The war drums are sounding early in Europe. Will there be war? Are we seeing the Multi- polar moment arrive clearly? The Roots of the current military crisis in Ukraine can be traced back to the events surrounding the breakup of the former USSR. The USSR was one of the two Superpowers in the Bi-polar era. However, it was a wounded giant that had in fact not really recovered from the staggering manpower and material losses of World War II. Its economy was highly dependent on export of oil and gas. America engaged it in a geo- economic competition. It started the Star Wars arms race. In 1980’s the USA made a deliberate effort to bring down the prices of oil globally by engineering an oil glut. Oil prices went into free-fall (10- 30 $ a barrel) and severely derailed the Soviet economy. Afghanistan added to the hemorrhaging. The USSR was an over militarized state. By 1990 it simply collapsed from what Paul Kennedy calls economic overreach and imperial over- stretch. A super power went down without a shot being fired and the world was shocked. A Uni- polar Global order now led by America and the West came into being. The Soviet Union splintered with many of its republics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia seceding. There was chaos in Russia and it struggled to restore order. The West had initially promised that there would not be even an inch of NATO expansion in Eastern Europe (US Foreign Secretary James Baker’s assurance to Gorbachov). All these verbal assurances however, were violated with impunity. Because of Russian military and economic weakness, NATO expanded eastward in 4 distinct phases:-
Anti-Russian protesters rally on 23 February 2022 in London.Russia has sent troops into two separatist regions in eastern UkraineRussian special forces have entered eastern Ukraine
Phase One 1990 Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic – three former War saw pact countries joined NATO.
Phase Two 2004 Seven countries to include Estonia, Latavia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Rumania, Bulgaria and Slovina followed suit.
Phase Three 2009 Albania and Croatia joined NATO
Phase Four2017- 2019 Montenegro and Macedonia followed suit. Thus by 2019 some 14 Countries in Eastern Europe had Joined NATO.
In 2020, Putin was elected in Russia and it rapidly started closing the conventional military gap. By 2008 it hit back hard in Georgia and then in 2014 it captured Crimea in Ukraine. The present crisis has really been precipitated by the clear change in military technical capabilities, which have altered the local conventional military power balance in Eastern Europe. Putin is now determined to change the security architecture in Europe to reflect these military realities and has virtually issued demarches to US and NATO to renegotiate the security equations in Europe. He has mobilized the largest number of troops on the border of Ukraine in a clear coercive deployment, a use of force without war to re- negotiate security terms in Europe. If he can do it without war it would suit him eminently, the danger is that if he does not get the outcomes he seeks, he is fully prepared and ready to go to war. In a clear escalation, the Russian Duma recommended recognition of Dontesk and Luhansk provinces in Ukraine where Russian separatists are fighting and on 21 Feb, President Putin duly announced recognition of these two states and has moved in his troops there. Economic sanctions did not deter him as he feels Russia’s core strategic interests are involved and he has articulated his red lines so publically that there is no chance of him recalling his troops without enforcing his red lines. He would lose great face domestically and internationally and he simply cannot afford that. Putin has acted decisively as he is fully prepared for the next steps in the military escalation ladder.
It is my contention that this sea- saw swings in the fortunes of Russia and the West can be traced back to the swings in the Conventional military power balance between the two blocks from 1990 – to date. These were largely focused on gaining superiority in air power and Anti- air defenses. From WWII onwards air superiority had become a decisive war-winning factor. The Korean war saw a stalemate in air power and that shaped the stalemate on the Ground. The Vietnam War saw US warplanes and helicopters taking huge losses (over 3400 lost) from rudimentary Soviet Air defenses and SAMs. The Americans deeply studied these and learnt major lessons. They began to make a serious bid to regain Air superiority. They learnt from Israeli experiences in the 1967 and 1973 Conflicts. By 1973 low level, Russian Sam- 6 and Sam –7 missiles had inflicted fearful losses to aircraft flying at the low level to evade radar. Meanwhile USA had fielded a number of new Fourth generation fighters like F- 15, F-16 and F- 18 as the AWACs and AEWs. Then came the Precision Guided munitions (PGMs) by 1990, which created a significant Military technical revolution (RMA) with far reaching impact. These enabled aircraft to bomb from mid and high altitude without losing accuracy. Thus, they could stay out of the low firing Sam envelopes. The US demonstrated this in the First war against Iraq when Soviet era weapons were decimated and air power paved the way for a decisive victory. The USSR had imploded because of Economic decline and these Military technical factors added to Russian weakness. Thereafter it was a unipolar world with USA as the sole super power based on its Conventional military superiority in air power. Things began to stabilize in Russia only when Putin took charge around the turn of the century. Slowly the Russians began to close the air power gap with their SU- 27, SU-30and SU-35 jet fighters along with Mig-29s and their own AWACs and PGMs. Thus by 2008 we once again see The Russians asserting themselves in Georgia. The Americans had sought to regain superiority by investing heavily in stealth technology and fielded Stealth aircraft like F-22, F-35 fighters and B- 2 bombers and BVR missiles for air-to-air combat. The problem was this technology was frightfully expensive and stealth aircraft could not be fielded in large numbers because of cost factor. Thus In 2014 we saw Russia again capturing Crimea and seizing parts of Donbas. Today we are seeing the Impact of the Russian S -400 and S-500 Triumf missile systems upon the Eastern European battlefield. These AD missile systems have radars that can look out to 600 Kms and pick up stealth aircraft. They have multiple missiles that can engage enemy aircraft from 40 out to 400 kms. Thus, they can achieve Anti Access &Area Denial (A2AD) capabilities and totally deny the Air space over the combat area. This and a whole host of other weapons which Russia had tested in Syria have today given it the confidence to decisively challenge the USA and NATO enforced status quo in Eastern Europe and seek a radical re- structuring of the Security architecture in Europe. This is a decisive inflexion point and the crisis in Ukraine is a direct outgrowth of the shift in military – technical factors in favour of Russia. The simple fact is that The USA and NATO have ruled out military retaliation and are relying primarily on economic sanctions to deter Russia. The implications are clear- USA is in no position now to take on Russia militarily in its own backyard. This is what has clearly emboldened Russia to exploit the military – technical advantage it has gained in recent years.it has now gone ahead despite threat of economic sanctions and recognized the Russian majority states of Dontesk and Luhansk giving a fiat accomplish to US and NATO. However, the crisis is far from over. Russian Redlines were Not Dontesk and Luhansk but Non- inclusion of Ukraine in NATO and no stationing of offensive weapons in the 14 East European nations recently incorporated into NATO. These have not been met and Russia to my mind will pursue them doggedly.
USE OF FORCE WITHOUT WAR:
Op Parakram Analogy. To back his demands Putin had deployed some 1,50,000 Russian troops around Ukraine To cite an analogy, it was like Op Parakram, India’s massive deployment on Pakistan’s border post the terror attack on its parliament. This is using military deployment for Coercion. The aim is to clearly threaten the use of Force to achieve tangible results. This is the use of Force without war. That is what Russia is doing currently. Will it work? Only if the use of Force threat is credible. India lacked a clear military edge over Pakistan then and our political will to wage war was very tenuous. Hence, Parakram did not really deter Pakistan’s asymmetric war. In Russia’s case, they have the military edge locally and their intent to invade if their demands are not met is deadly serious. The USA and NATO have already thrown in the towel by clearly stating they will put no boots on the ground and restrict themselves to economic sanctions. Russia has now moved troops into Dontesk and Luhansk Provinces of Ukraine. Should Ukraine retaliate Russia will escalate dramatically as its military is fully poised to do so.
It is simply a case of stake analysis. Russia has crucial strategic stakes in Ukraine.it is the direct historical invasion route and abuts Russian borders. It has vital mineral reserves like Uranium, Titanium and Natural gas etc. Russia simply cannot afford to let it become part of NATO. It now has the military capability to stop NATO and can wreck Ukraine whenever it wants to. NATO and US can do little more than enforcing economic sanctions. Where vital strategic stake are involved Nations can endure great pain. Conversely, America has little strategic stakes in Ukraine except to needle Russia and stop the Nord 2 gas pipeline as part of the famed economic sanctions. Real Economics now comes in significantly. The Nord 2 Russian gas will cost Germany270 $ per 1000 cubic feet whereas the American gas will cost them a 1000 dollars per 1000 cubic feet. US perhaps would be happy to see a war in Ukraine, which stops the Nord2 gas and forces Germany to buy from USA. That is why President Macron of France was making the most energetic efforts to stop the war. What about Russia? Its stakes in Ukraine are simply crucial. Putin has clearly announced Russian Red lines. He cannot backtrack. With Chinese help, he can deal with western sanctions, which will hurt Germany and France equally. The simple fact is that Putin cannot afford a military pull back with no concrete security outcomes. Initially He seemed inclined to give negotiations a chance. He had written a letter to Joe Biden in Dec last year spelling out his demands for security restructuring in Europe. In Jan, he got a reply that seemed rational to the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Putin decided to give the negotiators a chance. Immediately the US hardened its stance and began to boast that they had coerced Russia into backing down and that Ukraine had the right to choose its form of govt and alliances. Russia simply stopped the withdrawal and increased the number of troops around Ukraine. In fact, out of Russia’s 12 combined Arms Armies (corps) 11 are now deployed around Ukraine. They have staged forward their tanks, self-propelled artillery and S-400 and S-500 missile systems. The Su- 35 fighter-bombers, attack helicopters and Iskander missiles are deployed. The Russians were carrying out a major military exercise in Belarus with their41st Army. This was to end on 20th Feb but Belarus has announced that Russian troops will stay on until NATO forces are in Poland etc. The forces in Belarus are directly poised to strike at the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and destroy the main command and control node.
Stepping on the escalatory ladder the Russian Duma recommended that Russia recognise Dontesk and Luhansk. On 21 Feb, Putin made this pronouncement, clearly throwing down the gauntlet. Should Ukraine respond militarily it will be the pretext that Russia needs for a limited or full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Simply stated, Putin will try his best to get without war the realignment of the security architecture in Europe by his coercive military deployment. If it works, well and good. The point to note is that if it does not, he is determined to go ahead and use major military force to underline his intent.
ANALYSIS OF PRECEDENTS:
So if Putin decides to go to war what options does he have? To empirically analyse these options let us take a look at past precedents- namely the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the capture of Crimea in 2014.
• Georgia 2008 The CIA had started its series of colour revolutions In Eastern Europe to spread democracy. Under that pretext, anti- Russian regimes were being installed on the Russian borders. Putin was elected in Russia in year 2000. In 2003 a pro- west President Shaakashvilli took power in Georgia. Georgian territory posed serious threat to Russian Muslim underbelly of Chechenya.in Apr 2008 at the Bucharest summit it was announced that NATO would welcome inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine. This was a clear Russian red line. Russia began massing troops on the borders of Georgia. It encouraged Russian separatists in Abkhazia and Ossetia to intensify their actions. Russian separatists in Osettia began to shell Georgian Villages. Georgia now made the mistake of launching ground assaults in Osettia and captured the separatist stronghold of Takshanvali. This was the precise pretext the Russians were looking for. Their troops were in position and on 08th Aug, they launched a massive counterattack. It began with a major cyber-attack and electronic warfare operations to jam communications. The Russian 58th Army attacked across the mountains via the Roki tunnel, cleared all of Osettia, and took some more territory ahead. Concurrently, the Russian Black Sea Fleet blockaded the coast of Georgia and Russian troops made amphibious landings in Abkhazia. They quickly moved inland and cleared the whole of Abhkazia. They moved beyond that province and seized the cities of Zugdidi, Senaki, Poti and Gori. By 12th Aug, it was all over and the French negotiated a ceasefire. Russia recognized Osettia and Abhkazia as independent states. They vacated all other Georgian territory .This was the first war in Europe in the 21st century
• Ukraine 2014. The Capture of Crimea. US persisted with its colour revolutions. In Feb 2014 as part of the Orange revolution the pro – Russian President Yankovich of Ukraine was deposed and fled to Russia. His successor once again began to talk of joining NATO. Russia saw a clear violation of its red lines in Ukraine. Russian forces were already in the leased naval base of Sevastapole. On 28 Feb, Russian troops moved in swiftly and occupied the whole of Crimea without a shot being fired. They held a referendum and by 18 Mar had simply incorporated Crimea into Russia. Concurrently they backed Russian separatists in Donbas region and instigated revolts in the Oblasts of Dontsk and Luhansk. A number of Russian troops in civil clothes but with heavy weapons also moved into these rebel provinces, almost like a repeat of Georgia. What was noteworthy was the speed and decisive nature of this operation. Russia had clearly asserted its red lines in Ukraine and enforced them in a swift coup de main operation. The US and NATO could do nothing.
The Author is a retired military veteran.
The second part of the atrticle will be carried tomorrow.