(Bloomberg Opinion) — Two days after President Vladimir Putin sent his military to Ukraine, Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti published an article that assumed an imminent victory. It celebrated “a new era”, marking the end of Western domination, the breaking of ties between the United States and continental Europe, and the return of Russia as its legitimate “space and place” in the world.
As the war rages on, announcing the arrival of a single Russian world uniting Ukraine with Belarus and Russia seems premature at best. RIA Novosti was quick to withdraw the article. But the author was right about one thing: Putin’s decision to invade appears to be changing the international order, but nonetheless in the way he planned it.
Since Berlin has the London and Baltic capitals like Tallinn, Europe’s defense underground is broken. A full scale war is no longer unthinkable and nations are reconsidering what they spend, what they buy and how they will have to fight.
Instead of breaking away from the US, the European members of NATO have joined it. Instead of shrinking back to its pre-1990s expansion size, as Putin demanded before invading him, the alliance is stationing more personnel on its borders. NATO has sent some 3,000 more soldiers to its eastern flank, as well as helicopters, tanks and fighter jets, to deter any possible Kremlin decision to expand the battlefield.
“Regardless of how this war ends, and as clinical as it sounds now, historians will say that Putin’s attack on Ukraine gave Europe the time it needed to recover and be able to take on Russia and, later, China,” he said. General Richard Barrons, former Commander of the United Kingdom Joint Forces Command. “Ukraine is paying a high price to buy time.”
The big question for Europe will be what it does with that time. Germany’s commitment to spend 100 billion euros ($110 billion) added only the most obvious example of military escalation, which has implications for the balance of power within Europe as well as with Russia.
Other than that, there is a risk of being defended, including by the three small Baltic states, so you have had plenty of time to hear the alarm about Putin. They are also asking NATO for permanent bases as well as long-range anti-aircraft systems, though it is unclear if they will get it.
None of this suggests a return to stability in Europe, but rather an acknowledgment of its loss. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine “is a post-imperial, post-colonial land grab,” Fiona Hill, a former US National Security Council senior director for European and Russian affairs, said last week at New York Metropolitan State University. Denver. “If we let this be far away, we are setting a precedent for the future.”
Those extra billions may or may not be spent effectively.
Putin may still be able to achieve some of his goals, and it looks like he may choose isolation for Russia—and permanent instability in Ukraine and Europe—rather than admit his mistake. The defeat could call into question his political survival.
“It’s Still a Race,” by David Shlapak, Senior Defense Researcher at the Rand Corporation, at the American think tank. “It is a race in which we have been motivated to start running, but it is still a competition that neither side is predestined to win or lose. There are many cards that still need to be played on the NATO side to find out.”
Shlapak was responsible for a war game that Rand carried out after the Russian annexation of Ukraine in 2014, to predict the game what would happen if Russia invaded the three Baltic states. The results made news headlines because they were sobering: Russian forces would reach the capitals of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania within 60 hours.
In a “fait accompli,” they would also shut down the so-called Suwalki brucha—a land corridor running from the Belarusian border to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad—before other larger NATO allies had time to respond.
It’s natural to be skeptical of such a blitzkrieg after events in Ukraine over the past three weeks, but it’s also too early to say what will change the war among the hypotheses fueled by Rand’s war game, Shlapak said. Russia’s leaders and commanders would probably attack NATO very differently.
However, the Russian Army has been destroyed and its stock of precision guided missiles has been depleted. Except that there has been a catastrophic escalation of the current conflict, so it should make a Russian war with NATO less likely in the future than it was before February 24, according to Michael Mazarr, a former special assistant to the Chief of Staff. US set
Surely, in three or five years, Putin’s generals will have learned their lesson, regrouped and rearmed, he said, but they will be hurt by sanctions that will limit access to technologies and financing. NATO will also rearm.
In this case, according to Mazarr, it should take place in the more than pre-existing change in the security order in Europe. Stability among the great powers depends on reaching some mutual agreement to maintain the status quo, he said. It will change even with the Soviet Union after the 1960s, but never with Putin’s Russia. And, whatever the wisdom of NATO’s post-Cold War expansion, such a deal may now be impossible.
After Ukraine, “you cannot treat the kind of regime that is in the Kremlin as a geopolitical partner,” Mazarr said. “We are now locked in an indefinite confrontation with a declining great power that is increasingly humiliated, hyper-nationalistic and dangerous.”
Ukraine is changing the world order, but not as Putin expected
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