Have Russia and Ukraine been on the Verge of Open War?

Have Russia and Ukraine been on the Verge of Open War?

The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine appears to have reached a new peak this year as President Putin has recently deployed over 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border. Russia’s actions here initially appear to be ambiguous, as it can be interpreted in more than one way – has Russia been attempting to intimidate their enemies with a display of force and dominance, or are their intentions more aggressive? There is room to argue here that Russia has, at some point at least, been preparing for open war with Ukraine.

Recently, tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been escalating, as seen by the huge number of troops Russia has placed near its border with Ukraine. Although it is possible that this is merely intended to be a display of force and power for intimidation purposes, this appears to be a rather optimistic interpretation. It has been stated that Russia has stationed an unusually high number of troops on their Ukrainian border, with estimates having ranged from as many as 100,000 to 150,000; this recent manoeuvre by Russia appears to mark its highest point in the growing tensions between themselves and Ukraine, as it is the ‘highest military deployment of the Russian army on the Ukrainian border ever’, as stated by Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union.  

Has Russia Been Preparing for War?

The enormous scale of Russian manpower here indicates that Russia has been preparing something substantially bigger at this point in their conflict, as seen by Borrell’s claim – that their latest endeavour has dwarfed previous movements against Ukraine. It should be questioned as to whether Russia’s motives could reasonably have been anything other than preparing for military operations. It is reasonable to interpret the situation this way, as an army of this size would be ideally suited for offensive uses, and seems to be unlikely to be appropriate or necessary for anything else. If Russia’s intentions were merely meant to be a show of strength, then their actions seem to be ridiculously excessive, even impractical.

Given that the Russian troop movements are apparently their largest since the Second World War, it seems highly unlikely that such an action is being used for defensive or intimidation reasons. Deploying over 100,000 soldiers as well as all the required equipment and supplies would hardly be necessary if this were simply the case. Nor would the vast financial cost of this manoeuvre make this a worthwhile endeavour. Given the extent and magnitude of such an immense military procedure, this makes it sensible to suggest that Russia is more likely to be preparing for a full-scale war, or at least has been anticipating one. 

There appears to be reason for concern here, with a notable possibility that the conflict may intensify from this, arguably into a state of open war. The threat of this appears to be very real, to the point where Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmyto Kuelba has openly accused Russia of threatening war on Ukraine to the point of destruction. This has certainly been a similar opinion of other nations, represented by the recent preparation for deployment by the British navy to sail for the Black Sea in support and potential defence of Ukraine. This emphasises the increasing seriousness of the conflict, and supports the likelihood of future military operations occurring at some point in Eastern Europe.

Russia’s Sudden Decision to Withdraw

More recently, however, it was announced that Russia will begin to pull back its forces from the Ukrainian border. What has caused this decision after weeks of tension cannot be said with absolute certainty, but is worth exploring. Russia continues to stick to its claims that its reasons for its mass military deployment was simply for a show of strength, and is now pulling back after achieving this goal. However, it has also been noted recently that the United States is considering intervening in the growing tensions to support Ukraine. It should be noted that nothing seems to be set in stone, and American involvement is only a possibility at this point. Even so, given its strength as a superpower, as well as the close timing of these updates on the conflict, it is not unreasonable to think that Russia’s decision to withdraw might come from reluctance to risk openly engaging with the US in addition to Ukraine. 

The growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine indicates that Russia has been prepared to fight Ukraine for some time. However, fighting the US as well would shift the conflict heavily in Ukraine’s favour. It is convenient that Russia’s decision to withdraw its troops has come shortly after the news of the US potentially entering the fray. Furthermore, it should also be noted that the Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu has stated that their military must remain vigilant and prepared to respond quickly to ‘unfavourable’ circumstances, as well as deciding that heavy weapons would remain relatively close to the Ukrainian border. From this it seems apparent that, despite Russia’s withdrawal, tensions will not decrease by a significant amount. 

It can be suggested here that Russia is still prepared for war, or at least another increase in hostilities, despite the wave of international support for Ukraine. This would strengthen the argument that Russia’s activities recently have been more offensive and warlike, rather than merely defensive as they have claimed. It is reasonable to suggest that war has been strongly considered by Russia these last weeks. At this point they appear to be backing away from openly aggressive tactics but, demonstrated by their continuing vigilance, it is fair to assume that Russia is still anticipating and preparing for hostile engagements.


Categories: Eurasia, Security

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