Who Will Benefit from War?
Part 3 on Russia-Ukraine Crisis
The seriousness of the situation between the Russian Federation and Ukraine was dramatically increased on December 17, 2021, when the Russian Foreign Minister issued “non-negotiable” treaty outlines separately to the United States and NATO. The major overall issue according to these virtual “ultimatums” issued by the Russians is that the continuing expansion of NATO threatens Russian security. There are now 31 NATO member states, including many former parts of the Soviet Union. The latest NATO membership was North Macedonia in 2020. In addition, there are 24 NATO partner countries. This is more complicated. Ukraine is a NATO partner country, but so are Russia and one of its most trusted bordering allies, Belarus. There has been talk of making Ukraine a NATO member, but most NATO members are not eager for this. Ukraine is the poorest and reputedly the most corrupt country in Europe, and Russian-Ukrainian tensions over the 75 percent Russian speaking Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine have resulted in 13,000 deaths since 2014. Russia also warned NATO partners Sweden and Finland not to assist NATO.
Ukraine is the central issue, but NATO is the greater regional issue. The December 17 ultimatums even demanded that NATO be forbidden to deploy troops to 14 NATO members in the Baltic and Eastern Europe. Recent negotiations between Russia and NATO and the U.S. have made no official progress, but the Russians seem to have backed away from immediate military threats. It is widely believed in Europe and the U.S. that the weakness and incompetence of the Biden Administration as shown in the unbelievably thoughtless Afghanistan withdrawal, self-inflicted U.S. border chaos, and social justice extremism and political purges imposed on the U.S. military have encouraged dangerously aggressive Russian objectives and attitudes.
Meanwhile, Russian forces on the Ukraine border have increased to 127,000, up another 7,000 in two weeks. A Russian invasion of the Donbas region could also count on at least 35,000, perhaps 45,000, Russian-backed separatist forces in the Russian-leaning Donbas region. In addition, a large number of Russian troops are practicing war games with the Belarusian Army within easy striking distance of Ukraine’s northern border. Some intelligence calculations believe an invasion of Ukraine would come from both the southeast in Dombas and from the north via a cooperative Belarus. This would approach Kiev from the north without having to cross the Dnieper River. A massive attack across the Dnieper River might prove too slow and too costly. Russia has the largest tank force in the world, with 12,600 tanks, and 30,000 armored vehicles. As the second greatest military power in the world, Russia is much stronger than Ukraine, but high casualties and prolonged conflict could be fatal to Putin’s political popularity and power in Russia. Economic sanctions by NATO members should also be a strong deterrent to significant Russian military action, but that depends on the unity of NATO in regard to sanctions.
According to his July 2021, 6,900-word essay on Russia and Ukraine, Putin’s deepest dream is a restoration of Russian power and influence in the form of a triune Russian Empire consisting of the East Slavic states of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, which would have dominant economic and political influence over other Slavic and Baltic states and former members of the USSR. Orthodox Christian religion as well as culture and language would be a cohesive factor for many but definitely not all Eastern European states.
But crushing Ukraine with military power and destruction would likely badly damage Putin’s dream of triune Russian unity and Eastern European influence and trust, as well as alienating important Western European trading partners. A Russian invasion of Ukraine would likely be bad for Russia, NATO, and the U.S. Cui bono? It would probably benefit China and maybe Iran.
Direct military intervention by NATO and the U.S. would be extremely unwise. The costs and risks are prohibitive and unwarranted. Moreover, it would be extreme overreach for the United States, especially considering the damage the Biden Administration continues to inflict on military preparedness and morale.
The burden on NATO is to prevent war without appeasement. The silver lining in NATO’s task is that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is just as unwise for the Russians as military intervention is for NATO. The NATO economic sanctions threat is an important but delicate matter, which will require NATO unity.
So far, NATO does not appear sufficiently unified. Germany is the big question, and that big question has an immense economic reality behind it. Russia is resource rich, especially in oil and natural gas, which are its biggest exports. The volume and price of its energy products can significantly enrich Russia or bring it near poverty. The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline has just been completed but is still undergoing final technical and political approvals. It should pump 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually to Europe by next year. Forty-three percent of European natural gas consumption already comes from Russia. Russia needs the income, but Europe and especially Germany need the natural gas.
Germany has made its own energy need even more critical by closing out nuclear power this year. Furthermore, Germany is phasing out coal-generated electricity by 2038. Yet their ability to supply electricity by “sustainable green” energy sources only approaches 50 percent of their needs. Carbon taxes have also made coal-generated electricity prohibitively high. These German and European Union energy and environmental policies may seem foolishly premature, but U.S. Democrats want to spend trillions of U.S. budget dollars to implement just such an energy shortage folly. Meanwhile, Germany and some other EU members are reluctant to implement meaningful Russian energy sanctions.
In one of Biden’s first acts as President, he shut down the Keystone XL Pipeline, which made the U.S. energy dependent again, and made Europe more dependent upon Russia and unable to sustain energy sanctions against the Russian Federation for long.
Germany’s new dependence on Russia was also shown by their canceling of a delivery-ready and paid-for contract with the Ukrainian Army for anti-drone missiles. The U.S., France, UK, and Lithuania are still supplying Ukraine with defensive weapons, most notably the Jericho anti-tank missile and Stinger missile.
The British Foreign Office claims that Moscow intends to install a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician as President of Ukraine. Pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians are plentiful, and several names were suggested based on recent travel and communications. That may be a well-educated guess—Moscow claims the British are just trying to provoke Ukrainian hostility to Russia—but it is a very high probability based on past Ukrainian politics. In that case, Russia would probably let Ukraine keep the troublesome, Russian leaning Donbas region, where about half the population is de facto under authoritarian separatist governments, because their votes would help prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. As it stands now, however, most of NATO does not want Ukrainian membership. Putin would profit by having Ukraine in his triune Russia influence circle, but he risks political disaster by a costly military invasion. His remarkably successful political career could turn difficult quickly. As Sun Tzu has said, “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”
As I stated in my book, Lessons from the Vietnam War, war is terrible, but isolationism and pacifism have proven unrealistic strategies for peace in the real world. Neither can pacifism or isolationism be justified by sound Biblical analysis. History teaches us that peaceful nations must be prepared to defend themselves or be swallowed up by tyranny. It is the solemn duty of a nation’s leaders to assure the survival and prosperity of all that its people rightly hold dear. No nation can be an economic or moral island. Military alliances have often been necessary to deter tyranny and aggression. The Allied coalitions against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan are instructive successful examples.
Yet wars have the most serious of all consequences, which require the most serious and objective weighing of the truth and importance of all its issues, circumstances, and material and human factors. Both hard-nosed realism and objective empathy are needed to know ourselves and our potential enemies.
War is not the path to Russian greatness. United States military overreach is far from appropriate and is a threat to American greatness. A real victory for Russia, Ukraine, NATO, and the United States would be peace. But it must be a peace that does not sacrifice freedom or moral values. Yes, we are in difficult times. I humbly suggest that we look for wisdom from the God of Truth and Lord of Hosts.