In last week’s podcast, we talked about the build-up of military tension on the Russian-Ukrainian border. I thought I’d devote a post to talking a bit more about how things might unfold. Of course, the nature of things is very volatile and unpredictable, meaning the chances that this post becomes very quickly out of date and proves wildly inaccurate is high.
My gut feeling is that if Vladimir Putin’s agenda is what many believe it to be then a full scale invasion of Ukraine would not be in his interests. My reasoning is as follows.
The usually stated Russian grievance is their belief that the west, through NATO and the EU has encroached too far into Russia’s sphere of influence and that Putin particularly does not want Ukraine to join NATO but also would like to see other countries at least loosen their ties with the alliance.
If this is the case, then I’m not sure that an invasion of Ukraine would help the Russian cause. In fact at the moment, Russia risks increasing NATO influence. First of all, previously neutral countries like Finland may be encouraged to seek refuge under NATO protection, secondly, NATO are responding with their own military build up, personnel will not be sent directly into Ukraine, however, forces in other Eastern European countries like Poland will be strengthened and no doubt naval and air power in the region will be strengthened. Finally, indirect support to Ukraine may be given through weapons and training alongside tougher sanctions.
So, I’m not sure that Russia will get what it wants out of a conflict. It makes more sense for them to do a bit of sabre rattling and continue exercises whilst not pushing much further. What this might do is three things.
- It will discourage Ukraine from joining NATO. Indeed, Russia may be able to influence regime change leading to a more supportive government in Kiev.
- It may extract some immediate concessions. NATO may agree to de-escalate in return for a Russian withdrawal from the border. These concessions may include pressing forward with previous agreements from 2014 seen as favourable to Russia.
- It will enable Putin to use rhetoric that will play well with a domestic audience that will see Russia being taken notice of in world politics.
However, the problem is that it’s very difficult to predict what is exactly in Putin’s mind and how he will act. He may well decide that he is never likely to put NATO into full retreat and that therefore he will settle for bringing Ukraine fully back into Russia’s orb. The West are pretty much powerless in terms of stopping an invasion of Ukraine but know that Russia wouldn’t dare to attack an existing NATO member.
If Russia does invade, expect them to repeat the playbook used in Georgia in 2008. This means that they will act in alleged support of the Crimea and claim that their forces are entering as peace-keepers, their hope would be to install a puppet regime before withdrawing their own military personnel as soon as possible.
Now, that may be the plan but remember that things don’t always go according to plan. Russian military commanders would do well to remind Putin of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
What does this mean for us? Well, the first thing is that it does not mean we are irreversibly heading to war with Russia, a war that could easily go nuclear. Rather, we are more likely to see a sitation similar to during the Cold War. This would mean a building up of military power by NATO, conventional and nuclear but rather than direct conflict, we can expect conflict by proxy as Russia focuses on non-aligned countries on its border. Meanwhile, at some point the West may choose act in countries where they have a level of interest.
However, this doesn’t mean we can just forget what is happening in Ukraine. First, events there will have an impact here. It is likely to create a new refugee crisis and it will also cause disruption to energy supplies leading to potential power shortages and further hikes in fuel prices.
We also would do well to remember that the crisis in the Ukraine directly affects our brothers and sisters there. We should seek to be informed about the church there and give time to pray for them.
We can remember that whilst the world is unpredictable, our trust is not in world leaders but in God. Putin may or may not have a plan and may or may not be fully in control of it but our trust is in the Lamb on the Throne who knows all things and who will fulfil his plan and purposes.