A year ago, the question of whether or not World War III would break out was the most pressing in international politics.
Back then, all eyes were on Lithuania, which closed its airspace because of the embargo and effectively cut off Russia’s only land outlet for exporting goods to Kaliningrad. It was widely anticipated that Russia would take one of two possible actions: attack Lithuania, potentially sparking a third world war, or negotiate with it to allow Russian exports through Kaliningrad in exchange for allowing Ukraine to export grain.
As diplomatic efforts to contain the Ukraine crisis stalled, the harbingers of a third world war became imminent, despite analysts dismissing the idea of future wars involving great powers because there will be no winner or loser, but rather everyone will lose and humanity will face a great threat.
Former US President George W. Bush attempted to bring Ukraine and Georgia into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2008, but Putin resisted, and Moscow made it clear that it would not accept Ukraine’s complete independence, along with France and Germany’s opposition to Bush’s implementation of his plan.
The issue of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO was brought up again at the NATO summit in Bucharest, but no timeframe was given for that.
As joining NATO did not pan out quickly, Ukraine tried to establish ties with the West through the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA). A few months after the agreement was signed, in the summer of 2013, Moscow heavily pressured Kyiv economically and imposed import restrictions on the country. In light of this, Viktor Yanukovych, the 2010 election winner, and his administration decided to halt the agreement. The decision sparked protests, and as a result, he fled to Russia in February 2014.
Annexation of Crimea
In March 2014, the Kremlin took advantage of the power vacuum in Kiev and annexed Crimea, marking a major turning point and the start of an unofficial war. In the meantime, Russian paramilitary forces started to stir up unrest in the coal-rich Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. Additionally, Donetsk and Luhansk were declared to be Russian-run people’s republics. Kyiv’s government, for its part, waited until the May 2014 presidential elections were over before launching a major military operation it dubbed the “war on terror”.
The Ukrainian army was able to defeat the separatists at the time; however, the Ukrainian narrative claims that Russia launched a massive military intervention at the end of August 2014, which Moscow has repeatedly denied. As a result, Ukrainian military divisions near Ilovaisk, east of Donetsk, were ultimately defeated. However, in September of that year, a cease-fire agreement was signed in Minsk, bringing an end to the expanded frontal war.
The Initial Weeks of the Event Course
With the beginning of 2022, the world received two transnational messages: the first was from British General Patrick Sanders, who ordered his troops to get ready to fight Russia in the event of war, and the second was from the commander of the Russian army to Putin, who informed him that Russia’s S-500 space warfare system was operational.
In this vein, Bulgaria, Poland, and Slovakia have granted Ukraine access to their airports in order to use them as rear bases and given them 70 MiG-29 and Su-25 aircraft.
After seizing control of the Ukrainian city of Berdyansk in the southeast, Russian forces made a naval landing north of the Sea of Azov and attacked the Mariupol port from the west and the north. With the capture of the coastal city of Berdyansk and the deployment of nearly 2,000 Russian marines across the Sea of Azov, the advance toward Mariupol continued (see map 1).
The Sea of Azov then came under total Russian control, becoming an exclusive Russian lake (see map 2).
When it comes to the early weeks of fighting and efforts to seize control of Kyiv and the country’s major cities, the Russian army pushed the Wagner group, a special military unit with ties to the Kremlin, opting for the worst possible scenario for the Ukrainian forces: a military confrontation. British officials claim that the number of mercenary Wagner Group fighters in Ukraine has increased from 1,000 to nearly 20,000, indicating that Russia is increasingly relying on Wagner to support its invasion.
The advisor to Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs announced that Russian forces had entered Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city in terms of area and population, as well as the country’s ancient capital and largest industrial, cultural, and scientific center.
The head of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration has confirmed that Russian forces have entered the city and are being dealt with, reiterating that reports of a surrender by the soldiers are false and that they are instead engaged in fierce fighting with the Russian forces.
President Putin listed the following as Russian goals:
1. Getting rid of “neo-Nazism”.
2. Designating Ukraine as a non-armed state.
Ukraine regarded these as surrender terms and categorically rejected them.
Fighting on the field intensified again in Ukraine near Donetsk in the final months of the first year of the conflict. Moscow is attempting to quicken the pace of progress to the east by announcing the continuation of its offensive operations towards strategic areas in the Donetsk region, with the air defense systems of the Marine Corps units in the Pacific Fleet providing cover. Currently, Kyiv is attempting to exert pressure on the West to provide it with high-quality weapons that will halt the Russian advance.
In the course of battles, Ukrainian Air Defense Forces claimed that eleven Iranian-made Shahed 136 drones were destroyed during the fighting south of the city of Mykolaiv and confirmed the interception of two aircraft in the country’s north and east, as well as three aircraft in the south.
According to a statement from the Ministry of Defense, the Ukrainian army repelled Russian attacks and attempts to advance in the Bakhmut, Bakhmutsky, Ivanhorod, Marinka, Soledar, Ozaryanivka, and Odradivka axis in Donetsk, as well as a strike from Bilohorivka in Luhansk.
On the Kherson front, the Ukrainian army destroyed six units of weapons and military equipment in Nova Kakhovka, injuring approximately 150 Russian soldiers and kicking off the withdrawal of Russian forces from Pereiaslav, Chervone, and Chkalove.
Russian forces surrounded the city of Soledar from three directions on the northern front of the city of Bakhmut in the Ukrainian province of Donetsk. Ukraine pushed the 46th Airborne Brigade, also known as the Elite Forces, to defend Bakhmut and then moved to Solidar, which is 15 km away from Bakhmut, and some believe its fall is only a matter of time (see map 3).
Military Assistance for Ukraine
The West has largely come together to support Ukraine militarily. While some countries are hesitant to increase their shipments of ammunition and more lethal weapons to Ukraine for fear of prolonging the war, others are doing just the opposite.
For instance, British parliamentarian and chairman of the defense committee Tobias Ellwood wants his country to contribute more. In an interview with BBC Radio, he stated: “We are doing enough to prevent Ukraine from losing but not enough to ensure they win. We need to help Ukraine absolutely win rather than just defend the current lines.”
Others in the West worry that protecting Ukraine will escalate into a full-fledged proxy war. If this happens, Putin might use weapons of mass destruction, attack other Western targets, or launch cyberattacks as a means of escalating the conflict. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has expressed concern over the “serious and real” risk of nuclear war in this context.
Meetings of the defense liaison group for Ukraine, which were called for by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, began at the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany. More than fifty defense ministers and military leaders attended these meetings to discuss the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and secure Kiev’s permanent support. The German Minister of Defense confirmed that the meeting’s goals were to boost support for Kiev and improve communication with its allies. In addition to announcing a new $675 million military aid package for Ukraine, the US Secretary of Defense is awaiting the outcome of the eighth meeting.
Furthermore, both Washington and Berlin have declared their intention to supply Ukraine with missiles, armored vehicles, Bradley fighting vehicles, air defense systems, and an additional Patriot air defense battery.
Western Sanctions Against Russia
With the exception of direct confrontation, the West used all available means of conflict in its dispute with Russia over Ukraine, including economic sanctions, in an effort to subjugate, destroy, and render it a failed state. The West frequently employs the weapon of sanctions against countries it considers to be rogue. In the past, sanctions have been used against North Korea, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, which had a negative impact on these countries’ economies and development without having any noticeable effects on the Western nations.
However, the West was unable to implement that strategy with Russia, and as a result, the sanctions had a negative impact on the West on all fronts, particularly the economic front, setting a precedent for how to handle conflicts in international relations.
Western powers may disagree on whether additional sanctions against Russia’s oil and gas exports should be imposed. Countries that rely on Russian energy supplies recognize that their economies cannot survive without them. If the fighting persists for a while, there may be counterpressure, and some countries may want to impose more sanctions on Moscow in an effort to break the impasse, while others may want to ease up on the energy sanctions because their citizens are becoming more and more impacted by the rising cost of living.
Support for Peace Proposals and Political Settlement
The military standoff has increased the urgency for a political solution, and many believe that the West will back Ukraine no matter what it decides.
In terms of peace in Ukraine, Lavrov stated that Moscow has yet to see any serious proposals for establishing peace in Ukraine, and that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ideas on the subject are unacceptable.
Lavrov said that Moscow is prepared to discuss the issue with the West and respond to any sincere proposals, but added that any discussions must take into account Russia’s numerous security concerns.
This tension was articulated by a senior Western official, who said, “Putin cannot be seen to have successfully adjusted the sovereign boundaries of Ukraine by force. Our long-term plan for Ukraine is that it succeeds as a sovereign and independent state.”
Practically speaking, this has real-world implications, as it implies that reaching a political compromise will require making some tough choices. Should the West, for instance, push for a full withdrawal of Russian forces to their borders prior to February 2022, or settle for a partial withdrawal?
The longer the conflict continues, the more likely it is that the West will disagree about Ukraine’s future. Meanwhile, within Ukraine, different factions, such as nationalists who want to continue fighting and those who prefer compromise and want to reach an agreement, may emerge. With the possibility of civil war similar to the situation in Ireland in 1922, the West will then be forced to choose a side.
Ukraine might make political decisions that the West might not agree with, and it might even get to the point where it seeks out nuclear weapons to guarantee its security in the future. The more Putin threatens nuclear weapons, the more pressure Ukraine will feel to believe that acquiring a nuclear weapon as soon as possible is the only effective means of self-defense.
Most likely, the West won’t be eager to provide Ukraine with conventional weapons or even consider approving its membership in the European Union.
The following factors, on the other hand, contributed to Russia’s effective crisis management with the West:
- Lack of understanding by the West of Russia’s influence on world affairs.
- The West’s ignorance of the swiftly changing international landscape and belief that comprehensive sanctions against Russia would be sufficient to halt Russia’s ascent to the top of the world order.
- The failure of Western leaders to consider the ramifications that the policy of imposing sanctions on Russia could have on them, let alone their failure to foresee the Russian response after taking the initial blow.
- The Russian leadership’s advance planning and development of various scenarios for the negative impact of these sanctions on the Russian economy, if approved. To avoid domestic retaliation and the subsequent weakening of the Russian political system, Russia has researched the trajectory of sanctions, strategies for dealing with them, and tools that enable Moscow to respond to them.
In conclusion, Russia’s approach to the conflict with the West represents a new approach in the field of international relations, as it impressed its adversaries before its friends. This strategy will likely be studied by academics in order to learn from its successes and failures and apply them to the management of international conflicts.
In addition to abandoning transactions in the greenback, which contributed to the rise in the value of the Russian ruble on the international markets and controlled the inflation rates that were prevalent at the start of the war in Ukraine, the energy weapon, which is the lifeblood of the Western economy, also played an effective role in influencing the West, which is already experiencing an economic crisis represented by high inflation rates and rates of energy consumption.
Based on this data, it appears that the West has used all of its pressure cards in the conflict with Russia, but has failed and seen the pressure on it rebound, while Russia has successfully used the energy weapon.