Let’s turn to the chase: Are we witnessing a precursor to World War III?
Let’s face it, that’s what many people are asking and thinking in light of the Kremlin’s recent actions against Ukraine – which have drawn a wave of condemnations and sanctions from the West.
The answer is no. Despite the dire situation on the border between Russia and Ukraine at the moment, one cannot imagine a direct military confrontation between the military North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Russia.
Incidentally, when the United States and the United Kingdom watched Russia gather a force capable of invading Ukraine, they quickly withdrew a small number of their military advisors.
“It’s a world war when the Americans and the Russians start shooting at each other,” the US president said. Joe BidenAnd, earlier this month, he vowed that he would not send US troops to Ukraine under any circumstances.
But Western leaders still fear that Russia is ready to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
How worried you are depends on a number of factors – who you are, where you are and what Russia will do next.
If you are a Ukrainian soldier on the front line in eastern Ukraine, the situation is obviously very dangerous. And for millions of Ukrainians, the fear of how the crisis will affect their daily lives is always present.
Only President Putin and his inner circle of confidence know how far he intends to go through this crisis.
As long as Russia’s power remains focused on the border, not even the bustling Ukrainian capital, Kiev, and other cities will be safe from attack.
But the red line for NATO and the West is whether Russia threatens any NATO member state.
Under Article 5 of NATO, the Western military alliance is obligated to defend any member state under attack.
Ukraine is not a member of NATO, although it has said it wants to join the military alliance – something Putin is determined to stop.
Eastern European countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland – which were once part of Moscow’s orbit in Soviet times – are all members of NATO.
These governments are clearly concerned that Russian forces may not stop in Ukraine and are using some pretext to “help” Russian ethnic minorities in the Baltic Sea to continue invading other countries.
For this reason, NATO recently sent reinforcements to its members in Eastern Europe.
But how worried should you be? As long as there is no direct conflict between Russia and NATO, there is no reason for this crisis, however bad, to turn into a full-scale world war.
Let’s not forget that Russia and the United States have between them more than 8000 nuclear warheads, so the stakes are very high. The principle of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) that existed in the Cold War still applies.
A senior British military source said yesterday: “Putin is not about to attack NATO. He just wants to turn Ukraine into a client state like Belarus.”
What is unpredictable here, however, is Putin’s state of mind. Often described as coldly calculating, like a chess player and judo fighter, his Monday speech sounded more like an angry dictator than a cunning strategist.
He called NATO a “pervert,” and said in no uncertain terms that Ukraine had no right to exist as a sovereign state independent of Russia. This is worrying.
The United Kingdom is not the only country punishing Russia with sanctions – the United States went further and postponed Germany, for example, the approval of the massive Nord Stream 2 pipeline in Russia. But the UK has been a leader in imposing sanctions.
Russia will surely respond in some way. Western companies are likely to suffer in Russia. But everything could get worse, if Putin wants it.
Retaliation can come in the form of cyber attacks – something the UK’s National Cyber Security Center has already warned. These attacks are often difficult to attribute to the Russian government, and can target banks, businesses, individuals, and even critical national infrastructure.
The problem now is that after years of deteriorating relations with Moscow, including the poisoning of Russian dissidents on British soil, mutual trust between Russia and the West is close to zero.
This is a dangerous scenario amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
“Gamers. Unfortunate Twitter teachers. Zombie pioneers. Internet fans. Hardcore thinkers.”