Russian military operation in Ukraine

Alison Wilding OBE, Untitled, 1990


Russia has made it clear that its security guarantees go beyond preventing Ukraine from joining NATO..

Make no mistake! On February 24th, the world woke up to a new reality. Prior to that Russia was treated by the West as an annoyance, looked down upon by economic and even military elites as little more than a “giant gas station masquerading as a nation,” to quote John McCain, the now-deceased senator from Arizona.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been the subject of a series of raw psychological profiles, which have trivialized Russian national concerns as little more than the psychotic whims of a troubled fellow. The caricatures that emerged about the Russian state and its leadership thus served to color the analysis of the concerns repeatedly expressed by Russia regarding what it legitimately saw as an issue of its national security.

This blinded the West to the reality of what was happening. Because no one took Russia very seriously, no one could imagine a full-scale war on European soil. So everyone was taken by surprise when this conflict broke out.


How did we get here?

Since NATO opened the doors for Ukraine and Georgia to join during the Bucharest summit in 2008, Russia has made its vehement opposition known.

William Burns, former US ambassador to Russia and now director of the CIA, captured Russian sentiment in a February 2009 memo: “Nyet [does not mean suck: Russia's Red Lines for NATO Enlargement”. Russia, Burns noted, saw “eastward expansion as a potential military threat,” giving rise to Russian fears that “the situation could split the country [Ukraine] in two, leading to violence or even, some believe, civil war; which would force Russia to make a decision about intervening.”

One need only look at what happened in Donetsk and Lugansk, and Russia's current military operation in Ukraine, to understand how prescient Burns' report was. Nevertheless, Burns was ignored. And so has Putin, who has been lecturing to and from the West since his memorable speech at the 2007 Munich Security Conference, in which he famously warned the United States of having "overstepped its national borders in every way." Putin declared: “This is visible in the economic, cultural and educational policies that they impose on other nations. Well, who likes that? Who would be happy about that?” His words were crowned by silence.

“I am convinced” – Putin told the assembled Western world leadership – “that we have reached that decisive moment when we need to think seriously about the architecture of global security. And we must continue to seek a reasonable balance between the interests of all participants in the international dialogue.”

In Munich, the Russian president warned that Western policies "spur an arms race". He repeatedly warned the United States and NATO that President George W. Bush's hasty decision to withdraw from the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty and then immediately deploy missile defense systems in two NATO countries, Poland and Romania, represented a direct threat to Russian national security.

In 2018, Putin unveiled new Russian strategic nuclear weapons designed to defeat US missile defenses. “Nobody listened to us before,” declared Putin. “Do you hear us now?”

Putin's 2018 nuclear announcement should have alerted the West to a crucial aspect of the Russian president's personality. “You're going to have to weigh this new reality and convince yourself that what I said today is not a bluff. Trust me!” – said Putin at the time.

Nyet means suck. It was a simple message presented in uncomplicated terms. Russia was not bluffing. However, the United States and NATO ignored Russian concerns, acting on the premise that their principle of an “open door” policy regarding Alliance membership somehow outweighed Russian concerns regarding their national security. .

Perception management trumped reality when NATO sought to sell Russia on the idea that there was nothing to fear, as the Alliance was ostensibly defensive. The United States and NATO disregarded the Russian narrative, which cited the Alliance's 1999 bombing of Belgrade, its advance into Afghanistan in 2001, and the intervention in Libya in 2011 as evidence. first faction that post-Cold War NATO had metamorphosed into an offensively oriented military alliance, whose presence on Russia's borders constituted an existential threat to the latter country.

NATO membership remained on the table for Ukraine and Georgia. In addition, NATO began arming and training the military of these former Soviet republics, integrating them into formal Alliance exercises, which turned them into its proxies (representatives) indeed. Indeed, Ukrainian and Georgian troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan were fighting under the NATO flag.

Russian sensibilities have been further strained since the Maidan color revolution in 2014, as they saw a pro-Russian president replaced by a resolutely pro-Western puppet government, which made NATO membership a legal mandate.

As Burns had predicted, pressure from Ukraine to join NATO cornered Russia, compelling it to formalize its demand, submitted to the United States and the Alliance in December 2021, and which urged them to offer written guarantees that such integration would not occur. This Russian demand was ignored. Now Russia has warned that failure to provide the required guarantees would result in “military-technical” responses – a euphemism for war – which Russia finally fully implemented on 24 February.


Where are we going?

The main takeaway from this developing situation can be no other than that the President of Russia does not bluff, and that the West would do well to listen carefully to what he has to say. When Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border, Western diplomats and experts proclaimed shock and dismay. But Russia was quite clear about what it wanted and what the consequences would be of not achieving its objective. If the West would listen, this war would be predictable.

Fights continue in Ukraine. How the war will end is uncertain. The old military adage that no plan survives first contact with the enemy seems to apply fully. What is known is that the United States and Europe are imposing a second round of tough sanctions designed to punish Russia.

It is important to point out that anyone who believes that this second round of sanctions will compel Russia to change its ways will be disappointed. Russia's course of action has already incorporated the full range of sanctions thought out by the West - no difficult task, as there has been widespread speculation about their scope since they were first hinted at in the spring of 2021.

The problem is not the sanctions, but what follows. These sanctions exhaust the options of the United States, NATO and the European Union to respond to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. They don't have a follow-up plan. Russia, on the other hand, has such a plan. She has already made it very clear what the future holds. Once again, however, the West is not listening.

Russia will not accept this second round of sanctions. Putin has made it clear that Russia will respond in kind, using both symmetrical (ie counter-sanctions) and asymmetrical (ie cyberattacks) actions designed to disrupt the economies of targeted nations and entities. Russia has made no secret that this is the intended course of action, but like its “military-technical” solution for Ukraine, the West has shrugged off the Russian warning. But Russia does not bluff.

Russia has also made it clear that its security guarantees go beyond preventing Ukraine from joining NATO, and include returning the Alliance's military infrastructure to pre-1997 terms. In short, all NATO forces deployed in Eastern Europe must be returned to their bases, and the two missile defense bases in Poland and Romania must be dismantled.

This is the demand that will guide future Russian relations with the West. Rather than assenting to Russia's demands, NATO has been doubling down on strengthening its eastern flank, sending additional forces to Poland, Romania and the Baltic states.

In response, Russia will create a situation analogous to what happened in Belarus, namely, the advanced deployment of powerful military formations, in what will be, for all practical purposes, a militarized buffer zone separating NATO from Russia proper, exception of the Kaliningrad enclave.

The resulting stalemate will be very similar to that of the Cold War, where NATO and Warsaw Pact forces, led by the Soviet Union, clashed on the border separating East Germany from West Germany. This is the new reality the world woke up to on February 24th: a Cold War that the West did not want, did not foresee, nor is it prepared to wage.

*Scott Ritter, a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer, he was UN Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq from 1991-98.

Translation: Ricardo Cavalcanti-Schiel.

Originally published in Energy Intelligence.

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