The Geopolitical Curse: The Ukrainian Crisis and the Russian Intervention
Analytical paper... Prepared by: Mustafa Al-Talib
There are deep roots to the current crisis over Ukraine, and of course it is not limited to the latter, as the prevailing opinion in the United States and most of the countries of Western and Central Europe is that Russian President Vladimir Putin has chosen Ukraine, due to its strategic location in the center of Europe, to serve as a vanguard in trying to reshape the Union Soviet or engineering Russian influence or at least to create a new sphere of influence in the near abroad of the Russian Federation.
The Russian game in the fields of military build-up, politics, energy and the Internet, with a special focus on Ukraine, appears to be part of the overall strategic plan. The alternative view is that Putin seeks to play a major role for Russia in European security. Given that in the past two decades the United States and most NATO allies have sought to subjugate Russian influence in Europe, regardless of Putin's valid motives, it is important to consider the current Ukraine crisis. A starting point in the long-term relations between Russia and the West. It is also the defining crisis for understanding Russia's efforts to revive its great-power status, for shaping Western efforts to direct Russia's ambitions in non-threatening ways, and to avoid a new Cold War.
The analytical paper examines the strategic objectives of Moscow and its military options towards Ukraine. And what do the Ukrainians want? What are the possible scenarios?
Ukraine was not an independent country in its history except for short periods, because during most of this history it fell captive between the ebb and flow of the Lithuanian, Polish, Austrian and Russian empires, as Ukraine occupies a special position in Russian historical memory and is the homeland of the first Russian or Slavic people, but this position occupied by Ukraine is Russia's geopolitical space, according to its perception, which far exceeds its position in the Russian cultural consciousness. Ukraine, with a total area of 603,700 km2, and a coastline of 2,782 km, is the second largest country in Europe. With a population of 43 million and rich in natural, industrial and agricultural resources, it is Russia's gateway to the West and is the necessary security belt between Russia and the Western powers.
Based on the foregoing, the Russian Federation or its President Vladimir Putin has never viewed Ukraine as a real country, as he has always been concerned about Ukraine's move towards the West and away from Moscow, which accelerated after Russia's partial invasion by annexing Crimea in 2014, since Ukraine's location is not It can be compared in any way to the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia, and there is no doubt that Moscow considers it necessary to maintain effective influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia, but it is also true that Russia does not expect to face an existential threat from the south, especially Ukraine.
What are Russia's interests in Ukraine?
Russia enjoys deep cultural, economic and political relations with Ukraine, and Ukraine in many ways is central to Russia's identity and its vision of itself in the world, which is represented in:
1- Cultural ties: Russia and Ukraine have strong cultural ties that go back centuries. Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, is sometimes referred to as the “mother of Russian cities,” and is on par in terms of cultural influence with Moscow and St. Petersburg. Christianity served as the anchor for the Russians from Kiev. Christianity was brought from Byzantium to the Slavic peoples in the eighth and ninth centuries, the early Slavic state from which the Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians are descended.
2- The Russian diaspora: Among Russia's interests are its citizens in southeastern Ukraine, whose population reaches about eight million according to the 2011 census, and Moscow considers it its duty to protect them as a pretext for its interference policy in Ukraine.
3- The image of the superpower: After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many Russian politicians considered that the secession of Ukraine was a mistake in history and a threat to Russia’s position as a great power. international.
4- Trade: Russia has long been Ukraine's largest trading partner, although this link has faded dramatically in recent years, as China now leads Russia in its trade with Ukraine. Prior to its recent invasion of Crimea, Russia had hoped to attract Ukraine. to its single market, the Eurasian Economic Union, which today includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
5- Crimea: Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 to strengthen “brotherly relations between the Ukrainian and Russian peoples.” However, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many Russian nationalists in both Russia and Crimea yearn To the peninsula back, Sevastopol is the main port of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the region's dominant naval power.
6- Energy: Russia has relied on Ukrainian pipelines to pump gas to customers in central and eastern Europe for decades, and continues to pay billions of dollars annually in transit fees to Kiev. However, in mid-2021, Russia completed construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which runs under the Baltic Sea to Germany. 2 would allow Russia to bypass Ukrainian pipelines if it wanted, and gain greater geopolitical influence in the region.
7- Political Influence: Russia was intent on maintaining its political influence in Ukraine and throughout the former Soviet Union, especially after its favored candidate for Ukrainian president in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, lost to his reformist rival as part of the popular movement for the Orange Revolution. The shock in Ukraine came after a similar electoral defeat for the Kremlin in Georgia in 2003 known as the Rose Revolution and was followed by another revolution - the Tulip Revolution - in Kyrgyzstan in 2005. Yanukovych later became president of Ukraine in 2010 amid voter discontent with the government's performance.
Moscow's strategic objectives and military options
Russian President Vladimir Putin's calculations in Ukraine are largely rooted in Russia's geopolitical imperatives: unifying the home front, protection from outside powers, and consolidating influence in the former Soviet states. It can be said that Putin's goal in Ukraine is not just the emergence of power and the conquest of the country at any cost, but rather the prevention of NATO's encroachment and the removal of Ukraine from the Western orbit. So Putin finds the current security architecture both unacceptable and dangerous. For Russia, it is unacceptable because it shows the existence of a series of strong military, political and economic relations between Ukraine and the West, and Putin believes that the West is fundamentally hostile to Russia. So the current situation is dangerous (in Putin's view), not because of what these relations amount to in the winter of 2021-2022, but because of their ability to become a joint force capable of confronting Russian interests in its neighborhood or destabilizing Russia itself by forming a different regime. . Ukraine's potential NATO membership symbolizes the security dilemma Putin envisions on his western border, but the real dilemma runs much deeper than the unexpected possibilities of Ukraine's membership.
What Putin wants is to loosen the strong military, political and economic ties between Ukraine and the West. In this sense, President Putin understands that this goal cannot be achieved through persuasion alone. Russia has little non-coercive influence over the West, and NATO will not change its open-door policy. Moreover, the West sees Ukraine as a model for change in the region (including that Russia). Lacking non-coercive options (in his view) to halt Ukraine's course of integration into Western institutions, Putin began exploring coercive options beyond the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of Donbass, but neither gave him what he wanted.
Putin may not be able to achieve exactly what he wants - a neutral Ukraine or a Ukraine under Russian sovereignty, but he may pursue a policy of alternating the use and threat of military force to force the West to reduce its commitment to Ukraine or eliminate the Ukrainian state's ability to obstruct Russia's regional interests. Based on this, Putin has given himself a range of options to achieve the status of a neutral or helpless Ukraine. The basis of his approach is Russia's military power and cyber intervention and as a country whose economy is based on oil and gas. As such, in the short term (the next few weeks), Putin will threaten or use such force to secure agreement by Europe and the United States to his preferred terms of compromise, which may be less extreme than his rhetoric often suggests.
Putin's political and military options
After Russian President Vladimir Putin officially recognized the Donetsk and Luhansk republics (DNR and LNR) and signed mutual cooperation treaties stipulating the deployment of Russian forces in Donbass, it turns out that Putin is trying to justify Russia's military intervention in Ukraine. The Kremlin issued a decree to deploy Russian forces to carry out "peacekeeping missions" in the two republics, and may then invade Ukraine. In addition, Russia will formally establish diplomatic relations and implement treaties of "friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance". So Western think tanks are always struggling to assess whether Moscow might order an attack on Ukraine, and with Russian national security policy, Putin doesn't decide everything, but he can decide anything — and the question of war or peace is so important that Putin, while listening To his advisers and listen to the views of the main Russian interest groups, he will have the final decision so there are four options for Putin are:
The first option: subjugated Ukraine
Russia's more limited goal would be to wage a preventive war against Ukraine to keep the country weak and under Moscow's control. The motive would be to exploit Russia's overwhelming military advantage and then strike a devastating blow against Ukraine's armed forces, denying Ukraine the ability to defend itself independently in the future, and leaving it vulnerable. Decisively for renewed Russian military operations. And with Moscow's recent strengthening of its security position in Central Asia and the South Caucasus, the restoration of its dominant influence in Ukraine, which would enhance its sphere of influence in the republics of the former Soviet Union. Even if the Ukrainian government remains formally independent, a major defeat would weaken Ukraine's home front, widen divisions with foreign partners, and keep Ukraine out of NATO and the European Union.
One of the reasons Russian leaders might attack now is to avoid a stronger Ukraine. Over time, the Ukrainians have recovered from their defeat in 2014, and have strengthened their political and military institutions, economic resources and relations with the West, including NATO and the European Union. The Ukrainian armed forces also got better drones and missiles to fight the Russian forces. Therefore, the current Ukrainian state compatible with Western values and institutions can offer an attractive alternative for Russians living under an authoritarian regime (according to the Western point of view).
From another angle, Russia's previous means of indirect control of Ukraine through pro-Moscow politicians, corporations, and media no longer work. To the dismay of the latter, the Ukrainian government wants to revise some of the provisions that Russia imposed on Ukraine in the Minsk agreements of 2014. In addition, European dependence on Russian gas imports will become less constraining on NATO support for Ukraine as Europe finds alternative energy sources.
Thus, after Russia used military force to weaken Ukraine in 2014, it may decide to use force again to exploit the advantages of force rather than risk losing the ability to invade Ukraine militarily altogether. Accordingly, the Russian military may attempt to seize Ukraine's vital industrial areas, trigger massive refugee flows to generate humanitarian pressure, and maintain a long-term military deployment of Russian forces in Belarus and eastern Ukraine as a permanent knife in Ukraine's throat. Russia can also strive to expand its loyal territories, as after formal recognition by Moscow of the Russian-controlled enclaves in the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) by carrying out Russian peacekeeping military missions in them, Russia is also trying to prevent Ukraine's access to its ports on the Black Sea by occupying its southern coast. Empowering these and other regions would weaken the central government in Kiev and present Moscow with future opportunities to exploit Ukrainian divisions.
The second option: the occupation of Ukraine
Moscow may launch a large-scale military attack against Ukraine and eliminate it as an independent state, using land, air and sea power on all axes of attack. In this option, Russia will achieve air and sea superiority as soon as possible. After that, some Russian ground forces will advance towards Kharkiv and Sumy in the northeast, while other forces now stationed in Crimea and Donbass will advance from the south and east, respectively. Meanwhile, Russian forces in Belarus could threaten Kiev directly, thus putting pressure on Ukrainian forces that might move to reinforce the east and south, as these forces advancing towards Kiev could precipitate the surrender of the Ukrainian government.
Politically, the Kremlin may try to decapitate the current Ukrainian government and replace it with a puppet regime under the leadership of pro-Moscow politicians who would restore Russia as Ukraine's leading economic and security partner while confirming Russia's annexation of Crimea. In addition, Moscow might seek regime change by encouraging a pro-Russian faction to seize power, declaring itself the legitimate government of Ukraine, and inviting Russia to send troops to defend it. Russian analysts optimistically predict that some early victories will lead to the collapse of the Ukrainian army, as happened in 2014 or 2008.
On the other hand, a long-term occupation is unlikely in this option. Storming and pacifying major cities could lead to a level of urban warfare and additional casualties that the Russian army might wish to avoid. Russian forces are likely to seize and hold territory to establish and protect supply lines and then withdraw after obtaining a favorable diplomatic settlement or harming Ukraine.
The third option: break the block
Russia might also attack Ukraine to catalyze a transformation in the European security order, strengthening Moscow's position while weakening the Western bloc. This goal will be broader than Ukraine, but it will be achieved through Russian military action in Ukraine. The goal would be at least to enforce the "Putin principle" of no additional NATO members or alliance activities in the former Soviet republics. A more ambitious goal is to undermine the alliance's credibility by highlighting its failure to protect partners, and thus to strengthen Russia's relative position in Europe.
Russian officials have shown great concern about NATO's activities along Russia's western borders. Putin criticizes alleged Western pledges not to expand its membership in the former Soviet bloc, claiming that NATO "deceived" Moscow in the 1990s and is now exploiting Ukraine's anti-Moscow stance to weaken Russian power in Europe.
In December 2021, the Russian government published draft security treaties submitted by Russia to NATO and the United States, which barely mentioned Ukraine. In its main provisions it asks NATO governments to preclude any further expansion of membership, to end military relations with former Soviet republics except for the Baltic states, and to remove foreign military engineering from the territories of NATO members that acceded to the alliance following the May 1997 Russia-NATO alliance. Of course, the Russian leadership might expect that a successful Russian military operation in Ukraine would weaken the credibility of NATO's security guarantees, which have already been atrophied by the failure to implement the commitments made to Ukraine in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.
The fourth option: strengthening negotiating influence
Russia may also raise the stakes of war to force the Ukrainian government and NATO countries to make concessions to Moscow. The past few months have seen multiple Russian demands, deadlines, requirements, red lines, and threats of non-compliance. The goal would be to improve Moscow's position in Ukraine and the European security sphere through risk rather than kinetic action and thus avoid potential military and economic costs such as additional sanctions and a major insurgency. Russia's escalatory steps will seek to lend credibility to the threat of force to change the cost-benefit calculations of Ukrainian and Western decision-makers, through such means as exploiting war scares to harm Ukraine economically by discouraging foreign investment and encouraging evil. Russia will also combine intimidation efforts with exits offered if its demands are met, so the Kremlin aims primarily to obtain a reward for resolving the crisis it created by threatening to launch an attack that it does not intend to carry out.
The Ukrainian army has improved dramatically since 2014, thanks to Western aid, and gained combat experience from the war in Donbass. But experience is largely limited to trench warfare and artillery skirmishes. Kiev is still not ready for a renewed Russian invasion of this magnitude. As the Ukrainian army in general suffers from a shortage of equipment and advanced weapons. Its ground forces consist of thousands of recruits with limited experience. By contrast, Russia's tactical battalion groups are filled with more skilled soldiers. The Ukrainian air force is old and stands no chance against its Russian counterpart. The Ukrainian Navy is essentially an "old and young fleet" of small armored gunboats. Although it is difficult to obtain reliable numbers, the Ukrainian ground forces may send from 50 to 60 battalions against more than 120,000 Russian soldiers, and these battalions do not have the same levels of combat effectiveness. Russia has more — and much better — artillery, reconnaissance, and logistical capabilities than Ukraine. The Russian army will have an advantage along each axis of attack.
Ukraine is a vast country, which makes it impractical for the country's inferior power to mount an effective defense against an invasion. Thus, the most logical strategy for the Ukrainian army is to fight and an orderly withdrawal, imposing as high a cost as possible on any Russian advance. But Ukrainian forces will fall victim to Russian air strikes as they retreat, and Russian ground forces will move quickly to try to surround the Ukrainian formations. The Russian army will also move in from Belarus in the north, allowing many forces to avoid crossing the Dnieper River. They could then attack from the west and east of Kiev and cut off the city from most of the Ukrainian army.
In a related context, if the Ukrainian army finds itself overwhelmed, it can quickly recover, by adopting guerrilla warfare, and dividing itself into smaller tactical formations with maximum autonomy. This would entail giving up most of its heavy armor and artillery and focusing instead on infantry armed with man-portable missiles to strike tanks or aircraft. But such a transformation is easier in theory than in practice. The Ukrainian army is trained to operate in larger units equipped with armor and artillery; It cannot easily turn into a guerrilla war. Moreover, these tactics will be less effective than in previous wars, thanks to the advent of new technologies, such as drones that use thermal cameras and cheap, high-resolution satellite imaging. Today, small groups of fighters may struggle to take cover and win on the battlefield.
In the event of war, the Ukrainian army could retreat into the cities as a last resort, forcing Russian units into urban cities and consuming armies. Russian power may seem great, but it will soon prove weak given the demands of urban warfare. Yet Ukraine will not take this option lightly. Urban warfare is a bloody business, and battles around Ukraine's major cities are likely to kill large numbers of civilians, destroy entire neighborhoods, and inflict immeasurable damage on the economy.
And the Russian leadership may hope to avoid prolonged urban fighting by striking deals with regional elites that might transfer control of cities to pro-Russian politicians. There is no doubt that Moscow plans to integrate political designs with its military operation in other ways as well. If Russia succeeds in its political maneuvering, it may indeed score a decisive primary victory. But this is a risky assumption.
In the case of Ukraine, war will have a range of potential long-term consequences. Ukrainian resistance may continue as an insurgency, although ironically it will be more successful in the one part of the country that Russia is less likely to conquer - the West. But the insurgency, especially if it is funded from abroad, could continue to drain Russian forces and resources over the years. A prolonged war that engulfed Europe's largest country could destabilize the eastern and central regions of the continent. It could also be the beginning of a series of crises between NATO and Russia. For the first time in decades, European security is on the brink.
Europe and the United States have already provided the answer to Moscow's most important calculation: that the West will not fight and die for Ukraine, with the mobilization of 150,000 Russian soldiers on the Ukrainian border, this gives Russia the upper hand in the negotiations, especially after announcing the start of military operations for the Russian army and the recognition of the Republic Donetsk and Luhansk Republic.
As a result, Russia also expects that Europe and the United States will not risk the "technical military" response that Putin threatens. Although the West's response would be limited to economic sanctions, support for Ukraine, and reassurance of eastern NATO member states, the threat of far-reaching sanctions left Moscow with the impression that it threatened a complete breakdown in relations between Russia and the United States, if the threat of sanctions was carried out.
Moscow may hope to be able to withstand the impact of sanctions, as it has done since 2014 with softer ones, and will certainly cooperate more closely with China in the economic and financial spheres, knowing that this makes Washington nervous. But there will be broader geopolitical ramifications in Europe, with the first indications that Finland and Sweden are rushing to assert their independent choice of alliance, and eastern member states demanding reassurance measures from NATO, so if the larger goal is to weaken European and transatlantic cohesion, the tactical win is short. The run in Ukraine could become a long-term strategic loss for Moscow. Even if Ukraine matters more to Russia than to the West: the post-Cold War European order and alliance with the United States matter to Europe, and vice versa.