Fortunately it didn’t. But if one thing became clear between last Tuesday and Wednesday, it is that the war in Ukraine is not impossible to escalate, and if that happens, we will face unknown territory with several high-risk scenarios ahead. It is natural: as this war continues to prolong and each side consolidates its positions, the possibilities for negotiation are reduced, only to be allowed to grow a spiral of violence that is rising and feeding a dynamic. out of the hands of all parties. Circumstances force them to respond in ways they don’t want or in ways that show their calculations wrong. Revisit this situation of the week: The Associated Press (a reliable enough source) reported that a US intelligence official said that “Russian missiles” that had just entered NATO-member Poland exploded, killing two innocent citizens. Such a situation understandably triggers all the fears, all the imaginary reactions, all the calculations—the cold ones and the far more reactive ones—in the minds of not only a panicked global audience, but also people. Decision making, the decisions are in your hands. There are some comments about it.
Russian withdrawal from Kherson, new strategy: defensive lines and massive bombardments
As we know, Russian defeats were chained. Initially, the Russian army had to leave the Kyiv region because it could not take the capital and concentrated in the east and south of the country. Later, Russia won several weeks of slow and painful victories, but ultimately the victories allowed it to secure a fifth of Ukraine’s territory and focus its strategy on the fragmentation and suffocation of the country. But in September, two parallel Ukrainian offensives began, taking control of the northeast from Moscow and exerting heavy pressure on the provincial capital, Kherson, in the south. Faced with the impossibility of even holding this militarily and politically valuable region, Moscow left it undefended a few days ago. This was a very painful tactical retreat of the Kremlin – because the capital was abandoned from one of the territories Moscow annexed to the Russian Federation a few weeks ago, not to mention the internal criticism in Russia against its own army and already Putin himself. – for the sake of a new grand strategy.
This strategy consists of:
one. Try not to lose any more territories. In the rear, reinforce new lines of defense in all parts of southern and eastern Ukraine still in Russian hands, and send there tens of thousands of troops that Moscow has recruited and prepared for these weeks.
two. Withstand the long winter months this will prevent new Ukrainian counterattacks.
3. Massively bomb Ukrainian cities and civil infrastructures in the midst of winter in order to demoralize and demoralize Ukraine and thereby finally forcing Kiev to negotiate terms acceptable to Moscow.
Extension and upgrade risks
The above strategy would naturally meet with the hitherto unshakable impetus from Ukraine to not only resist the bombing, but to retake every inch of its territory. Amid this impetus, the readjustments Russia can make, and the climatic conditions on the ground, we can only expect this war to continue for at least a few more months.
To this we should add that the parties do not seem willing to negotiate for the time being. Each considers it possible to get more than the other by prolonging hostilities. According to opinion polls, 9 out of 10 Ukrainians oppose even giving an inch of land to Russia (kyiv Institute of Sociology, 2022). But not only that, his army demonstrates that to this day his desire for reconquest is valid. On the other hand, Putin does not have an exit strategy so far that does not force Kiev to negotiate terms acceptable to Moscow.
These conditions feed the spiral of violence, the action-reaction logic that forces the parties to move forward, thus keeping the doors open for further escalation.
NATO: attacking one member is equivalent to attacking all members
Last Tuesday, we got a taste of an entirely plausible event: the largest ever Russian bombardment of Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure. Suddenly, the statements of “an American intelligence official”, apparently stating that several Russian missiles fell on Polish territory, killing two people. Since an attack on a member could be interpreted as an attack on any country in the alliance, NATO protocols came into play immediately. The Polish government held emergency meetings and put its army on hold. President Biden has begun consultations with various allies, although the Pentagon has acted with great caution and has declared that it will not speculate without clear evidence of what has happened. An urgent meeting was called in Brussels to analyze the situation. And of course the panic spread all over the planet in the media and in the networks. Was it an accident or a deliberate attack? Russia vehemently declared that the Kremlin had nothing to do with the incident; “Provocation,” they said. Zelensky, by contrast, claimed that Moscow openly drew NATO into the conflict on purpose.
In the end, Polish and NATO officials clarified that although the crashed missile was “Russian made” (both are in Ukrainian arsenal), its origin was probably not from Russia, but from the Ukrainian defense shield. The crisis has been defused.
But at this point, I propose, for purely analytical purposes, to imagine, as a plausible event, that the NATO leadership would decide that what fell on Poland was one of the missiles sent as part of Russia’s mass bombing. that day.
Under this assumption, NATO would have to quickly determine whether it was just an accident (a Russian missile that simply deviates from its trajectory, which happens so often in wars today) or a deliberate attack (perhaps to make it look like an accident). but it wasn’t actually).
NATO would have to respond – yes or yes – to this fact, possibly by seeking a balance between sending a strong message to Putin without escalating hostilities to an uncontrollable state. This, of course, will depend on the analysis of the purposefulness of the facts. Depending on all of this, the response range could at least be between the following or a combination of these (there are a few more that I didn’t mention):
1. Increasing sanctions and diplomatic isolation against Russia.
2. Now, the decision to declare a no-fly zone over the Ukrainian skies, this zone will be imposed by NATO and will increase the risk of direct confrontation with Russian aircraft.
3. A limited conventional NATO retaliatory attack against Russian troops in Ukraine.
4. A NATO retaliatory attack, possibly limited, but against Russian territory. This would be a mutual response, given that, in my case, Russia would attack NATO territory.
5. Or the decision to finally mobilize the presence of NATO troops on the territory of Ukraine, thereby leading the member states into direct conflict.
All of these scenarios involve varying degrees of scaling. The highest probability will undoubtedly be to choose the answers that cause the least possible escalation. However, it is important to note that there are very different positions within NATO (and within member states). There are countries that border Russia or Ukraine that are genuinely afraid of the escalation of the conflict and are always trying to press for tougher and stronger responses against Putin. There are other actors, like Macron or Biden, who are trying to do everything in their power to prevent further escalation.
However, the belief that only power can deter an opponent like Putin is prevalent and growing. Stances like Biden’s have been heavily criticized for both Russia and China’s lack of determination, thus inviting the opponent to act aggressively.
A scenario like the one I’ve described might force even someone like these actors to respond with some degree of force, which could provoke counter-reactions from Moscow and set in motion just the dynamics sought. .
The obvious and not easy to understand conclusion from this is that this war should not be allowed to work, linger and grow under its own life and dynamics. You have to intervene. Already tried and failed. However, the conclusion that it is not worth trying is unsatisfactory. I have read dozens of texts that oppose any negotiation, or as James Traub put it. Foreign policy: “early diplomacy”. I totally understand these arguments. But the problem is that his analysis relies on historical events and assumptions other than current ones, and what happened in past wars is assumed to apply almost automatically to the current situation, where multiple parties are nuclear-armed. This is not the case. What happened in Poland on Tuesday was a warning that should be listened to.
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