White House on Friday, 18 February, Joe Biden said that he was convinced Putin had made the decision to invade Ukraine, and warned of serious consequences but hastened to add that diplomacy is always a possibility.
However, Germany’s foreign minister Baerbock accompanied by Ukrainian foreign minister during G7 foreign ministers’ security conference held in Munich convened on Saturday, 19 February to discuss the Ukraine crisis played down the US apprehension and fierce warning of an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine and warned against making guess or assumptions about Russia’s decision on Ukraine without credible evidences saying “we do not know that the threat of invasion on Ukraine is real” and added “in crisis situation, the most inappropriate thing to do is to guess and presume”.
It may be mentioned here that the US and NATO countries have been resolute in their support for Ukraine throughout the crisis, warning Russia of dire consequences in case Russia takes the plunge. They seem determined and are preparing to meet any eventuality fearing that Russia may take them off guard. So, a nightmare scenario is developing and a dismal security picture is being painted that is getting grimmer with every passing day.
The US and other Western powers as well as the Ukrainian government itself fear some false flag operation that could be conducted inside Ukraine, particularly in the Eastern part in order to provide sufficient justification for Russian invasion as it ordinarily happens in such like security situation. No mutually acceptable solution of the crisis appears in sight as both sides are well entrenched and seem to have stuck to their guns not ready to budge even an inch, and adamant to not throw in the towel and meet each other half way.
According to defence analysts, Putin’s actions are hard to predict. His military build-up on Ukrainian border may be for holding favourable diplomatic negotiations and extract tangible concessions from the US and its European allies including written guarantees to not integrate Ukraine into NATO in addition to removing Russia’s general concerns such as genocide of Russia’s supporters in Eastern Ukraine by the Ukrainian forces which Russia has been accusing Ukraine for quite some time. But negotiations between both sides have hit a snag after the precondition set by the US and its allies demanding Russia’s de-escalation and withdrawal of troops from Ukrainian border which Russia has chosen not to do before he gets tangible guarantees from the US and its allies.
According to Michael Kimmage, a professor in the Catholic university of America and a seasoned strategist and specialist in US-Russia relations, Russia’s deepest problem with the US and the West has been the growing military relationship of Ukraine with the West. According to him, notwithstanding the fact that Ukraine is not a NATO member, NATO is present in Ukraine and participates in military exercises in Western Ukraine. But this issue, according to him could be addressed diplomatically but it would demand prudent and imaginative diplomacy from both sides. However, it seems Putin has decided to get the concessions from the West at all cost, even an all-out-war.
As for the threat of Russian invasion, according to the above-mentioned professor, there could be three possible designs of Russian invasion. Firstly, to control Eastern Ukraine and dominate access to the Black Sea with an ultimate objective to absorb the territory into Russia. Secondly, to topple the Ukrainian government to replace it with a pro-Russian government. This would achieve Russia’s minimal aim of preventing Ukraine from integrating itself into NATO. Thirdly, to compel Ukraine to agree to Russian terms declaring itself to remain neutral and its commitment to not cooperate militarily with Europe and the US.
As for Russian invasion of Ukraine, security analysts having a firm grip over Ukrainian issue are of the view that Russia may not invade Ukraine but may keep its military build-up on the border to put psychological pressure on the US and its allies and also on Ukrainian government telling it that things may get tougher for Ukrainian people in the days to come if it fails to accept Russian terms and hold itself back from orientation and tilt towards the West. Moreover, Russia may maintain the threat of an all-out-war for months, maybe for years to come conveying to the US and its Western allies that a large-scale war is possible at any moment if its demands are not met and concessions are not granted.
Having said that, the latest development that has taken place in the two restive regions of Eastern Ukraine after Russian President Putin’s recent press conference in which he announced Russia’s recognition of the two pro-Russian regions of Eastern Ukraine calling themselves as Donetsk Peoples Republic (DPR) and Luhansk Peoples Republic ( LPR) as independent states has lent credence to US President Biden’s claim of Russian aggressive designs against Ukraine and its preparedness for invasion. After Putin’s latest press conference, US and its Western allies have reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and are seen determined to respond to Russian aggression. They view the recent Russian recognition of the two pro-Russian regions of Eastern Ukraine as independent states and announcement of a peace-keeping force to be sent to these regions as an attempt to create pretext for a full-scale invasion on Ukraine.
The bottom-line is that military history bears witness to the fact that war has never been a solution to resolve conflicts.
In the existing scenario, both sides have the cognizance of the devastating consequences of an all-out-war as it will not remain confined within the precincts of Ukraine but may engulf the entire globe and may plunge the world into Third World War that may ultimately result into a nuclear holocaust. Both sided have the realization that the only solution to the crisis can be reached through diplomacy and negotiations.