For the last couple of months “Russian invasion of Ukraine” is making headlines in international media, with all sorts of reports regarding the Kremlin’s plan to invade Ukraine dominating the media space. Pentagon and United States military officials are giving a detailed briefing on when and how will Russia invade Ukraine. Meanwhile, the United States is also pushing allies to support Ukraine in order to deal with the invasion. If one buys the media sensitization and agenda drive news reports it seems like Full-scale war is just around the corner, with many even giving an exact date of invasion quoting different Intelligence sources. Yes, Russian build-up along the Ukrainian border is for real but understanding the goals behind any major military adventure is very important.
Many are referring to World War and cold war era events, where the Russian Empire/USSR military postures were based on finding the “Strategic depth” in Ukraine. But now this framework is flawed as both the regional and global dynamics have dramatically evolved especially in the last two decades, so do the economic, Strategic, and Geo-political realities. Putin’s adventures in Georgia, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine itself would help understand the current building crisis in the region. Starting from the very first military adventure of Russia in Georgia back in 2008, where Russian forces after pushing Georgian forces out from South Ossetia and Abkhazia entered into negotiations mediated by Europe. Despite the asymmetric dynamics and holding Strategic Gori city Russia opted for de-escalation because Kremlin had achieved its primary goal with limited military operations and further escalation would have drawn into a major conflict having serious consequences for the Russian economy.
A few years down the lane, in 2015 Russian forces landed in Syria having goals similar to those in Georgia. Russian Air force extensively provided Assad forces air cover during offensive operations to push rebels out of the major cities. The military response from Russia remained limited to air support, mercenaries, Military advisors, and training roles while Iran set up its proxies to assist the Assad ground forces. Just like in Georgia, Russia did not rely on overwhelming hard power but focused on going by the books, respecting regional political realities. Russia developed a framework for operations in Syria not only with Iran but also with Turkey and Israel, this helped Russia to keep the conflict low on the escalation ladder. Russia achieved the primary objective of securing the Assad regime based in Damascus at a minimum cost without drawing into a major high-intensity conflict or full-scale war despite being engaged with forces backed by Turkey, the US, and NATO.
After the success of this doctrine in Georgia and Syria, Russia entered the conflict in Libya with the same strategy. Russia once again avoided the reliance on hard power and gave limited military support to Haftar forces that involved the supply of ammunition, weapons, and mercenaries that helped Haftar forces secure control of major parts of Libya. During the 2014 Russian-Ukraine crisis, the strategy was exactly what we witnessed in Syria, Libya, and Georgia. Instead of invading Ukraine and entering into a full-scale war, Russia relied on “Limited military support”; financed and armed the separatists, and sent mercenaries while officially denying any role just to avoid any direct military confrontation with NATO. Russia secured Donetsk and Luhansk by holding a referendum calling it “Will of the people”.
The pattern and Strategic employed by Russia in Ukraine and elsewhere is obvious, Russian wants to strengthen the Southern-Flank at the minimum cost by creating “buffer zones”.
The pattern and Strategic employed by Russia in Ukraine and elsewhere is obvious, Russian wants to strengthen the Southern-Flank at the minimum cost by creating “buffer zones”. Meanwhile avoiding entering into a major high-intensity conflict. Considering the pattern, Strategy, and cost attached to it, a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia is very unlikely to unfold. So why Russia is building up along the Ukrainian border? If Russia is looking for strategic depth against NATO, then it already has forces in the Donbas region, Crimea and Belarus. Moreover, even in that case, Russia can push the separatists in the Donbas region to expand the operations instead of putting its forces at risk. This means the objective of military buildup is not “immediate war” with a primary goal to conquer Ukraine, as predicted by Western media but is something else. Moscow wants to dictate European security, putting a stop to NATO’s eastward expansion. The military buildup by Russia has already generated enough pressure to force European countries to review their policies regarding Russia’s future in the region. Ukraine’s NATO membership is already on a halt. The solution to this crisis does not lie in Kyiv or Moscow but the solution lies in Brussels and Washington. If the mediation by Germany and France work out, all parties can design a framework especially regarding the security of Eastern European countries, deployment of US air defense and Missile system in Eastern Europe is perceived as a major threat by Kremlin and Russia will continue holding military exercises till it neutralizes this by introducing a New Normal.
About Author: Talha Ahmad is a Freelance Journalist. He is an independent Geo-Political Analyst, commentator, and keen observer of International Relations. He can be reached on Twitter at @talhaahmad967
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Pakistan Strategic Forum.