Russian-Ukrainian War: Why the stakes are so high for all parties

It was only 3 weeks ago that the uncertainty surrounding Putin’s Russian invasion of Ukraine was at its height, with Western intelligence stating that it was highly likely. Now we know that this, unfortunately, was correct. Ukraine has thus far demonstrated itself to be a highly resilient and resistant state in the face of an invasion by a militarily superior – and former superpower – state. At the time of writing it is the 11th day of the invasion, and the question of how this conflict will be resolved is as important as ever given the growing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. 

It is vital to refer to this invasion as being primarily encouraged and necessitated by President Putin himself, not the Russian civilian population. Thus, I strongly argue that this is ‘Putin’s invasion of Ukraine’, not the ‘Russian invasion of Ukraine’. Indeed, the extent of the protest against the inhumane and unlawful invasion demonstrates that the resistance in Russia is present, despite attempts by the Putin regime to convince its own people and the world otherwise. Of course, there will be some in Russia that will believe Putin’s propaganda, but this is not a new phenomenon. Historically, propaganda has been a highly effective tool to convince a state’s population that the behaviour of the elite has been necessitated by external forces. Notably, the use of propaganda in Hitler’s Germany was inextricably linked with the persecution of Jews. 

It is a clash of ideals: an attempt at imperialism from President Putin and Ukraine’s right to be a sovereign state. It is evident that Putin wants to return Russia to its former glorious status as an imperial superpower. It is likely that this is proving a difficult task because of combined international support from the West and a strong level of resilience from the Ukrainian forces. Arguably, however, both sides have much to fight for: sudden withdrawal from Ukraine would not achieve Putin’s objectives and Ukrainian forces are unlikely to willingly give up the fight to be a sovereign state. It is all about the global balance of power: as a 21-year-old, my generation has largely lived within a Western-centric perspective, with the United States viewed as the global hegemonic power, and a period of relative peace in Europe. 

One should therefore first acknowledge the complex history between Russia and its smaller neighbour, Ukraine. Since 2014, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been most noticeable in the Donbas region whereby “Russian-backed rebels seized government buildings in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine. Intense fighting left portions of Luhansk and Donetsk, in the Donbas region, in the hands of Russian-backed separatists.” From a Ukrainian perspective, the separatist-controlled regions are “Russian-occupied”, which have been recognised by the Putin regime as independent states. This, of course, was only part of the beginning to a bloody war in wider Ukrainian sovereign territory. The extent of the human cost is already high, claiming over 14,000 lives in Donbas since 2014. 

However, since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the stakes have risen considerably both in terms of Ukraine’s right to sovereignty and for the wider international community, most notably NATO. The threat of nuclear escalation is not only completely terrifying, but the nuclear rhetoric has notably increased. NATO’s refusal to implement a no-fly zone is undoubtedly linked with Putin’s ominous threat on the 24th February that if any external country was to intervene, the consequences would be severe: “If you try to stop us […] you’ll face consequences that you have never faced in your history” .

If a no-fly zone was implemented over Ukraine, it would involve Western military forces shooting down Russian planes, an act recognised by both sides to be an act of war, and thus one that will involve many more states and thus would be highly likely to quickly escalate into a much larger conflict. No state within NATO is willing to risk nuclear escalation despite the horrendous humanitarian crisis and ongoing war in Ukraine. On the other hand, there are those who defy the seriousness of Putin’s nuclear threat. The BBC reports: “Adm Radakin [UK chief of defence] also played down Mr Putin’s nuclear threat”. The UK chief of defence disputes claims that a no-fly zone would support Ukraine tactically and “might escalate fighting” , but arguably this ignores the severe impact on civilians. 

This does not mean, however, that Putin’s threats should not be ignored entirely; it is consequential for how the West, including the UK, reacts to such rhetoric. Thankfully, neither the UK, US nor France responded by putting their nuclear forces on alert. If they had done so, it undoubtedly would have resulted in an escalation of fear and panic. Miscalculation and panic must be avoided at all costs during increasingly tense relations between Ukraine, Russia, and the West. 

As of 6th March, Russia has reiterated its demand of a complete surrender by Ukrainian military forces as a fundamental requirement to ending the so-called “special military operation”. However, this is unlikely given Ukraine’s resistance to military attacks. The war has demonstrated that Putin has a blatant disregard for international law as he authorised barbaric attacks on hospitals, nurseries, and schools, according to the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister. This is hugely significant, flying in the face of Geneva Conventions which state that such actions are illegal. Under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, “intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities” is a war crime, one of which President Putin is currently directly guilty of, regardless of the rhetoric intended to convince us otherwise. 

Furthermore, President Putin continues to ignore the illegitimacy of the invasion, asking its neighbours on its Western border to ‘normalize’ its relations with the increasingly hostile state. This is likely a response to the growing unity in the West, including from Russia’s western neighbours such as Estonia, Latvia, and Georgia. Notably, Belarus is one of few states which continues normal relations with Putin’s regime. However, it is important to analyse the actions of China which “abstained from voting on a UN Security Council resolution which condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in a move seen as a diplomatic win for the west.” Some argue that it is significant because it signals that China is “going to stay out of the conflict in Ukraine”. Whether this is true in the long-term, however, remains to be seen, as there are fears that this could spark similar hostilities from China towards Taiwan. Furthermore, this is likely to depend on the long-term outcomes of the invasion on both Russia’s economy, and it’s level of success in achieving Putin’s objectives. There are hopes that sufficient damage on Russia’s economy will lead to increased resistance from the Russian population. Again, however, this is speculation and unlikely as the Putin regime has already detained over 4,000 people who participated in anti-war protests

Whether Ukraine will entirely fall in the coming days or weeks has yet to be seen. If it does, it will undoubtedly secure a shift in the global power balance.

Ukraine Flag War Fist Russian Ukraine Independence” from Max Pixel. Licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal.

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