The US’ rejection of the key Russia’s security proposals gives a prospect for the escalation of the already tense enough situation between the world powers. Now, there are just a few options left for Russia on Ukraine, as stated by one of Russia’s leading foreign policy experts.
Since the end of last year, the relations between Russia and the US have tensed quite high with the US announcing a set of sanctions and other restrictive measures that it says would be imposed on Russia case of possibly “invades” of Ukraine. Recently, the US has sent Russia a written response to its proposed security guarantees. While Washington still refuses to accept Moscow’s demands for a legally binding pledge that NATO will not expand further towards its borders, it has indicated it is ready to discuss arms control and strategic stability.
As the country’s President, Vladimir Putin, started commenting on the US’ response, the West has basically ignored the Kremlin’s proposals and failed to satisfy three key ones of them.
“We did not see our three key demands adequately considered: stopping NATO’s expansion, refusing to use strike weapons systems near Russian borders, and returning the bloc’s military infrastructure in Europe to how it was in 1997,” Putin stated.
According to the Programme Director of the Russian International Affairs Council, Ivan Timofeev, in the near future, the situation is likely to develop following one of the three scenarios.
1. Turning Russia Into Another North Korea
The Ukrainian government sees no alternative way of ensuring the country’s security other than through NATO membership. And even if this does not take place in the coming years, there is still a possibility of the deployment of striking and other systems on the country’s territory at the expense of Western countries.
Given the length of the border, the military development of Ukraine by the US and the West becomes a fundamental threat to Russia. The Ukrainian army could be defeated relatively quickly, and it would then be possible to divide the country into the Eastern Ukraine that remains in the Russian orbit and the Western Ukraine that remains with the West.
Western sanctions will be a painful blow to Russia, but they won’t be fatal. The prestige of the country’s authorities will grow due to their solving a major historical task. Sanctions will undermine confidence in the US-centric financial system, so Russia will be able to exist as a “fortress”. The only obstacle to a major war will be nuclear weapons, although the risks of escalation into a conflict between Russia and NATO cannot be ruled out either. Russia in this scenario becomes a kind of European North Korea, but with much broader opportunities.
Thus, a victory in Ukraine will deal another blow to the authority of the US and the West and will accelerate their global retreat. In this scenario, we should expect a radical breakdown in relations between Russia and the West, incomparable with any previous crisis, which will lead to:
a) a massive loss of life;
b) a serious and long-term economic crisis in Russia as a result of Western sanctions;
c) a significant militarization of eastern Europe by NATO.
2. Permanent Tensions
The costs of a military solution to the Ukrainian issue are too high and the puppet regime requires significant “financial injections”. At the same time, it will certainly be inefficient and corrupt. In the face of the damage from sanctions, fuelling the regime will further exacerbate the shortage of resources within Russia itself.
The West will keep forming and arming Ukrainian formations in adjacent territories. The war will lead to economic decline in the occupied territories, which will make their population even more sensitive to Western propaganda. If part of the territory is retained by the pro-Western regime, the conflict becomes permanent. At the same time, the number of problems of Russia’s security would only grow, due to the militarization of Eastern Europe.
The internal stability of Russian society is not guaranteed, considering the economic damage from sanctions, the cost of war, and “injections” into Ukraine. This could be possible to compensate with military victories, but only for a short time. Besides, certain standards of consumption have developed in Russian society which is hardly ready to be another North Korea.
The global role of the West is declining. For the US, the Asia-Pacific region is indeed a growing priority. Also, there is no guarantee that sanctions against Russia would critically harm the West itself. In Europe, the West has significant reserves to contain Russia and Beijing’s support for Russia isn’t guaranteed in the event of war.
Maintaining permanent tension leads the Western powers to start listening to Russia – tension is a useful tool for diplomacy. It is necessary to keep it on Ukraine’s borders and to also apply it in Latin America, the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific Region, and Africa. If possible, Russia can operate with relatively cheap but effective campaigns, similar to its operation in Syria. This scenario does not radically change the situation in Europe. Relations between Russia and the West remain categorized by rivalry but do not cross red lines.
3. Pushing Ukraine to the Background
Ukraine is a toxic asset for the West with the large-scale aid being stolen and institutions remaining corrupt. Its NATO membership is counterproductive for the bloc, so the country becomes a source of numerous problems for the West that makes NATO an even more unbalanced structure. There will be a ‘Moldovisation of Ukraine’ – that is, an outflow of citizens to the West and the primitivisation of its economy. Ukraine will degrade, turning into a peripheral country.
In turn, Russia can inflict unacceptable damage on rivals in Europe even without the use of nuclear weapons. Control of Crimea ensures its dominance in the Black Sea. The deployment of strike weapons or missile defence elements on the territory of Ukraine is possible in the long term.
The Ukrainian political regime is unstable, so long-term work will allow Moscow to influence the regime and society. Russia retains humanitarian opportunities in the form of a labour market and education system – when playing the long game, humanitarian mechanisms produce good results.
In this scenario, Moscow skillfully manages its rivalries and overloads the West with toxic assets in the form of free-riders and fiery liberals. At the same time, it continues to play the game on all the fronts of the global agenda – from climate action to arms control.
Possible Outcomes of the Scenarios:
- The first scenario is obviously fraught with significant risks for Russia. For the West, it is also undesirable, though has some advantages in the form of an accelerated consolidation of NATO and the exhaustion of one of the major global adversaries.
- The second scenario is quite acceptable for the West. For Russia, it has fewer risks, but the benefits are limited. The main danger is the gradual build-up of Western pressure. Russia’s success is not predetermined and will depend on strategic patience, plus the ability to manage limited resources and use the opponent’s energy in their own interests.
- The main task for the West will be to “calm down” Russia and bring the competition into a slow mode. The main task for Russia is to avoid excessive overexertion and, at the same time, not get bogged down in a costly confrontation.