The much-anticipated war in Ukraine may have not started, but it has already achieved most of its objectives. Which begs the question: why persist on the path to war, a bloody destructive war with assured blowbacks, when diplomacy could finish the job?
The main protagonists, Russia and the United States, are cynically using the good old Cold War playbook to advance their national interests at the expense of Ukrainian, indeed European, and international security.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has pushed Ukraine and its Western backers into a corner during the past few weeks, amassing some hundred thousand troops close to the Ukraine border under various security pretexts.
Putin’s move has led President Joe Biden to assume Russia may invade Ukraine imminently, perhaps as early as mid-February. British speculation about a Russian plan to install a puppet government in Kyiv added another dramatic twist to the evolving crisis.
By escalating tensions over Ukraine and rolling out the drums of war, Moscow and Washington have reclaimed their old dominant roles in Europe after years of doubt and confusion.
Putin is finally being taken seriously in the West with regard to his opposition to NATO’s expansion into the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia.
In light of this dangerous military standoff, there is little or no doubt about Russia’s determination to do what it takes to keep Ukraine out of NATO. Or, about its willingness and capacity to project force in all the areas of the former Soviet Union and beyond. Its intervention on the side of the government during recent disturbances in Kazakhstan is a case in point.
Likewise, Biden, the Cold War liberal, is finally being taken seriously in Europe and Russia, as he uses the Putin scare to get the reluctant Europeans back in line behind the US. Even the leading European powers, France and Germany, that openly seek autonomy and even independence from the US in security affairs, are now following in Washington’s footsteps, albeit unenthusiastically.
And to Biden’s delight, a reinvigorated NATO is back in action under US leadership after having lost its raison d’etre twice – first following its Cold War victory and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and then again, following the fall of Kabul and its humiliating defeat in Afghanistan, last year.
After two decades of NATO’s “out-of-area” operations failing miserably, the US is successfully resurrecting the Western military alliance and placing it squarely in its traditional theatre of operation, Europe, under the pretext of a newly manufactured Cold War.
So, why in hell would Putin and Biden persist in the escalation towards war, after having improved their national and international standing, and strengthened their strategic posture, as the de facto guardians of European security?
Why risk wasting these accomplishments in war, a devastating war to be sure, when longstanding disagreements could be worked out diplomatically?
Make no mistake, the alternative to diplomacy would be devastating for Ukraine. The US has already declared that it won’t defend it if attacked, since it is not a NATO member.
Nor is war beneficial to the US and Russia for it will quickly spiral out of control.