Russia has been amassing troops and military equipment near its border with Ukraine, increasing tensions between Russia and the West. But will Russia invade Ukraine? And what will happen if they do? In this article, we’ll take a look at the risks and possibilities.
UPDATE, 24 February 2022: Russia launched a full scale invasion during the early morning. Russian troops have moved in to Ukraine in several places, with fighting continuing. Russia’s threats to any nation responding to Russia’s invasion have prompted fears of World War 3.
UPDATE, 22 February 2022: Russia has recognised the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine as independent states. Russia has also ordered troops into two rebel held areas in the east of Ukraine. This has prompted sanctions against Russian banks and wealthy individuals. Germany has stopped plans for the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline, which was intended to pipe natural gas from Russia into Europe. The oil price has hit $100 and stock markets have fallen.
UPDATE, 14 February 2022: Some sources are now claiming to have seen plans for a Russian invasion to take place on Tuesday 15th or Wednesday 16th February.
UPDATE, 11 February 2022: As fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine increase, many countries have told their nationals to leave Ukraine. This includes the UK and the USA. President Biden has said that he will not send US troops to rescue any stranded US citizens. This comes as Russia stages huge military drills with their ally Belarus. Russia has also effectively blocked Ukraine’s access to the sea.
Why Are Russia And Ukraine Hostile?
Ukraine became an independent nation in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Initially, Ukraine maintained a foreign policy balance between the EU and Russia. In the early 21st century, Ukraine began to look more to the west, favouring alignment with the EU and NATO.
Things came to a head in 2014 when the “Revolution of Dignity” took place in Ukraine. The pro-Russian president of Ukraine was removed after he refused to sign a political and trade agreement with the EU. The new government of Ukraine wanted a future as part of the EU and NATO. The Russian government did not look favourably on this political stance. With other eastern European countries having recently joined the EU, Russia feared that Ukraine joining them would lead to a wall of hostile countries along their western border.
After the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. Russia also supported pro-Russian rebels in the Donbas region in the east of Ukraine. This was the beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian war, which has been going on ever since in the Donbas region. The war has so far killed around 15,000 people and has lead to some sanctions being imposed on Russia by western nations.
Where Is The Russian Military Build Up?
The Russian military have transported a large amount of equipment and at least 100,000 troops to areas around Ukraine. This includes along the Russian border to the north and east of Ukraine, in Russian friendly Belarus along the northern border of Ukraine, and in Crimea to the south of Ukraine. This puts Russia in a commanding position to invade Ukraine.
Experts have assessed that Russian may now be as much as 90% prepared for a large scale invasion of Ukraine in terms of troops and equipment in the area.
In response, NATO member nations have been increasing their military presence in Europe to the north and west of Ukraine. This includes military aircraft stationed in Lithuania and Bulgaria, as well as a naval presence in the Baltic sea.
UPDATE, 22 February 2022: Russian troops have now been ordered into the rebel controlled areas in the east of Ukraine.
How Likely Is It That Russia Will Invade Ukraine?
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has said that he has no plans for Russia to invade Ukraine. He has, however, demanded that NATO do not allow membership for more ex-Soviet states. His demands also include NATO military activity ceasing in Eastern European nations. President Putin has also stated that Russia will respond with appropriate measures if the “aggressive approach” of the West continues. Meanwhile, the UK and US governments have withdrawn the families of their diplomats in Ukraine.
Rising tensions, and growing military presence in the area make it seem increasingly likely that there will be further conflict. The current unknown is whether this will progress beyond skirmishes at the border to full blown war or not. Russia is well prepared in terms of military presence for a large scale invasion of Ukraine. However, the leaders of several nations are still working on a peaceful solution.
UPDATE, 24 February 2022: Russia has launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine, prompting fears that this may be the start of World War 3.
UPDATE, 22 February 2022: As Russian troops are ordered into the east of Ukraine, a Russian invasion of Ukraine looks increasingly likely. Russia has stated that the troops ordered to Ukraine are going to be there on a peacekeeping mission. The US has called this “nonsense” and a pretext for war.
What Will Happen If Russia Invades Ukraine?
Russia has one of the world’s largest military forces with around a million personnel on active duty. The Ukraine military is much more powerful now than it was when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, and has advanced weapons supplied by the US. It only has a little over 200,000 active duty personnel however.
If Russia launches a full scale invasion, Ukraine alone is unlikely to be able to stop it. Ukraine will resist, and will be able to cause heavy casualties to Russian troops, but Russia will eventually complete the invasion.
The story may be different though if NATO actively supports Ukraine, both in terms of military power and sanctions against Russia. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but if Russia invades and NATO does nothing, then it will make itself appear weak and insignificant. It is highly likely that NATO will support Ukraine when the Russian invasion takes place.
Will There Be A Nuclear War?
In the video above, President Putin threatened that Ukraine joining NATO could lead to a nuclear war. He appears to be using this as a threat rather than actually considering it as an option. Putin is an expert at building up tensions and using it to his advantage. Putin wants reassurances that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO. He is using the nuclear threat as an incentive for NATO to give him what he wants.
It is very unlikely that this will actually lead to nuclear war; that would be totally destructive for all nations. No leaders, including President Putin, actually want to start a nuclear war. But it is worth knowing that if you’re not in the direct blast zone, you can survive a nuclear explosion.
How Will War Between Russia And Ukraine Affect The Rest Of The World?
An invasion of Ukraine would obviously be devastating for Ukraine. It would have major impacts for the rest of Europe and the rest of the world too. It is extremely unlikely that there will be a nuclear conflict, but conventional warfare can still be very destructive.
Military and Political
Undoubtedly, if Russia invaded Ukraine, relations between the West and Russia would break down completely. Military tensions between Russia and NATO would become further heightened. It is unlikely that Russia would threaten any other countries with military action as Russia would risk huge retaliation. But, following a Russian invasion of Ukraine, tensions between Russia and the west would rapidly rise to levels not seen since the cold war.
The threat of nuclear war is small, but it cannot be ignored. Russia and several NATO members have nuclear weapons. President Putin has recently threatened nuclear war with NATO nations over Ukraine. If any nation is attacked with nuclear weapons, there will be retaliation leading to large scale destruction.
No nation or leader wants nuclear war, and so it is unlikely to happen. The fact that it is already being used as a threat, however, is worrying and suggests that there may be some elements of a new cold war.
Russian cyber attacks against Ukraine have already started. Recently, hackers defaced a number of Ukraine’s government websites and infected government agencies’ IT with malware. Although it has not yet been proven, Russia is the main suspect for these attacks.
The target of the attacks so far has been Ukraine, but hacking attacks such as these could easily target other countries too. Critical infrastructure, such as power generation, is a likely target of cyber attacks. Successful attacks could lead to large scale grid down scenarios happening in many countries.
It is most likely that the biggest effect on the rest of Europe would be financial. Western nations would impose additional sanctions against Russia. This would include the closure of the newly built Nord Stream 2 pipeline, through which Russia will sell natural gas to Europe. With a large proportion of it’s import revenues coming from the EU, this sanction would deprive Russia of a significant income.
Although intended as a sanction against Russia, cutting off natural gas supplied to Europe from Russia would be may have more of a negative effect on Europe. Many European countries rely on Russian gas supplies, with over 40% of the EU gas supply coming from Russia. The remaining non-Russian supply of gas to Europe would not meet the current demand.
Energy prices throughout Europe are already soaring, and removing Russia as a source of energy would push prices even higher. Some industries may have to limit their usage of gas, and domestic gas prices would rise further. A reduced gas supply could easily cause electricity supply problems too. For example, in the last year, over 40% of Great Britain’s electricity generation was gas powered.
UPDATE, 22 February 2022: In response to Russian troops being ordered into rebel held areas of Ukraine, sanctions have been announced. These include sanctions against Russian banks and wealthy individuals, and the cancellation of the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline. Oil prices have increased, passing $100, and stock markets have fallen.
What Can I Do To Prepare?
If you are a non-Ukraine national currently in Ukraine, you should leave while commercial transport out of Ukraine is still available. Many countries have told their citizens to leave Ukraine. People remaining in Ukraine, or its close neighbours should prepare to stay as safe as possible in case Russia invades Ukraine. If there is military activity, sheltering at home is likely to be the safest option.
Outside Ukraine or its close neighbours, prepare for are the financial and supply chain impacts of war.
Prepare for prices, in particular the cost of fuel and energy supplies, to rise significantly. To protect yourself from this as much as possible, identify ways in which you can use a smaller amount of energy in your home.
Transport networks around Europe may be disrupted. This disruption would cause a knock on impact on supply chains. Ensure that you have food and water stored to cover times when supplies might be hard to come by.
It is possible that disruption of the natural gas supply to Europe from Russia could lead to power outages. These are unlikely to be long term, however cyber attacks could also potentially knock out infrastructure. You should prepare for long term grid down as well as short term power cuts. You may also need to keep yourself warm without power.
The situation in Ukraine is changing frequently. Although tensions are rising, it is still in the best interests of all nations involved to find a peaceful solution, however this seems increasingly unlikely to happen.
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