Recent Russian moves along the Ukrainian border imply one thing: invasion. Today's events are the culmination of years of plotting by Putin, and open war in Eastern Europe may be inevitable.
A previous version of this article referred to the capital of Ukraine as "Kiev." The author has updated the article to use the more accurate rendition, "Kyiv."
In recent months, there has been a flood of news stories about Russian troop build-ups on the Ukrainian border. American intelligence in December claimed that the Russian military was preparing for an invasion of Ukraine by early in the new year. The new year is here, and the likelihood of an invasion is becoming a worrisome reality.
A few weeks ago, NATO and American diplomats held high-level negotiations where Russia imposed unreasonable demands that they knew their NATO counterparts would never accept. For example, Russia is demanding a legal guarantee that Ukraine won’t be allowed in NATO and the withdrawal of NATO troops in eastern Europe, effectively taking the alliance back to its pre-1999 state. If the United States were to agree to these demands, they would be giving up the sovereign right of nations to choose their own alliances—something that would be disastrous for democracy all over the world.
When Russia first announced these demands, two theories were postulated to explain their actions. Either, they are playing the strongman game—essentially asking for more than they expect and then dialing it down in the end. Alternatively, they are pushing for outrageous demands they know the West will not accept, all in an attempt to say that they tried their hand at peace.
It appears that Russia is taking the latter strategy. Since the talks began, Russia has not budged on its demands. They have enlarged their military presence on the Ukrainian border and continue to conduct threatening military drills. Last week, after the first round of talks went nowhere, a massive cyberattack was conducted against military and government infrastructure in Ukraine and Poland. Kyiv blames Russia for the attacks, a likely accusation considering the context of the situation. On the same day, the United States received intelligence that Russia was preparing a false flag operation on the Ukrainian border in order to justify an invasion—just as Germany did on the Polish border right before the outbreak of war in 1939.
The Russian foreign ministry still claims they have no plan to invade Ukraine. Since the Russian build-up on the border in November, they have denied any hostile action. This is to be expected. It would be foolish of Russia to reveal their intentions directly.
The fear of Russian invasion of Ukraine is not outlandish warmongering; it is simply an acknowledgment of history and Russian strategy in Ukraine. Russia, especially Putin, does not recognize Ukrainian identity as separate from Russian identity. Historically, Russia has always attempted to push further west in order to ensure a strong buffer between western Europe and Moscow. Furthermore, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military support of a separatist guerrilla insurgency in the Donetsk and Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine in 2014 has demonstrated Moscow’s willingness to challenge Ukraine’s sovereignty with force.
President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have responded to the more recent aggression by saying that there will be severe consequences if Russia invades Ukraine. These “severe consequences” include “crippling sanctions” and the continued “material support to Ukraine,” but the Biden administration has stopped short of threatening troops on the ground. This means that Russia can expect to fight Ukraine independently without worrying about American forces in their way, but still facing the threat of American material support.
The truth is, President Vladimir Putin has ruled Russia for 22 years now, and he is getting old. His hold on power has been undermined over the past two years after protests surrounding the arrest and poisoning of opposition candidate Alexei Navalny. Since Putin took power in 2000, his stated foreign policy goal was to ensure a buffer zone between the Russian heartland and NATO. If Putin wants to achieve this longtime foreign policy strategy and prove his strength to the Russian people to ensure his power, invading Ukraine is the logical next step and should be expected within the coming weeks or months.
Caden Umansky is a first year International Studies student in the School of International Service. He is a Staff Writer at the American Agora.
Image from Public Domain.