Expectations that Russia’s military operations in Ukraine will end once it achieves its strategic objectives do not seem quite right. Some signs suggest that the crisis is getting deeper. What has happened so far may be just the tip of the iceberg. The next crisis could be even worse.
If we follow the rapid developments of the last few days, we can easily see that the situation is escalating and its strategic impact difficult to assess. The most dangerous thing about what is happening now is that Ukraine is being supplied with weapons as was the case in other countries that have turned into a quagmire, not just for one party, but for everyone.
That was the case in Afghanistan and before that in Libya, in Syria and in many other countries where crises open a Pandora’s box of complicated problems. The Western position on arms deliveries to Ukraine seems to be overloaded with justifications. But the consequences will be costly for all, including the West itself.
The crisis in Ukraine has worsened since the announcement of the influx of fighters from other countries. This means that Ukraine will almost certainly become an open battlefield, maybe unlike other countries in terms of its ability to control cross-border arms transfers. And this does not change the difficulty of controlling the arms bearers themselves.
This is to say that it would be very costly for Europe to counter Russian military operations like this, because of the massive proliferation of weapons in that country outside of government authority.
Now, a most serious dilemma brought by these developments is that the war in Ukraine will gradually escalate into a Russian-Western confrontation on Ukrainian soil, and possibly on other European soil as well. That will occur if the current situation gets tighter and Russia makes good on its threats to attack any state that supplies weapons to Ukraine.
Talk of a World War III is picking up, in fact more serious and clear than in the early days of the crisis. Western-Russian rhetoric has ramped up in stridency, peppering warnings of a third world war and outright threats of a firm and shocking Russian response to any Western intervention in Ukraine, since a US-convened conference.
At the conference at the US military base in Ramstein, Germany, representatives of 40 countries, including non-NATO states, agreed to provide the Ukrainian army with billions of dollars worth of heavy weapons, cruise missiles, and sophisticated weapons systems.
This is a clear translation of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s statement that Ukraine can prevail against Russia if it receives the right equipment and support.
This was a rather dangerous statement, showing US tendency to take advantage of the situation to defeat Russia and get rid of one of its biggest strategic rivals in the game of reshaping the rules of the new world order (the US announced $700 million worth of new military aid to Ukraine, bringing the total aid to $3.4 billion).
It also means that the war in Ukraine has taken a different tack than how things started. The situation is made worse by the fact that the West is angling to inflict a military defeat on Russia. Russia will never accept this, being a nuclear power that might resort to this ruinous weapon if it feels defeated as that would spell humiliation for President Vladimir Putin.
Personally, I disagree with the view of some Western analysts that Russia is intentionally trying to expand the conflict into a major battle against the West in general. The differences and ideological alignments driving the Kremlin, and the deep historical rancor between the two sides, still do not justify this idea.
Nevertheless, everyone should take notice when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks of a third world war, when he points to the dangers of nuclear war, and when he says: “The danger is serious, it is real, it should not be underestimated.”
This talk takes us to a more dangerous and inflammatory field where the two main parties to the conflict, Russia and the West, show a tendency for brinkmanship and zero-sum equations. As the argument about the need to defeat Russia militarily in Ukraine mounts, Moscow’s positions look more edgy and rugged than they did at the beginning of the crisis.
In a speech to the UN Secretary General, Lavrov said the West has turned Ukraine “into a bridgehead” to provoke Russia, the US wanted to “make the world unipolar forever,” but those days are over. In other words, things are moving to indirect confrontation and proxy warfare rather than confining the issue to the specific geostrategic context of the crisis.
In my opinion, given recent signals, the situation could well shift to more dangerous and influential scenarios, all the more so now that Russia believes that NATO is waging a proxy war against it through arms supplies to Kiev. In plain language, the specter of World War III aside, energy prices will continue to rise, bringing along dire consequences for the entire global economy.
Consequently, the Western alliance against Russia is much likely to fracture, replicating the crisis management scenario of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, as each country looks for a way out of this sitch, notwithstanding the alliances and commitments tied to membership in regional and international blocs.
Dr. Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst