The “Ukraine Special Military Operation” – Scenarios For How It Began And For Finishing The Conflict

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Upcoming US and EU elections will be the deciding voices over when enough is enough. 

By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

The Russia-Ukraine situation has become immensely polarized from the very beginning. Many opinions have been banded about as to why it started, (unprovoked) to how it will end (in years). Being one of the very few foreigners in Russia at the present, and with access to both Russian and Western media and opinion allows me to develop a greater possibility span than regular media.

In this article I try and make sense of the different scenarios and attempt to give a timeframe for the conflict to end.

Why did the conflict start?

The generally accepted attitude in the West is that it was ‘unprovoked’; that President Putin has become ill with ‘steroid rage’ caused by medical treatment, or that ‘Putin is trying to rebuild the Russian Empire’. The first too are laughably naïve, and have been dealt with by Russian officials, although the third carries some resonance: it was expressed by US President Joe Biden and carries weight as a theory,  and especially with so with Russia’s neighbors. Let us examine each of these:

Unprovoked

No leader has ever launched such an ‘operation’ without there being good reason. Readers will anyway recall that prior to Russian troops entering Ukraine, Russia had requested that Ukraine expressly agree it would not join NATO. That was shot down by President Biden who stated that every nation who asked for NATO membership had the right to join. Russia’s concern about NATO is that should Ukraine join, NATO could place nuclear missiles close to the Ukrainian border with Russia. At its closest, the Ukrainian border is just 450km from Moscow, or the equivalent of having nukes aimed at Washington from New Haven, Connecticut. That scenario was further expressed by former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, now a member of the European Parliament, who stated last week that ‘The West has the right to give Ukraine Nuclear Weapons‘.

This appears to confirm Russian fears, meaning that the conflict was not ‘unprovoked’, with China’s Xi Jinping expressing the situation in the simplest terms: “The root cause of the Ukraine crisis is the regional security tensions in Europe that have built up over the years. A fundamental solution is to accommodate the legitimate security concerns of all relevant parties.”

Putin’s Health

‘Steroid rage’ and other stories relating to President Putin’s health have circled around the past few months, implying that the Russian President has been inflicted by a condition that makes him angry or incapable. However, the Russian leadership has set protocols in place to deal with such issues. Putin himself has been healthy, he doesn’t drink and regularly exercises, even participating in horse riding and ice hockey matches. While all men of 69 have some health concerns, Putin has kept himself fit. This is in stark contrast to US President Biden, who constantly trips, falls off his bike or sees to forget where he is. Putin’s health can be discounted as a reason for conflict.

Recreating The Russian Empire

It was US President Biden who stated that the Ukraine situation was because Russia wanted to recreate the ‘Russian Empire’ or the USSR, knowing full well this would scare the Eastern Europeans (who would then pay for more troops and weapons).

In fact, Putin already had an opportunity to start the recreation of the USSR with the conflict with Georgia over Abkhazia in 1993. Although not President at that time, he was already a key advisor to the inner circle of then President Boris Yeltsin. That conflict, which originated with mutual ethnic aggression between the local Abkhazia’s and Georgians in Abkhazia, resulted in serious ethnic cleansing atrocities being committed on both sides. Nearby Russia, in order to stop the bloodshed and keep the regional peace, send in military, whose presence extended into the Georgian capital Tblisi, where tanks wrecked a handful of Georgian buildings and then withdrew, while then annexing Abkhazia and bringing it under Russia, not Georgian control. Georgia regards that as an illegal occupation of its territory (a very similar situation to Crimea) however it is noticeable that the region has been peaceful since.

The point about the theory concerning the recreation of the ‘Russian Empire’ or USSR being is that had this been a vision for Putin, he would have recommended the annexation of Georgia in its entirety in 1993 – yet he didn’t. Russian troops in Kazakhstan at the beginning of the year, called in by President Tokayev to help quell civil unrest in January this year, also left the country the following month. These are not the actions of a President intending to recreate the USSR.

The Donbass

There is another, more complicated issue concerning Ukraine that isn’t generally mentioned by the West, and that is the situation as concerns Donbass, with the two breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. This isn’t a conflict that has arisen over the past few months, it is a military conflict that has been on-going for the past eight years. The eastern region of Ukraine has essentially been undergoing a civil war in terms of ethnic identity and suppression. Ethnically Russian, yet living in Ukraine, the Kiev government has subjected these regions to military bombardment and economic suppression – in defiance of a UN agreed ‘Minsk’ agreement that would give the Donbass a large degree of autonomy.

However, despite various factions of the Ukrainian government signing the document in 2014, the Kiev government changed in late 2014 as part of the Maidan revolution (or Revolution of Dignity) in what Russia claimed was a Western-backed coup. Despite the UN brokered ‘Minsk’ protocols, the new Ukrainian government military then began an offensive against the Donbass region, essentially targeting parts of their own country to drive ethnic Russian-Ukrainian’s out, an ethnic-cleansing policy maintained by Ukrainian President Zelensky and is still being carried out against ethnic Russian culture today. It is interesting to note that the destruction of national cultures are classified as a form of genocide and that the EU has recognised this. This is why Russia refers to the Ukrainian government as “Nazi’s” as this is precisely how the holocaust began in the initial persecution of Jews. Russian attempts to draw Western attention and UN action to what has been going on in Donbass, and the Ukrainian decision not to abide by a UN brokered peace agreement have essentially been ignored.

The situation in Donbass is a critical part in understanding why the Russia-Ukraine situation has evolved, with Russia seeking to instigate regional protection for ethnic Russians in Ukraine and this then compounded with Ukraine wanting to join NATO and have nuclear weapons on its borders. The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, was interviewed by the BBC’s Russian correspondent Steven Rosenburg last week, that interview, which explains the situation in great detail, can be seen here (subtitled in English). Meanwhile, a larger question that needs a addressing is the capabilities within the UN and whether or not it has become too influenced by Western politics and if reform is required. If Lavrov’s account is correct, the UN is partially culpable for the current conflict in being unable to hold together the Minsk agreements and take action against what Moscow perceives as Ukrainian perpetrated genocide in the Donbass.

Ending The Conflict

It is an old adage that it is easier to start a war than end it. All the Western and Ukrainian rhetoric has been about ‘Driving the Russians out’ – yet this does not solve the Donbass situation, where an estimated 4 million people lived prior to the outbreak of the conflict. Russia has in fact been offering citizens of Donbass with Russian passports, a situation that Ukrainian President Zelensky has stated is ‘illegal‘ which somewhat contradicts his stance than he also wants them to leave. Clearly he can’t have it both ways. Moscow has stated that 720,000 have applied, and about 200,000 have been evacuated to Russia. The EU meanwhile has stated it will not recognise such passports for travel.

Ukrainian President Zelensky has been firm in his assertion that Ukraine must not yield ‘an inch’ of territory to Russia, including the entire Donbass region, much of which has been out of Kiev’s control since 2014, and includes Crimea. Clearly adherence to this stance will prolong the conflict. But there are issues in doing so.

Providing Ukraine With Weapons

In order to inflict a total defeat on Russia, Ukraine has asked for significant weapons supplies from the EU and United States. However, it seems most unlikely that weapons in sufficient quantity can be sourced. Various US and European military and Government leaders have suggested that the conflict ‘could last years‘.

Here then, decisions need to be made about the outcome of the conflict. What do the conflicting sides want?

If Zelensky’s desire for ‘total defeat’ of Russia will take years to accomplish, that means that the United States and European Union are also willing to go the distance. Given that the Ukraine is not an EU member state, and that the conflict is imposing pain on their economies and industries too, that seems unlikely to happen.

US & EU Politics

Meanwhile, rising prices, potential shortages and the highest inflation for 40 years suggest that instead, it appears the US and EU electorate will ultimately be the judge of the Ukraine issue and continuing support.

Both are also politically conflicted in ways that suggest that domestic politics will dictate that a settlement with Russia will have to be reached.

It is worth noting that French President Macron, only just re-elected to the role, has just had his wings clipped in losing a Presidential majority in votes yesterday.

Elsewhere in the EU, Parliamentary and local elections are due from July 2022 – to May 2023 as follows: Sweden, Czech Republic, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia, Estonia, and Finland. As all have very specific relations with Russia, the results will be of significance in pointing to how far the popular vote extends to supporting Ukraine, and especially after a winter where high prices and energy shortages may have begun to bite.

It is the same for US President Joe Biden, with the still-powerful vision of Trumpism hanging over him and with the US midterm elections to be completed by November. If he is not to suffer a humiliating defeat, Biden will need to find a fast antidote to the highest US inflation rate since the end of World War Two and the price of gasoline now 30% higher than in March. If he fails, that lets in the Republicans and that brings forward the potential for a Trump return to the Presidency in 2024.

In turn, this suggests that the Ukraine conflict will not be settled by military means. Political risks and the ability for both US and EU politicians to remain elected representatives will dictate what happens and how soon the conflict ends. Should the current crop of politicians be ousted however – it’s because Russia made them lose, not the voting public because their policies didn’t work. I await the headlines.

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About Us

Russia Briefing is written by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm has 28 offices throughout Eurasia, including China, Russia, India, and the ASEAN nations, assisting foreign investors into the Eurasian region. Please contact Maria Kotova at russia@dezshira.com for Russian investment advisory or assistance with market intelligence, legal, tax and compliance issues throughout Asia.

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