As troops and materiel flood westwards in vast numbers across Russia to the eastern marches of America’s European empire, it seems clear our continent is at a great inflection point, like 1914 or 1939, 1945 or 1989. The generation-long slumber of the post-Cold War era has ended: Europe is awakening to history once again.
With every day, it becomes more likely that a great hammer blow is about to descend on Ukraine. More than 100,000 Russian troops have been deployed to Ukraine’s frontiers, in a great arc from Belarus to the north to the Black Sea in the southeast. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its parallel detachment of two predominantly Russian-speaking portions of eastern Ukraine did not bring about the great reordering Putin sought in Eastern Europe. The Minsk agreement that sought to end the war did not bear fruit; Ukraine’s armed forces are stronger than they were eight years ago, and the Ukrainian purchase of Turkish Bayraktar attack drones threatens to overturn the fragile stalemate in the country’s east.
For Russia, there is therefore no better time to attack than now, while Europe is weak and divided and the Americans are distracted. The sheer size and strength of the Russian armed forces, which have rapidly modernised since 2014, will likely overwhelm any Ukrainian opposition. What happens next will be Putin’s choice, and perhaps he has not yet decided.
Yet the military toolkit he has assembled in recent weeks gives him a wealth of options: he could destroy the Ukrainian armed forces from afar with stand-off weapons without any new border incursions; he could formally annex the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk; he could even attack along Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, deploying the naval infantry and amphibious armoured vehicles recently moved to the border from the Russian Far East, capable of seizing territory from Mariupol in the east as far west as Odessa and the border with Romania; finally, Russia could move on Kyiv itself, striking both south from Belarus and westward across the flat plains in a display of armoured warfare of a type Europe has not seen since 1945.
Ukraine’s options in all this are limited in the extreme. The claims by Western thinktankers that Russia will have no stomach for the guerrilla warfare that will ensue seem doubtful: Putin is unlikely to send his troops to the Ukrainian nationalist heartlands of the west, where the topography lends itself to armed resistance.
The flat plains of the country’s east, though useless for an insurgency, are ideal for a quick armoured blitzkrieg all the way to Kyiv and the Dnieper river. Russia will control the airspace above the battlefields, and a Ukrainian repeat of the successful deployment of Bayraktar drones by Azerbaijan against a degraded Armenian army therefore seems impossible. Ukraine’s greatest chance of avoiding military defeat and perhaps dismemberment at Putin’s hands lies in Western diplomacy: and this is surely now the country’s greatest curse.
The headline means this is a war caused by British diplomacy and our false promises. That means bankers who control Britain – and maybe Russia too.