Ukraine is not a problem for the West. That refrain may be heard over and over again, but truly, if Ukraine is lost, then all is lost for the West. Quite seriously, the most likely outcomes of the Ukraine Crisis are far worse than most are willing to accept.
First of all, it is important to note that diplomacy seems to be failing. This is a result of the two-faced nature that Russia has approached the meetings in Geneva with. While claiming to be for a diplomatic solution and signing a pact of de-escalation with Ukraine, the EU, and the US, Putin’s regime is simultaneously encouraging and supporting “Pro-Russian protestors,” in the Ukrainian South-East.
It should be a red flag that Russia is willing to conduct its affairs in such a brazen way. It shows a complete disregard for any sort of diplomatic efforts and it also demonstrates that Putin sees the West as weak. He believes that he can act with impunity.
Also, it appears as though Putin is daring the West to escalate with him. When his actions result in sanctions or threats of NATO expansion, he cries foul and validates his own world view. These two attitudes combined make it nearly impossible to de-escalate the situation with diplomacy or sanctions.
Plus the militants acting on the behest of Moscow in South-Eastern Ukraine are clearly ignoring both. They are not being sanctioned by the West, so of course they do not care. And they are not being included in negotiations, so of course they would not agree. But that is just Putin’s plan; have the front of the issue independent of Russia while at the same time supporting it and giving it unilateral direction. Thus, Putin’s hand makes de-escalation nearly impossible.
And with no road to de-escalation, with no ability for Ukraine to defend itself, and with no serious Western plan as of now to stop Putin, it looks as though Ukraine, or at least Ukraine’s South-Eastern region will be lost. But if it is the case that Russia will indeed get its prize, then all may be lost for the West.
As has been noted, there is currently no path to de-escalation as of now because of Russia’s actions. But there is also an another dimension to this which makes for an even more dangerous situation. The “Pro-Russian protestors,” are most likely led by a mix of Russian military and intelligence officers with support from Russian ethnic citizens who are actual protestors or militiamen.
The actual soldiers are the ones who are stirring up trouble and building dissent amongst the Russian ethnic civilian population. However, if Russia takes over, then it will likely be these citizens who will become the leadership in the territory.
These people are clearly very radical and nationalistic as well as militaristic and prone to using violence to achieve their goals. Most Americans would be uncomfortable if Occupy Wall Street or a neo-Nazi branch of the far right-wing started governing, but that is still missing the danger of these pro-Russian nationals. Even if they answer to Putin, they have the ability to act on their own volition and go above and beyond the call of duty as it were.
What if they are to cause the same sort of unrest in Latvia, a nation with a 25 percent Russian minority population? This could invoke Article 5 of NATO’s charter, thus creating a conflict between all of NATO and Russia’s goons, or in fact Russia itself. They have the experience, the resources, and now the motivation to carry this out, and all three of these factors become stronger with each day that these militants are in Ukraine. This not so far off scenario would fall somewhere under the “worst case,” category.
In the Cold War, the actors were rational and they had a deep understanding of the consequences of direct confrontation, those consequences being mutually assured destruction. By letting Russia install a puppet government in South-Eastern Ukraine, the West is contending with actors who are quite evidently less than rational and who are clearly willing to push Europe to the brink. Pushing it beyond the brink should be no trouble at all.
On top of that, there is the clear potential that Putin himself will take Ukraine and keep going. There is no way to necessarily stop him without direct engagement, and thus there is no likely reason for him to stop. He will likely continue to use his model of ethnic protesting pseudo invasions to keep expanding his borders. And leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel sincerely question Putin’s complete sanity.
Essentially, a red line must be drawn, and it must be drawn in Ukraine. If the thugs that are facilitating unrest become the political leadership, the world will be contending with irrational actors who likely do not fully grasp the concept of mutually assured destruction. The model of expansion that Russia has used will still have no useful deterrent. With these things in mind, it becomes clear that if Ukraine is lost, than all may very well be lost for the West.
Opinion by Brett Byers-Lane
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