Uriel Araujo, a researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts.
There is a Russian-Ukrainian crisis today, as exemplified by the ongoing conflict in Donbass, which started in 2014. Peace negotiations have not gone anywhere and Ukrainian authorities in Kiev, including President Volodymyr Zelensky himself, have been making explosive statements. In spite of Ukrainian nationalist and russophobic efforts to ethnicize the crisis, it is far from being purely and simply an “ethnic conflict” – in fact, the so-called Maidan revolution has been the main dividing issue in Donbass, and this situation has been fueled and exploited by the US-led NATO. The question is: for how long?
Already in 2014, John Mearsheimer (a University of Chicago political scientist) argued, in his famous Foreign Affairs piece, that “the Ukrainian crisis is the West’s fault”. His article recalls, among other things, the 1990 broken promise (see below) and the 2008 NATO statement supporting the aspirations of both Georgia and Ukraine to become members of the Atlantic Alliance in the future. Here, some context is needed.
One should keep in mind that during the 1990 negotiations between the Soviet Union and the US-led Western “bloc” over the issue of German reunification (the so-called fall of the German wall), the Western side promised that NATO would not expand itself into Eastern Europe. And yet, expand it did – and it has been expanding, and getting very close to Russia. To this day, Washington maintains a policy of “encircling” and “containing” Moscow. In fact, declassified documents that became public in 2017 show us that between 1990 and 1991, security assurances against any such NATO enlargement were given to Soviet authorities by western leaders of the highest level. This 1990 promise was broken, which makes Russia the aggrieved party – and not the other way around, as US narratives would have it. Basically, the so-called Iron Curtain fell, while its western counterpart (NATO) has grown larger and stronger – even though the Cold War supposedly ended. And that brings us to the current crisis.
From the beginning, Western powers have fueled Russian-Ukrainian grievances into escalation. To this day, NATO countries provide Kiev with multibillion contracts pertaining to military equipment, instructors, and weapons. All of this is contributing to the dangerous militarization of that country and this is justified under the pretext of a supposed Russian plan for invasion. Such a “plan” is just part of the narrative war; however, it is being used to further enhance tensions and thereby it could partially become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, in the form of an armed conflict. After all, the hard truth is that from Moscow’s perspective, what is really going on is a neighboring country today being flooded with NATO instructors and arms to be employed against Russian-speaking populations, in a wave of genocidal anti-Russian persecution in the Donbass region.
And, in the scenario of armed conflict, what can one expect to happen? Considering that Ukraine is not even a NATO country today, it is quite unlikely any member of the Atlantic Alliance would rush in defence of that nation. However, the West would suffer the consequences, regardless.
An analogy can be drawn here with the Syrian situation: when the EU decided in 2013 to end to the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition, this certainly paved the way for legitimizing the European policy of arming terrorists in that region. On top of that, Western military incursions there brought further chaos and instability, which is one of the root causes of today’s migration flux towards Europe. While the West currently sanctions Belarus over the Polish-Belarusian border situation, there is a migration crisis in Europe itself, as exemplified by the recent French-British tensions.
In the event of a Russian-Ukrainian conflict, extra tens of thousands of refugees from both sides would rush to Europe, some of them presumably possessing military training and weapons – one should keep in mind that the Azov battalion, a Ukrainian National Guard unit (infamous for its neo-nazi links and accusations of war crimes and torture in Donbass), is known to have recruited from Nazi criminal gangs as well as from radical Islamic groups.
Such migration wave would generate social tensions in Europe, as well as a potential increase in crime and terrorism, thus further destabilizing the political situation not only in countries bordering on Ukraine, but also in Western Europe in general. Besides its own refugee’s problem, the EU as well as the UK is already facing a major energy crisis, high prices, and there is a financial crisis in the making. Therefore, these countries simply cannot afford yet another conflict in their vicinity bringing further thousands of asylum-seekers within the European bloc. After all, this could make the situation in some nations become explosive and unpredictable.
Moreover, Kiev could not possibly achieve victory should a full-scale conflict with its neighbor come up. According to experts, Moscow would defeat a large portion of the Ukrainian armed forces units in less than an hour. Last week, US President Joe Biden himself ruled out the possibility of deploying US troops to Ukraine. What Washington can offer – and has been offering – are hundreds of military advisers who currently operate there, training and instructing the military.
In a war, the United States could perhaps take part in covert actions, amid a bloody and costly conflict, but openly sending American soldiers is out of the question. Then, the most likely scenario would be Moscow either annexing Donbass – which it never intended to do – or, more likely, granting state recognition to the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics. Any such outcome would be a geopolitical catastrophe, from NATO’s perspective. This means that if maintaining the current level of Russian-Ukrainian tensions is in Washington’s interests, escalating things into a war beyond the Donbass proxy conflict is not. The problem is that in the current scenario of Ukrainian radicalization and militarization, avoiding an escalation might prove a hard task.
To sum it up, the US and its allies are making a serious mistake in believing that the conflict between the two East Slavic countries, which they provoke and fuel, will not affect the West itself. Faced with the risk of such a development of events, Washington in the end may “abandon” Kiev, as it has traditionally abandoned or betrayed several of its own allies.
Therefore, if things get really hotter, we could see an end to American aid in Ukraine and hundreds of military advisors simply exiting the country, the same way the world recently saw the American troops hastily leaving Afghanistan. And this in fact could open the path for Russian-Ukrainian reconciliation, with Kiev compromising to rethink its ethnic-linguist policies and perhaps granting limited autonomy to the Donbass region, thus putting an end to a major humanitarian crisis.