RUSSIA – UKRAINE: Contemplating the future
French President Emmanuel Macron recently returned from a trip to Moscow in an attempt to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to stand down and deescalate the tension between Russia and Ukraine. Russia, who regularly holds ‘war- games’ to test its military readiness against an outside attack, has amassed more than 127 000 troops close to the Ukraine border, after having completed their latest ‘war-games’ in September 2021. Ukraine accused Russia of doing this with the intention of invading Ukraine. Putin, known for his geopolitical mastery, has denied allegations that Russia is planning an invasion, but nonetheless made a stern warning to Ukraine, that if they join NATO and try to take back Crimea, “there will be a war”1.
Ukraine is not alone in its assumption that Russia used its war games as a staging ground to gather forces for a different reason all together. In 2013 Russia did a similar exercise when it left thousands of troops near the border with Crimea, which, in February 2014, invaded and annexed Crimea. This act of aggression started a separatist war in East Ukraine, costing the lives of more than 14 000 people2. In 2008 Russia extended its footprint when it sent troops into sovereign Georgia (after completing similar war games), resulting in two new independent states, South Ossetia and Abkhazia being recognised by, and now under the protection of Russia. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that Ukraine and its neighbours to the North are concerned about the Russian military presence on their borders.
But for evil to prevail, it needs to be personified – and for Europe, that person is Vladimir Putin. He has provoked enough, threatened enough, and simply forced his way on others too many times not to be regarded by the west as enemy number one. From Putin’s perspective, the face of evil comes in the form of an acronym – NATO. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance of European countries (including the United States) that came together after the second world war and has never recognised Russia as an equal. In many ways, NATO sees Russia as the same old protagonist that threatened the world during the cold-war era. Putin sees it another way: that NATO encroaches its front door, and must be checked. According to Russian military experts, Putin is merely showing former Soviet states such as Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldova (who all have sizable Russian-speaking populations), that the motherland has not forgotten them. Separatists in Ukraine got the message loud and clear in 2014 and have since fought for independence from Ukraine.
Putin knows that Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and that NATO will most likely not come to Ukraine’s rescue (with military force) if Russia attacks. The two NATO heavyweights, Great Britain and the United States have however sent military assistance (weapons) and bolstered their troop numbers throughout Eastern Europe. Other NATO countries have promised humanitarian and medical aid. No one has however committed to fighting alongside Ukraine in an open conflict with Russia, essentially leaving Ukraine by itself. But this could be changing.
Russia sees NATO’s expansion as a threat on its Western borders and will do whatever it deems necessary to make sure that Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia never gain membership. These countries form a buffer between Russia and the rest of NATO members. By constantly threatening the sovereignty of these countries, Russia is able to show NATO just how costly it would be if it accepted them as members. In a way, Putin has already achieved his goal of setting a red line for NATO and can for all practical reasons withdraw his troops. But every strongman knows that actions speak louder than words, and Putin is, if nothing else, a strongman.
After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 a growing number of pro-Russian separatists have called for the independence of Eastern Ukraine. Their calls for independence were backed (and still are) by Russian military power that dragged Ukrainians into a civil war.
If peace talks fail, and Russia does decide to invade Ukraine, there are various scenarios that could follow.
One scenario could see Russian troops invade Eastern Ukraine, securing Donbass as the new capital of a breakaway state.
Another scenario could see Russian troops make a direct push for the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. This would be an overwhelmingly powerful statement that would show the world just how weak NATO is, and in fact just how obsolete they have become.
Yet another scenario could see Russia attempting an amphibious assault from the Black Sea. Its objective would not be to invade Ukraine in an attempt to annex it as a complete country. Rather, this approach allows Russia the opportunity not only to invade Ukraine’s Southern border but also sections of Moldova while they’re at it.
What all these scenarios have in common is an almost blitzkrieg move by Russia to take ground. Most experts agree that Russia needs at least twice as many troops as they currently have on the border in order to hold any territory they might take during an invasion. Russian troop numbers (on border with Ukraine) currently stand at around 127 000. Sources within the Ukrainian military estimate that Russia would need less than two weeks to muster the additional troops needed for a largescale invasion.
Considering the billions of dollars of military aid given to Ukraine by the US, UK, and the rest of Europe, with special notice to the 200 000 pounds just delivered by the US3, there is one question that lingers…is there a possibility that the world might be gearing up for a third world war? If the US and NATO decide to stand united against Russian aggression and help Ukraine fight, and China chooses to align itself with Russia, a world war is a possibility.
UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said that “we are witnessing the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War” and that if Putin “launches another invasion, he will force the West to bring about much of what he seeks to prevent4”. US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said that “we’ve been very clear that if there is any further Russian aggression in terms of sending Russian forces into Ukraine, there will be a swift, severe and united response from the United States and Europe.”5 A new inter-state relationship that was signed by Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, stated that the “friendship between the two States has no limits, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation”6, strongly indicating that China would be willing to help Russia midst a military confrontation.
With all that said, the cost of war, from a human and economic perspective, will probably force all parties to reconsider any acts of aggression. Foreign Policy9 explains that a close reading shows that Russia’s use of military force in the Putin era—while often appearing aggressive and erratic—is actually rather conservative and risk-averse, with a strong cost-benefit analysis taken by the Kremlin in each particular case. Using such a framework, it is possible to not only understand Russia’s military interventions in Ukraine and elsewhere in the former Soviet space but also to anticipate them ahead of time.
This will however not prevent future war-talk and acts of aggression to continue and we should expect the normal rhetoric and threats to prevail into the near future.
In trying to stay away from end-time prophesies, it’s almost impossible not to think of an end-time-like scenario if Russia chooses to invade Ukraine. It is indeed a time for peace-makers; sober-minded men of God who can restore sanity and reason.
Russia might invade Ukraine tomorrow, or it might do so only next year, or perhaps five years from now. Nobody knows. But what is clear, is that the ongoing aggression and pressure has created an explosive and volatile scenario that will be difficult to contain. The Arab Spring revolution that ripped the Arab world apart, displacing more than 12 million people and killing more than 350 0007, was started by a single match lit in the streets of Tunisia, igniting the pressure that was already present. What the spark will be that ignites a third world war is of little relevance. What matters is that pressure is becoming uncontainable.
One of two scenarios will play out if Russia attacks. Either Russia annexes more territory from Ukraine, while NATO stands back, leaving Ukraine to itself. Or, when Russia attacks, NATO (Europe and the US) reacts with a full show of power and plunges the world into a third world war.
There is however one other another scenario that sees Putin signing some sort of peace agreement that ensues a de-escalation of hostilities and a withdrawal of Russian troops from Eastern Europe. Unless Putin can broker a deal that former Soviet Nations, like Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia, will not be granted membership of NATO, this scenario is unlikely as it would portray Putin, a strongman desperate to bring the former Soviet Union back to its former glory, as weak.
The Deputy Interior Minister of Poland, Maciej Wąsik, recently said that Poland was preparing to receive at least one million refugees8 from Ukraine if large-scale war breaks out. Whatever the scenario, the fact is that if Russia starts a war with Ukraine, the civilian toll will most likely be the highest. War in Ukraine could potentially see millions flood Eastern Europe in an attempt to flee the violence.
Christians around the world have prayed for years for a great revival that would bring a final harvest of millions into the kingdom. Historical disasters and wars have always triggered a search for God. A global war, following a global pandemic, will once again create opportunities for the Church to reach out to those in need.
Studies amongst refugees fleeing civil war in Syria have shown that the best time to share the lifesaving gospel with a displaced person, is while they’re on the move. When they’re at their most vulnerable, the gospel has the power to answers all their questions. A possible war in Europe could prepare hearts for revival .
The question to ask, therefore, is not whether there will be a war or not, but, if there is a war, are Christians ready to play their part in being peace-makers and bringing in the harvest?
- 1 Europe faces ‘most dangerous moment’ over Russia-Ukraine tensions. Al Jazeera. 7 February 2022.
- 2 Conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas: A Visual Explainer. Crisis Group.
- 3 ‘Lethal’ U.S. Military Aid Begins Arriving in Ukraine. Bloomberg. 22 January 2022.
- 4 Russian President Vladimir Putin warns Europe will be dragged into military conflict if Ukraine joins NATO. Sky News. 8 February 2022.
- 5 US vows ‘swift, severe and united response’ if Russia invades Ukraine. The Guardian. 23 January 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/23/blinken-swift-severe-united-response-russia-invades-ukraine-biden-putin-pompeo
- 6 The world’s top two authoritarians have teamed up. The US should be on alert. Atlantic Council. 6 February 2022.
- 7 Syria’s civil war. NPR. 24 December 2021.
- 8 Poland braces for ‘up to a million people’ fleeing war in Ukraine. Politico. 8 February 2022. https://www.politico.eu/article/war-ukraine-russia-send-one-million-refugees-fleeing-poland/
- 9 https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/12/27/how-russia-decides-when-to-invade/