By Julius Apostata
If you had told me that war in Europe was happening three weeks ago, I would have shrugged my shoulders and scoffed. Why would we have war? Surely, we have moved past such barbaric instincts and would instead resort to diplomacy to ensure that geopolitical interests could be met in a reasonable and rational way. And yes, war does, unfortunately, still occur in the world, such as in Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere, all of which represents a serious human tragedy. But if I were told that war was to come to Europe, that the stakes for an entire country’s existence were on the line, that the scale to which this is occurring were the largest since World War II, and that the aggressor country had a leader threatening nuclear annihilation, I would assume this was the product of alternate history. Unfortunately, we currently live in a situation where this exact sequence of events happened: Russia has invaded Ukraine in an unprovoked war, representing a major event that could spiral out of control very quickly. This is, suffice it to say, quite possibly the worst case scenario for not only Ukraine but the wider world. With this said, I’m going to do my best to factually present what has happened, and speculate on nuclear annihilation.
Although it might be appropriate to start with the most recent conflict, it would be best to go back to Russia’s incursions into other sovereign nations preceding the crisis. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, along with 14 other countries, was formed. For many in the West, it was a triumph: the collapse of the communist bloc surely meant the end of history, right? Well… no. With the creation of many independent countries, each embarked on a journey of either seeking deeper ties with western countries under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or maintaining their existing relationship with the Kremlin. However, Russian President Vladamir Putin views NATO expansion into former communist countries, in particular former republics of the Soviet Union, as existential threats to Russia’s survival. Consequently, his administration began to engage in actively dissuading or hindering these former Soviet republics from seeking ties with the west. For instance, when Georgia pondered joining NATO back in 2008, Russia undermined its efforts by supporting insurgent activities of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, effectively annexing Georgian land into Russia. Similar to the current conflict, Russia also seized Ukraine’s territory of Crimea when, in the chaos of the 2014 ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, pro-Russian separatists and “little green men” (unmarked Russian soldiers secretly helping these Russian separatists) declared independence from Ukraine and incorporated itself into Russia. Needless to say, what is happening isn’t necessarily new, as Russia has a history of engaging in such activity.
What is new, however, is the overt and unprovoked means by which Russia engages in the current conflict with Ukraine. Like Crimea, another region of Ukraine filled with pro-Russian separatists is the Donbass region, who appealed to Russia for assistance. While it was speculated that Russia would steal this land away from Ukraine through similar insurgent activity like in Crimea, it appears that Putin has thrown even this away and taken a more direct and aggressive approach. In a bizarre, rambling speech following his announcement to invade, Putin declared the “special operation” was to prevent genocide, that Ukraine is simply an invention of the Soviet Union, and that his goal is the “denazification” of Ukraine. These ideas are themselves nonsensical; there has been no evidence of the crimes which Putin claims are occuring; the idea of Ukraine and Russia being one land or one people ignores historical realities at best and is irredentist at worst; the idea of Ukraine’s administration, under Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a man of Jewish descent, being filled with Neo-Nazis and drug addicts is a work of nonsensical fiction. Yet, despite these realities, that does not appear to stop the delusions of grandeur that Putin seems to possess concerning Ukraine.
The current war is truly a tragedy: thousands of people have been killed, with one million people fleeing Ukraine as the situation seems to worsen. Resistance is, nonetheless, fierce, with the Ukrainians under Zelenskyy adequately slowing down the initial invasion. Still, Putin has threatened nuclear action against any country that dares to stop what is going on, and the future of Ukraine unfortunately looks bleak. Ironically, though, if Putin hoped that this invasion would fragment the west, he appears to have miscalculated; between some of the toughest sanctions ever that Russia has faced, widespread international condemnation, and even some border countries, like Georgia and Moldova, applying to join the EU, Putin managed to halt any bickering and present a united front against him. Still, as terrible as the situation is, and as much of our hearts go out to the Ukrainians bravely fighting a wannabe dictator, direct war with Russia would ultimately be catastrophic and could cause mutually assured destruction. President Biden, in his State of the Union, made this clear, that we would defend every inch of NATO territory, which does not, tragically, include Ukraine. An unfortunate, but realistic, analysis: the best we could do is squeeze Russia dry of whatever economic viability it has, make any future actions in Ukraine wholly unsustainable, and maintain Russia’s diplomatic isolation, in addition to providing arms and supplies to Ukraine. Nuclear war is not on the table (and will hopefully never be); any proposal for direct war with Russia is, while perhaps well-intended, naïve at best. The best thing for us to do now is to engage in our current course of action, and do what we can to mitigate the consequences of the invasion.