The Financial Express

Will Putin choose war over Ukraine?  

| Updated: February 08, 2022 19:14:13

Will Putin choose war over Ukraine?   

The recent build-up of Russian troops on Ukraine's border has left the Western bloc speculating what Kremlin is up to. Is it purely muscle-flexing or a rehearsal for something bigger-a full-scale invasion of Ukraine? Meanwhile, Russian activities on the Ukrainian border has triggered a flurry of  diplomatic activities among the nations representing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The US and its allies have been warning Kremlin of serious consequences in case it dares to attack Ukraine. However, Russia has repeatedly denied the Western complaint about its having any  aggressive intent against Ukraine. The Russian claim to its non-belligerence, though, does not match its deploying more than one hundred thousand troops in full combat gear along with arms and weapons within a striking distance from the Ukrainian border. And in response to the Western anxieties about its suspected aggressive designs,  Russia has raised its own security concerns about NATO's expansion in the region near to its borders. It has also expressed its vehement opposition to any move to include Ukraine in NATO.

While expressing its concerns, Putin also knows that the US will not engage militarily with Russia over Ukraine under any circumstances as evidenced from US president Joe Biden's repeated assertion that the he is not going to send any troops to Ukraine. Washington, though reluctant to engage in a fresh conflict anywhere after all the wars it has fought  in the Middle East and Afghanistan, has finally decided to send some 3,000 troops in Eastern Europe to join the existing NATO forces.  Though a rather symbolic gesture, the objective is  to give a clear message to Moscow: behave, or be prepared for the worst. Even so, it has not sent its forces to Ukraine. But then  will NATO engage in a war for Ukraine? Of course not; it can go to war only to defend a NATO member, which Ukraine is not.  Russian president Vladimir Putin is well aware of all these limitations of the Western alliance. He also knows that France does not see eye to eye with the members of the trilateral security pact AUKUS (a treaty involving Australia, the UK and the US reached on September 15, 2021)  over many international issues including Ukraine. French president Emmanuel Macron is going to visit Kyiv and Moscow today and tomorrow respectively. The biggest economic and military power of Europe, yet pacifist, Germany, is not going to send any forces to Ukraine. Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, on the other hand, is to visit Kyiv and Moscow next week  with an effort to  reduce tensions over Ukraine through dialogue. After the AUKUS shock (as Australia scrapped a previously signed big submarine deal with France in favour of one reached later with the US. Also, France  was kept in the dark about the formation of the trilateral security pact), France is going to chart its own foreign policy course despite being a member of NATO. 

Meanwhile, some three decades have passed since the erstwhile Soviet Union collapsed  at the end of 1991. The new nationalistic Russia under Putin has reorganised its military. And many Russians, despite Putin's iron grip on power and intolerance of dissent, see in Putin a saviour who can again place Russia on the world stage as a power to reckon with.  One may recall at this point how Putin's popularity jumped after his annexation of Crimea in 2014. Putin believes Ukraine is part of Russia. But by a stroke of bad luck it got separated from Mother Russia when the former Soviet Union disintegrated giving rise to an independent Ukraine.

Evidently, the overall situation gives Putin practically a free hand to take his decision on Ukraine. Now the big question is will he choose war?


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