By Aadi Achint
The world held its breath towards yet another escalation in the ongoing Ukraine war post the Sabotage attacks on the Nord Stream Pipelines, it is now the turn of the Crimean bridge. As per the Russians this was a no go zone and a red line. The redline has been crossed.
The rationale for the Ukraine war in popular discourse has always been understood to start from 24 February 2022, the date of the beginning of military operations. More often than not a study of historical aspects that led to hostilities has been brushed aside and termed to be unimportant. This war, now and since the implementation of its grand strategy by the United States of America, is far beyond a bilateral dispute between Russia and Ukraine. A grand strategy that has led towards creation of battlefronts at the doorstep of the two major powers in competition and contention with the United States. This is typical of a game being played as part of the “Great Power Competition”.
In order to understand this part of the Grand Strategy focussing towards Russia, a good place to start is a study done by the RAND Corporation in 2019 called Extending Russia as well as Over Extending and Unbalancing Russia. Detailed in these reports are the various steps taken prior and since the war began and the motives behind them. Great Power rivalry apart, one wonders about the cost of such actions being taken in order to maintain its own hegemonic position, towards its own allies in Europe, where we see an unfolding of a major economic crisis. Recent events have shown signs of a potential greater cost towards USA’s economic position in the world as well as relations with important allies and partners like India and Saudi Arabia to name a few.
The Nord Stream pipeline news recently tells the story of desperate actions on part of few, the sacrifice of a basic framework even in war where certain infrastructure critical to civilian life are not spared. The sabotage as it is being called from all circles, was a first of its kind attacks on civilian infrastructure that was followed by the recent attack on the Crimean Bridge.
When we look at responses coming out of Ukraine it is a celebration of not just the event but the capability of carrying out such attacks damaging critical civilian infrastructure. The question of the capability brings us to a question seldom being asked, are there US troops on the ground in Ukraine?
Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s acting deputy head of military in recent statements, said that excellent satellite imagery and real-time information had helped the Ukrainians. He denied US officials were providing direct targeting information, but he acknowledged there was consultation between US and Ukrainian intelligence officials before strikes, so Washington could vet and if necessary veto intended targets. Further The Times interviewed Andrew Milburn, a retired Marine Corps Special Operations colonel on the ground in Ukraine, who declared that his actions and those of the dozens of American soldiers “are executing U.S. foreign policy in a way the military can’t.” He proudly stated to be located in a village about 15 miles from the front lines in eastern Ukraine and said his efforts supported US goals while insulating the United States from involvement. “I’m plausible deniability,” he said. “We can do the work, and the U.S. can say they have nothing to do with us.” Conclusions of the effort and the backing behind Ukrainian actions can be identified in reference to this statement and further provides a beam of light into the depth of the Nord Stream Sabotage as well as probable the current Crimea Bridge attack.
We also have recently experienced a certain nuclear rhetoric especially feared by many post such attacks, about Russian deployments of nuclear capable missiles close to Ukraine. The talk is about tactical nuclear weapons or battlefield nuclear weapons to be potentially used by Russians if their lines of defence are massively breached by the Ukrainian troops. To give a context the tactical nuclear weapons are to be employed by the US as per a strategy called “escalate to de-escalate”. This talks about the use of tactical weapons to stop the advance of Russian forces when they break the defence lines in Europe in times of war. The use of these weapons is to signify an intent and communicate the crossing of a threshold. The trouble in this strategy is simple, the Russian nuclear doctrine calls for two main actions namely no first use and massive retaliation when attacked with nuclear weapons.
The biggest flaw in the rhetoric is the fact that the Russians in their updated nuclear doctrine in the 2020 document on “The Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence” stated that their nuclear weapons are a source of deterrence and retaliation in case of attack. The document lists a number of threats that Russia might face and circumstances under which it might consider the use of nuclear weapons. It indicates that Russia could respond with nuclear weapons when it has received “reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and/or its allies” and in response to the “use of nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction by an adversary against the Russian Federation and/or its allies.” It could also respond with nuclear weapons following an “attack by adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions” and “aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.
The Ukraine war is a war of rhetoric and narratives, where one finds it difficult to decipher the reality. One has to get back to basics where treaties, doctrines as well as research help to sift through the clutter of propaganda and hidden agendas of people and powers that are actors in this war. The individual national interests colliding, many of whom are nowhere close to Ukraine, resulting in collateral damage the world could have avoided.
The attack on the Crimean Bridge is just another example of an excess that could have been avoided knowing the realities of the battlefield and the “advisors” to Ukraine who need to understand the importance of not extending this war beyond the borders of Ukraine. The world is watching with bated breath the events unfolding and powers who are supposed to stabilise being the biggest reason for the destabilisation and escalation of this un-required war. By conducting actions like the shelling of a Nuclear Power plant, attacks on a oil pipeline under the deep blue sea and now a “terrorist” type attack of the Crimean bridge have opened up similar opportunities for the Russians to exercise their plans within Ukraine. Are the backers of Ukraine sitting safely away from this attack, unaware of the consequences? Only time will tell…
(Author is a Strategic and Geopolitical Analyst at DEF Talks. You can listen to his views or read his writings on www.thedeftalks.com)
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