Russian actions in Ukraine hardly pass the test for strategic victory
- Recently Russia launched “special military operations” with the objective of “demilitarising Ukraine” but not “occupying” it.
Why was a crisis in the making?
- Redrawing national boundaries by force: After 1945, this is the second time that national boundaries are being redrawn by force; the first was the 1999 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) air strikes on Serbian forces that led to the creation of Kosovo.
- After the fall of the Berlin Wall in late-1989, then U.S. Secretary Of State had assured the Soviet President that “there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction one inch to the east”.
- NATO summit (2008), U.S. President urged an in-principle opening for Ukraine and Georgia was announced, though France and Germany, conscious of Russian concerns, successfully opposed defining a time frame.
- Later that year, Russia intervened in Georgia on the grounds of protecting the Russian minorities and took over the northern provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
- Annexation of Crimea: In 2014 Russia annexed Crimea.
- 2020: Despite no timeline for membership, Ukraine was made a NATO Enhanced Opportunity Partner.
- France and Germany initiated talks between Ukraine and Russia under the Normandy format leading to the Minsk agreements, in 2014 and 2015.
- Supportive declarations by France and Germany were intended to address Russian security concerns.
- Ukraine undertook to introduce certain constitutional amendments to provide a degree of autonomy to the two provinces and Russia was to assist in withdrawal of all foreign forces.
- Russia’s threatening moves made NATO members, especially the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and the central Europeans like Poland and Romania, especially nervous.
- Finally, NATO remained united but unable to provide an off-ramps solution.
Implications for Russia
- NATO has been rejuvenated, the trans-Atlantic unity strengthened and Russia’s economic ties with Europe have been adversely impacted.
- Given Russia’s considerable foreign exchange reserves, of nearly $640 billion, sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU may not hurt immediately but eventually will begin to bite both the oligarchs and the common people.
- Worse, Russia will become more dependent on China — for political support as well as a market for its energy exports.
- This will eventually weaken its hand in central Asia.
- For Russia, the challenge is to constrain the adversary’s options while increasing one’s own options and space for manoeuvre.
- His actions may yield tactical gains but hardly pass the test for strategic victory.