War is considered an armed conflict between at least two identifiable groups. This paradigm has remained true and stable throughout history. However, with the recent events in the Ukraine Crisis, it seems as though this stable set of defining traits may be shifting, and the West needs to get on the bandwagon fast.
Some historians argue that in every new war, at least one combatant is fighting with the last war’s mentality. This was true in World War I where cavalry charges were waged against machine guns and columns of troops were sent over the top to march at their adversaries. This changed over the course of the four-year conflict as leaders recognized that the old tactics just would not suffice.
In the same way, World War II had a similar incident. The French Maginot Line was heavily fortified and ready to face even the toughest aggression from Germany. It would have been extremely formidable in World War I, but in the newer conflict, the Nazi Blitzkrieg simply circumnavigated the line and rendered it entirely useless.
Now, the Ukraine Crisis is being waged in a way that is radically different from what the West is used to. In this sense, Ukraine’s already hopelessly inefficient military stands an even smaller chance of purging Putin’s goons from the country. Some other new dimensions unique to this conflict could throw a wrench in Western efforts to stabilize this situation.
Most notably, it should be understood that Russia has already effectively invaded Ukraine. Of course, Russian tanks have not crossed the border, and Kiev is not the recipient of Russian bombing runs yet, but those are merely the tactics of the old style of warfare that categorized the Iraq War and other conflicts.
Now, there is a new sort of invasion. Putin has sent his intelligence officers into Ukraine to cause unrest. With a somewhat sympathetic civilian population with a wildly radical element, the Russians have capitalized on instability rather than sheer might of arms to achieve their goals.
It is Putin’s hope to take as large a swath of Ukraine as he can while still possessing plausible deniability in the conflict. His soldiers are indeed on the ground fighting against Ukraine’s various security forces, but they are not marked. They have the tactical experience of soldiers, but the physical appearance of “pro-Russian protestors.”
Clearly, these are different tactics than the United States is accustomed to encountering. Moreover, these are much different tactics than those used by the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. NATO and its allies have never seen this style of conflict, and as the paradigm of war shifts with the Ukraine Crisis, the West must come to accept the tactics that define this new war.
Where past conflicts were direct, this one is indirect. Where past wars had clear goals and objectives, these ones are relatively mysterious. And where wars had formerly been fought with the soldier and the gun, the current conflict the world sees is being fought with the fanatic and the computer.
Russia is capitalizing on the fact that Ukraine is in dire financial straits. In such times, nations tend to divide themselves on which solution from the past works best to solve the current problem. The United States may remember the Tea Party demonstrations and Occupy Wall Street protests, both of which were radical, and both of which were addressing concerns relating to the economy.
Putin has taken these radical elements with Ukraine and made them his pawns. He has stirred them up to fight against the “illegitimate Kiev regime,” by playing to nationalism and a Russian ethnic identity. Then, by arming them, organizing them, and claiming that they are acting without any involvement from Moscow, Russia creates its own protestor army.
This serves two purposes, one of which is the plausible deniability mentioned earlier. The other perhaps more significant element for Putin’s long-term strategy is the fact that many of the thugs and radicals fighting for him may be defined as civilians. It is then Russia’s position that the 40,000 troops massed on Ukraine’s borders have the ability to invade, if these civilians are harmed too much by Ukraine.
This means that Putin cannot lose as the conflict stands now. His army of protestors, led by Russian intelligence officers, has already taken control of several towns and cities. However, if they are defeated by Ukraine’s military, Russia may then revert to using its superior military might to achieve its goals. Either way, Putin wins, and Ukraine loses.
Another aspect to this conflict is the element of cyber warfare. If the U.S. or the West were to become involved, it is likely that they would face the same sort of army awaiting them, but this time it would be from behind a computer screen. Signs already exist indicating that the East and West are engaged in a bit of a cyber standoff with several NATO and Russian websites reporting they have received online attacks.
If these sort of things are any indication of the conflict that is to come, there has clearly been a change in how nations and groups engage one another. No longer is it a direct armed struggle, nor is it against entirely definable groups. The Ukraine Crisis shifts the paradigm of war to a new place, and the West must adapt if it is to be successful in stopping Putin from continuing to implement it.
Opinion by Brett Byers-Lane
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