Russia-Ukraine: A world on the brink of war? – Will S

Over the last few months, there have been rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and this is largely due to the former amassing an estimated 100,000 troops on the 1,400 mile long border. Tensions have been high between the two nations ever since the end of the USSR in 1991, wherein Russia lost almost all its satellite states and ceased being an empire. War broke out in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, and ever since then it has been ongoing, with pro-Russia separatists rebelling and capturing swathes of eastern Ukraine, resulting in the deaths of 14,000 citizens. Things are so bad in fact that it has been suggested that the bloodshed of war could be the worst since WW2.

The first question that comes to mind is probably why is Russia so keen to have Ukraine back? When Russia annexed Crimea, it argued it had an historic claim to it and Putin has argued that its loss of Ukraine was the “disintegration of historical Russia”. He has also called Russia and Ukraine “one nation” and labelled Ukraine’s current leaders as running an “anti-Russia campaign”. Furthermore, the superpower has been frustrated at Ukraine’s slow progress in creating the Minsk peace deal for eastern Ukraine. The most potent reason though is that Ukraine is desperate to become a member of Nato, and to Russia this would be the worst thing imaginable. Not only would it place the alliance right on its doorstep, but it would be just 500 kilometres from Moscow, which would be detrimental if war were to break out – after all Russia sees Nato as a major threat. Boris Johnson has stated that Russia wants to bring back its “spheres of influence” (satellite states), and that it hasn’t “only got its eye on Ukraine”.

There is therefore a large motivation for Russia to invade Ukraine but if it does so what are the implications? As mentioned above, Ukraine is not a part of Nato and what this means is that its allies (US, UK, Germany to name a few) have no obligation to defend it should it be invaded. This means that it is very unlikely there would be a war involving soldiers between the West and Russia, though the west has been sending weapons and supplies to Ukraine to try and support it. Most of this must been seen as a token gesture though as ultimately Russia’s army is almost 5 times larger than that of Ukraine and its firepower orders of magnitude greater, and so what’s more likely are strong economic sanctions and cyber warfare.

A helpful diagram from The Times

In the commons last week, Boris Johnson threatened “severe economic sanctions”, but would these be enough to dissuade Russia from invasion? IN short, probably. The west has the ability to cut Russia off from the Swift (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) system, a move that would essentially prevent its banks from banking with the west. Swift handles over £100 trillion in transactions a week and these sanctions would starve Russia of payments from the West.

It is likely that the UK would be largely unaffected if war were to break out as Ben Wallace the Secretary of State for Defence has said that it is “highly unlikely” that Britain or its allies will send troops to defend Ukraine if Russia invades. If invasion were to spread however into neighbouring countries such as Hungary, all out war would likely occur. What could happen in the event of invasion is cyber attacks against the west, one of Russia’s most valuable weapons. Russia poses the greatest cyber threat to the UK and has engaged in cyber warfare against the west for a long time now. It is reckoned by officials it interfered with election results in the US, spread covid-19 disinformation and even hacked “sensitive parts of the White House”. On the 14th January of this year, major parts of the Ukrainian government websites were knocked out in what was a suspected cyberattack by Russia. Cyberattacks are capable of taking out power networks, stealing money from banks and even polluting water sources, and so they do present a grave threat to the west, should Russia choose to do them.

Ultimately, there is something of a waiting game with this conflict as we can only wait and see whether or not the Russians will invaded Ukraine, or be deterred by the West. One thing is for sure however, if this conflict does begin it will likely affect us all in varying amounts, and so it is paramount that diplomacy continues.

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