Russia has declared war and launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine. This now leaves us wondering if we are seeing the start of World War 3. At the time of writing, there is no direct conflict between Russia and NATO, but it is still possible.
Russia Ukraine Conflict
After months of rising military tensions and Russian threats over Ukraine, Russia declared war. Russia started its invasion of Ukraine early in the morning of February 24th. Russia has called the invasion a “demilitarisation”, stating that they intend to demilitarise rather than annex Ukraine. The scale of the invasion, however, suggests that Russia intends to quickly annex Ukraine.
This comes after speeches from Russian President Vladimir Putin claiming the NATO’s expansion eastward is a threat to Russian security. Ukraine is not currently a NATO member, but wants to join. If Ukraine were to join NATO, it would be the latest of several former soviet states to join. Putin sees this as aggression towards Russia, and is using that as a reason to invade Ukraine.
The response from western nations so far is to condemn Russia’s actions, and impose sanctions against Russia. At the time of writing, there is no direct conflict between NATO and Russia.
Does Russia Intend To Start World War 3?
President Putin has long been seen as a cold and calculating, but careful leader. He has proved his ability to build up military tensions to show Russia’s strength. He has also carefully avoided conflict with NATO, limiting his actions to threats and building tensions.
His recent actions suggest that he may no longer care about approval for his actions from the Russian people. In a speech on Monday February 21st, he rewrote Ukraine’s history. He said that Ukraine had no right to be a nation and was historically Russian land. He believes neo-Nazis and corrupt “puppet” leaders controlled by the west stole the Russian lands.
Putin’s recent broadcasts have left experts worried about his state of mind. Rather than protecting Russian security, he may now be more interested in Russian expansion.
The invasion of Ukraine, despite threats from NATO, suggests that Russia is not afraid of starting a war in Europe. However, military sources believe that Russia’s plan is to take control of Ukraine and not start World War 3. Putin has promised a swift and aggressive response to any nation that challenges Russia’s invasion.
NATO Response To Russia
There has as yet been no direct military action against Russia by NATO. Instead, many western nations have condemned Russia’s actions. They have also imposed sanctions against Russian businesses and individuals.
NATO leaders now need to make a difficult decision. Do they retaliate against Russia, or allow Russia to proceed and effectively accept their actions. Military retaliation will likely result in an expansion of the conflict, but doing nothing normalises Russia’s actions.
Will NATO Send Troops Against Russia?
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned Russia’s actions. He tweeted that “NATO allies will meet to address Russia’s renewed aggression”. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, so NATO may choose not to send troops into Ukraine. However, NATO state that border Ukraine will want to ensure their security from Russian expansion.
Direct conflict between NATO and Russia could see the start of a huge war in Europe. Putin has already mentioned the nuclear threat in a televised address. A number of sources believe that this is intended as a warning to stop NATO forces defending Ukraine. Russia and the USA have a total of over 8,000 nuclear weapons. A nuclear war between the two nations would easily result in total destruction. However it is very unlikely that either nation would use nuclear weapons.
NATO Sanctions Against Russia
At the time of writing, sanctions against Russia appear to be the most likely NATO response. A larger military conflict will probably be avoided if NATO nations do not engage Russia in military action.
Sanctions against Russia include asset freezes and travel bans for prominent individuals and businesses. The Russian government will not be allowed to raise money on EU and US financial markets. The Nordstream 2 natural gas pipeline has been closed down. Natural gas is a major export from Russia in to Europe. The closure of the pipeline will reduce Russia’s ability to make money from Europe.
Russia’s Response To NATO Sanctions
Sanctions are unlikely to stop Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There will, however, be Russian retaliation to the sanctions. This is most likely to be in the form of cyber attacks. Cyber attacks have already shut down the websites of many government organisations in Ukraine. Russia has the ability to initiate cyber attacks worldwide, and may target government and infrastructure.
What Will The Start Of World War 3 Mean For The World?
If the current situation escalates, there will be far reaching consequences for us all. Although currently the threat of a large scale war is relatively small, this could change very quickly.
If the conflict expands, the initial effects for most will be increased prices and disrupted supply chains. The price of oil has already risen significantly, meaning that fuel costs are rising. The natural gas supply to Europe from Russia has been cut off, meaning energy costs will also increase. Supply chains across Europe and worldwide are already struggling, and a war will make this far worse.
Conventional (non-nuclear) will have the most significant impact on nations that are on or near the front line. Death and destruction will be significant, particularly around military installations. Food supply chains will be significantly disrupted, and energy costs will increase.
Ukraine has a number of nuclear power plants and nuclear waste disposal sites. There is a significant risk that one of these could accidentally be hit by a missile or bomb. It would not need a nuclear weapon to damage a nuclear facility badly enough to cause radioactive pollution across Europe.
Nuclear World War
The threat of nuclear war is ever present, but the probability is small. Russia and NATO states possess many nuclear weapons. NATO has repeatedly rejected calls for adopting a no first use policy. This means that NATO would potentially consider a pre-emptive nuclear strike against a threat. Russian military policy reserves the right to use nuclear weapons “in response to a large-scale conventional aggression”.
It is unlikely that any nation would want to start a nuclear war. However, both NATO and Russia would consider pre-emptive nuclear strikes if they believed they were under threat from nuclear attack.
A nuclear world war would result in destruction on a scale never seen before in war. Large scale use of nuclear weapons would kill millions instantly, and millions more exposed to dangerous radiation. It would change the world forever changed, with huge uninhabitable areas and the collapse of society.
The most likely targets would be large military facilities and important cities. Away from the nuclear explosions, the biggest immediate danger is nuclear fallout. Nuclear fallout is very dangerous, but it is possible to survive.
This is the absolute worst case scenario, and the probability is small but not zero. It is unlikely that any nation would use nuclear weapons knowing that the result would be mutually assured destruction.