International society closely watches the current events in Ukraine. There is a high probability of full-scale war in this post-soviet country. Approximately A hundred thousand well-armed Russian troops are deployed at the borderline of Russia and Ukraine. The West is expecting a major Russian incursion on Ukrainian soil. According to British intelligence data, Kremlin’s principal purpose implies toppling the government and replacing it with the satellite regime. The United States of America and the United Kingdom have started the withdrawal process of their Embassies from Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine. However, they provided Ukrainians with necessary military and humanitarian aid, which will play a crucial role in a potential military escalation. The situation has exacerbated In December 2021, when Kremlin published an official document containing demands with North-Atlantic Treaty Organizationand the USA. The Russian Federation urged NATO not to expand further, withdraw the military contingent from Romania and Bulgaria and abolish the decision of the Bucharest summit that Ukraine and Georgia will become NATO members. The West did not agree on these terms and reaffirmed its long-standing commitment to NATO’s open-door policy. Despite their complex relations, Russia and USA started diplomatic negotiations regarding the de-escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The incumbent president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, actively tries to persuade the West that he does not intend to intervene in Ukraine, yet his actions contradict this statement. In this article, I will try to explain why it is highly likely that Russia will invade Ukraine.
1. Domestic consumption – Putin’s approval rating fell to the historic minimum last month, which is the result of his unpopular pension reform and the leaking of horrifying prison videos. Putin’s approval rating was sky-high(Almost 90%) after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and 2015 when the Russian president decided to intervene in Syria and protect president Assad. Since 2018, his popularity has been noticeably shrinking (According to the latest data, only 60% of the Russian population approves his work). A clear exposition of this trend is the result ofRussia’s last parliamentary elections, where the ruling party “United Russia” received only 49% of votes. Putin needs a new foreign military adventure that will back his rating to the standard benchmark. A new military campaign is the best opportunity for diverting public attention from domestic problems;
2. Perfect timing –Kremlin’s full-scale invasion in Ukraine would be highly unlikely in 2015 because at this time Russian troops were deployed in Syria. It was unlikely in 2019 too, when anti-government riots started in Belarus. For Putin, the given moment is the most convenient for the invasion. Right now he does not have “too much food on his plate”. During the last 5 or 6 years, he achieved his strategic goals in various parts of the world. He managed to restore the Assad regime in Syria. He coerced Lukashenko for fully reverting to the Kremlin’s orbit. In the second Karabakh war, Putin increased pressure on both South Caucasian countries. He successfully “punished” Pashinyan for his more or less Western-oriented foreign policy and halted Baku’s military advancement in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. In a nutshell, Putin managed to execute his foreign policy goals on several significant locations. Now time for subjugating Ukraine has finally come;
3. Grand chessboard – Putin once said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Restoring complete influence over the post-soviet space was his first-rate priority, though, during 2000-2005 he was predominantly occupied with domestic affairs. Rising global prices on oil and gas allowed Putin to adopt a more ambitious foreign policy approach. From Munich Security Conference, 2007, he began to talk about returning the principles of Realpolitik, where powerful countries have their exclusive influence zone, so-called “Geopolitical Lebensraum”. Restoring control over the post-soviet territory is quite impossible without Ukraine and Belarus. Minsk officially agreed to become a memberof the Russian-Belarussian Union State in 1999, although Lukashenko tried to play an independent game by balancing relations between Russia and the West. In 2019, Putin successfully used anti-government protests to persuade Lukashenko that the threat of Western intervention and overthrowing his regime was imminent. In exchange for security guarantees, Putin coerced Lukashenko to return to Kremlin’s political orbit. Putin also wanted to develop that kind of scenario in Ukraine, but he was unsuccessful. Despite the annexation of Crimea and the ongoing war in the Donbas region, the majority of Ukraine’s population still wants to join NATO and European Union. Consequently, Russia’s soft power and disinformation campaign remained ineffectual. Now is the time for another military operation. Solving the Ukrainian puzzle once and for all – is the main objective of Russia. Maybe there will not be a better time for full-scale war in the nearest future. So, why should Kremlin back down?;
4. The tendencies of International politics – As I have already mentioned above, Russia is trying to return principles of Realpolitik in International relations. Putin wants the whole world to acknowledge Russia’s zone of exclusive influence, which is the post-soviet space. Russian Federation does not have a serious problem in Central Asia – Kremlin’s influence in this territory is still overwhelming. After the second Karabakh war, Russia has increased its impact in the South Caucasus region too. In South Caucasus, Georgia remains a long-term problem, however, In the last decade, Official Tbilisi has gotten closer to Kremlin and weakened ties with NATO, European Union, and particularly with the USA. In the case of Georgia, Kremlin’s soft power and disinformation campaigns are so far enough. The most problematic region for Moscow appears to be Eastern Europe. without fully conquering Ukraine, Kremlin’s desire to consolidate post-soviet spacewill remain unrealistic. Tendencies of International relations indicate that Russia’s chance of success in the upcoming military escalation is high. The liberal international order has been diminishing since 2010, democracies are on the defensive, the global influence of the USA has also waned in the last decade. Those tendencies illustrate the changing balance of power In the world – Realpolitik is back. The complete annexation of another country will presumably become the norm again in the nearest future.
Taking into consideration the aforementioned factors, it is likely that another war in Eastern Europe is brewing. This war is the first genuine trial of the endurance of liberal international order and institutions. Therefore, the West must do everything to help Ukraine preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
FPC Research Fellow