Once again, the simmering tension between Russia and Ukraine is taking up the form of waging war. However, the circumstances this time are extraordinary.
As the Russian military continues to squeeze Ukrain from all three sides, the USA and its NATO allies are working towards de-escalating traction of the increasingly volatile situation.
What is happening on the ground? What is driving the escalation? And what’s next?
What is Happening on the Ground?
Almost 100,000 Russian troops are positioned along Russia’s border with Ukraine, suggesting a full-scale invasion could take place this winter.
Ukraine’s intelligence agencies report that Russia has troops, tanks, artillery, and armored vehicles along its southern, eastern, and northern borders.
A number of Russian forces are gathered near the Donbas region in the east of Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting for the last few years.
Russian officials defended their actions, saying they are entitled to move their forces around their own territory. However, the unusual movements of large numbers of troops and weapons indicate that Russia intends to invade – or want to convince Ukraine and its allies that a Russian invasion is imminent.
In order to protect its security, Russia has pledged to take “military-technical” measures. However, it is still unclear exactly what that means.
What is driving the Russia-Ukraine Invasion?
NATO, in particular, has long been a source of discontent for Russia regarding Ukraine’s involvement with European institutions.
As a former Soviet republic, Ukraine shares both borders with the E.U. and Russia, which is widely spoken in Ukraine.
Ukraine annexed Crimea’s southern peninsula in April 2014 and backed separatists that captured large swaths of eastern Ukraine after its pro-Russian president was overthrown. More than 14,000 people died in the conflict between the rebels and the Ukrainian military.
Russia-Ukraine Invasion : The Demands
Russian officials say they want to prevent NATO from expanding into Ukraine. However, that’s not all they want.
In response to Russia’s concern about NATO expanding eastward, the Kremlin has demanded a guarantee that the alliance won’t grow into its sphere of influence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has also called upon Western allies to cease rotating troops through several nations in Eastern Europe and for the U.S. to remove its nuclear weapons from Europe.
Putin has criticized the West for taking an “aggressive” stance “on our doorstep.”
By giving in to these demands, a Cold War power division would be restored between Europe and Russia, which would further strengthen and expand its dominion.
In contrast, NATO officials representing 30 nations in Europe and North America have rebuffed Putin’s demands. But, in an attempt to end the stalemate, Russia is now threatening military action.
A longstanding and complex relationship exists between Ukraine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization due to its unique cultural and political ties to both the West and Russia.
Though, Ukrainian governments in the past have had closer ties to Russia. Taking office in 2019, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has tried to strengthen ties with the West. Zelensky has actively lobbied NATO to expedite the process of Ukraine’s membership.
A NATO membership could greatly improve the country’s security. Post becoming a member, if Ukraine were attacked, each of NATO’s 30 members would be obligated to defend it.
Russia-Ukraine Invasions: The Diplomatic Support
Since Ukraine is outside NATO and is not entitled to the alliance’s security guarantees, the E.U. and the U.S. have made it clear that they are unlikely to intervene directly militarily in the event of a Russian attack.
Many have instead sent military aid to Ukraine and threatened to impose severe new sanctions on Russia if the escalation further and Russia attacks.
Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said in a meeting, Moscow would pay the price for moving on to Ukraine, but that diplomacy was the only option.
Cyberattacks: The digital warfare
The most likely scenario, according to Professor Dibb, a former deputy secretary of the Department of Defence, is that Russia will mount more crippling cyberattacks.
Ukraine was just recently targeted by a cyberattack that defaced its government websites.
The Ukrainian government blamed Russia for the attack.
He explained that a cyberattack could cut off electricity and energy supplies during the winter and allow Russia to spread propaganda and disinformation to Ukraine’s 8.3 million Russians involved in insurgency operations.
According to Alexey Muraviev, national security and strategic expert at Curtin University, Russia’s priority isn’t to occupy Ukraine but to ensure its agreements are met to stop NATO from expanding northward.
The West is with Ukraine
As for the U.S. plans to send combat troops, it has made it clear that it is committed to helping Ukraine defend its “sovereign territory.”
Sanctions and military assistance, such as advisers and weapons, appear to be the main tools in the West’s arsenal.
In the event of an attack on Ukraine, President Biden has threatened Russia’s leader with “never-before-seen measures.” What would those measures be?
In the long run, disconnecting Russia’s banking system from Swift would be the greatest economic loss. Latvia has said that would be a strong signal to Moscow, which has historically been viewed as a last resort.
In addition to the gas pipeline project, preventing the opening of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in Germany, is another key threat. Germany’s energy regulator is currently debating whether to approve the pipeline.
Russian banks could also be restricted from converting roubles into foreign currency, or steps could be taken to target the RDIF sovereign wealth fund.
“Each further aggressive act will have a high price for Russia, economically, strategically, politically.”Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s Foreign Minister