What if Ukraine itself provokes the war?

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) —  What we learned from those large-scale military games, during which various scenarios were considered in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, this is written in article of The Washington Post.

Last week, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, reaffirming America’s strong commitment to protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Blinken noted that a closer security partnership will help ensure that “Ukraine is able to defend itself against aggression.”

Such reassurances from the United States imply that Moscow may attack Ukraine, and the recent episode of a build-up of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border has heightened that concern. But what if Ukraine itself provokes the war? In the event of a crisis, Kiev could lose the war with Russia if the West does not help, according to one study. That’s why.

Zelensky seeks “de-occupation”

While Moscow claims Crimea is part of Russia, Kiev and most of the international community argue that Moscow has illegally annexed this part of Ukraine. Armed militias still control the Donbas in eastern Ukraine, having managed to repel an offensive by Ukrainian government forces in 2015 with the help of Russia. Moscow rejects insurgent requests to annex these separatist territories to Russia, but promises to protect their Russian-speaking population.

The Zelenskiy government seeks to return – without shedding blood – both Donbass and Crimea, which it calls “temporarily occupied territories”, but it is still preparing to fight to the end. Ukrainians have been embroiled in a hybrid war against Russia since 2014 – a war characterized by intermittent clashes between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed militias, as well as unrelenting non-military confrontation, including disinformation campaigns. 

Faced with a drop in his rating, Zelenskiy has taken a tougher stance on Russia. In February, his government devised a new strategy to expel Russian “occupiers” from Ukraine. In his address to the Ukrainian people in March, Zelenskiy summarized the non-military and military measures outlined in the Strategy for the Deoccupation and Reintegration of Crimea and Sevastopol in three words: “Ukraine is backtracking.” In addition, Kiev refuses to grant autonomy to the separatist Donbass and is seeking to renegotiate the terms of the 2015 Minsk II agreement, brokered by Germany and France. 

Zelenskiy’s strategy is based on “building an international coalition” that could support his government’s efforts to reclaim Crimea and Donbass. In April, Zelenskiy called on Western countries to support his country “not just as partners from the stands, but as players of the same team, right on the field, shoulder to shoulder.”

Why does Kiev need escalation?

If tensions escalate in Donbass and other regions where ethnic minorities live, as happened in 2014, the Ukrainian leadership will have to decide whether to use military force. Some worry that excessive restraint could lead to further divisions within Ukraine. “The advice“ not to provoke the Russian Federation ”in 2014 led to the loss of Crimea and certain areas of Donbass,” said Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran. 

Others may see such a crisis as an opportunity to achieve the broader goals of “de-occupation” to change the status quo in Donbas and Crimea. A military victory could give Kiev leverage to negotiate a new peace agreement on better terms.

Kiev’s calculations may be influenced by the level of Ukraine’s military power and its assessment of the scope of possible Western assistance. Ukraine’s leaders claim their armed forces are ready for war. After military defeats in 2015, Ukraine was able to modernize its troops with financial and technical support from the West. But while the Ukrainian military is strong enough to defeat the militias on its own territory, it will not be able to win in a head-to-head clash with Russian forces.

The Kiev victory theory relies on the use of the threat of military intervention by the United States to deter Moscow from sending troops across the Ukrainian border. If Ukraine were a NATO member, the alliance’s security guarantees would increase Kiev’s chances of defeating the militias while keeping Russia in check.

How can NATO respond?

Over the past three years, experts from King’s College London, the British Defense Academy and Livermore National Laboratory have been playing “war games”, playing out possible scenarios for the actions of the United States, NATO and Russia. In these experiments, 46 current and former US and European officials and experts made 32 strategic decisions in the face of a realistic crisis scenario involving civil unrest leading to Ukraine’s defensive military moves. A team of 17 experts evaluated these scenarios, which led to 19 different outcomes with varying degrees of probability.

Here’s what we found out. In the early stages of this crisis, the United States and its allies provided political support to Ukraine. In all the different scenarios, however, the Allies wanted Kiev to show restraint and not use military force to repel Russian military action against Ukraine. Instead, they redoubled their efforts to prevent Russian attacks against their own territories. In some cases, the display of power by these allies inevitably put NATO and Russia on the brink of a war that they later avoided. The result has always been the same: Russia’s military victory over Ukraine.

As the data from these experiments show, the United States and its allies are reluctant to risk starting a war with Russia over Ukraine. NATO believes that direct intervention in the conflict is outside the scope of its mandate, because Ukraine is not a member of the alliance. Uncertainty around Ukraine and Russia’s intentions during such a crisis also played a role. Although the allies condemned Moscow, they still considered Kiev a provocateur.

According to some players, that is, experts who made strategic decisions, they watched a “nightmare in slow motion” without “any tools to intervene”, but they would have taken action if it was not “so difficult in the military sense of the situation. ” Others said that their reactions would have been different if they had no doubts that the aggressor was Russia.

How significant are the results of these war games? The former US Undersecretary of Defense said the game he played “was one of the best in replicating high-level decision-making in the real world.”

The containment dilemma

Ukraine and the West have different understandings of what supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity should mean in practice. In the context of the escalating crisis, there are quite logical reasons for the Ukrainian leaders to decide on a military attack and to view it in the spirit of “fighting back”. However, various scenarios played out in the course of these military experiments show that if Kiev by its military actions provokes Russia into open conflict, the West is unlikely to defend Ukraine.

This scenario exposes the deterrence dilemma faced by the United States and its allies in calling on both Moscow and Kiev for restraint. Assurances can give Ukraine courage, which will create political and military risks that American and European leaders may not be willing to accept. Conversely, signs that the West will not interfere can give Russia courage. 

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