Russia On The Brink Of War

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Analysis of what was said, the West’s responses and the implications.

By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Russia is on the brink of war with the United States and EU as Russia’s State parliament has urged decisive action to end the Ukraine conflict. President Putin addressed the nation last Wednesday (September 21). We analyze the implications.

Escalation from ‘Special Military Operation’ to ‘War’
Russia has yet to upgrade the status from ‘special military operation’ to ‘war’, but should such a declaration be made, it is an effective acknowledgement that the Ukrainian and Western governments have pushed Russia to the point of Ukraine not being now considered as errant member of the Russian sphere of influence but actively and militarily opposing the concept of both Slavic and Russian culture. Perhaps subtle for the West, but not for the millions of Ukrainians, Russians and related peoples who had considered themselves as part of a dysfunctional, yet still operational family. Declaring war upon Ukraine denies the country its ethnic background, places it firmly as part of the Western bloc and immediately sites the Ukrainians themselves as enemies of Russia. It splits the Russian-Ukrainian mixed identity into two and will create much hatred on both sides.

Referendums are to be held among the populations of Donbass in Eastern Ukraine, where much of the fighting has been taking place. It is often forgotten by the West that this area has been subject to military action since 2014. Much of the region is ethnically Russian yet possesses significant mineral and energy reserves. Referendums would likely point to unification with Russia yet be disputed by Ukraine and probably not recognized by the West, although Russia has called on its alliances within the SCO and BRICs groupings to monitor the process. These referendums are scheduled from September 23-27.

Should the Donbass regions declare themselves as part of the territory of Russia, attacks upon them by Ukraine (as has been the case since 2014) would then be classed as attacks upon Russia. That carries far more serious repercussions in terms of the Russian constitutional statements about its ability to protect itself. That could involve more serious weaponry, including the use of tactical nukes for Russia to protect what it would then view as part of its territory.

Russia has called up eligible military reservists to serve in Ukraine. It is unlikely they would be sent to the frontlines but would provide backup and logistical support. Russia has an estimated 2 million trained reservists and could call upon a further 10 million active male personnel who have completed national service. There has been some protest about this, however the extent of these appears to have been exaggerated by Western media. Eligible males are being prevented from leaving Russia from Friday, September 23.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization
Russia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) which also includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. It includes rapid response units and has considerable experience in Afghanistan. Similar to NATO, an attack on one would be considered an attack on all. Should the Donbass declare itself to be part of Russia, and Ukraine attack it, the CSTO could be called into the conflict and deploy highly trained military assets usually meant for preserving peace in Central Asia to the Ukraine frontline.

Mood In Russia
The overall mood in Russia is one of defiance. The vast majority of Russians want the conflict to stop but see the situation as having become so difficult and entrenched that Russia must now act. The impression is that Russia’s young men are generally prepared to be conscripted to cease the conflict and to provide support if required – however this is not the observation carried in Western media. Russia retains strong national pride and has a feeling of being victimized. Conscripts are likely to be well motivated – most have family who served in defeating Nazi Germany, a period that still runs profoundly and deeply in the Russian contemporary nationalistic psyche. It should not be underestimated.

The implications are extremely serious. Russia has written into its constitution that the use of heavy and potentially nuclear weaponry is permissible should it need to defend itself. That will become clear should the Donbass regions declare independence and decide to align with Russia rather than Ukraine.

At this point the opinion of the West ceases to matter. Ukraine attacks, especially those supported by Western provided military will be seen as acts of war which then permit the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Likely nuclear use
Should nuclear weapons be utilized they are likely to be tactical nukes and used in a way to create a barren ‘no-man’s land’ between Western and Eastern Ukraine. Depending upon the yields used and weather conditions, these could be restricted to localized areas of Ukraine or contaminate larger parts of the country in addition to Eastern Europe and beyond, including parts of Russia. Moscow may calculate this as a price worth paying to keep NATO and Ukraine at bay.

It could also provoke, should the West decide to act, a larger nuclear conflict between Russia and the Western powers. The United States would be the decision maker here; it operates nuclear weapons bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, and may have unofficially moved nukes to Eastern Europe. France and the UK are nuclear powers in their own right yet can be expected to follow US commands.

Western Opinion
The West has downplayed the risk with both government and media of the opinion that the use of nuclear weapons by Russia on the battlefield is unlikely. Some have joked about the poor status of the weaponary. The United States has stated that if Russia does use tactical nukes, it will respond to ‘destroy the Russian Black Sea fleet’ and ‘military bases in Crimea’. What that means however is that this would be a direct attack upon Russia by the United States. There has been no media analysis of what Russia’s response to this would be, however it could very quickly escalate into a wider nuclear conflict with reciprocal attacks upon the US. One gets the general opinion that the West does not take President Putin seriously. Yet if Donbass is attacked after next weeks referendums the situation has the potential to deteriorate very fast. It remains uncertain whether the apparent Western media low key approach is either the true state of concern or whether this is deliberate to keep the general population from being overly alarmed and demanding a stop to the West’s involvement in what is fast amounting to bluff versus counterbluff until someone takes a serious step forward. This could be disasterous.

It appears the conflict with Ukraine is poised to enter an extremely dangerous phase. Russia will be hoping that the threat will permit an end to the conflict and that the Ukraine leadership, and its supporters will back down. Should Ukraine and its Western allies not agree then the brinksmanship between Russia and the West is going to go right down to the wire with a high chance of it developing into a small-scale nuclear conflict. This appears now to be the unfolding scenario.

There is some evidence that the United States military hawks would appreciate this in order to learn what the impact of tactical nukes on the battlefield would be, with Ukraine and Russia both being used as test studies.

The pressing issue with this is how to call an end to these theoretical strategies before a larger, globally enveloping nuclear conflict kicks in and the entire game plan becomes little more than a moot point – with the remains being amongst a destroyed planet and any bewildered survivors.

This article has been updated on Thursday, September 22.
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