Now that Russia has attacked Ukraine, the West must stop Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Adam Berry | Getty Images News | Getty Images

After months of posturing, Russia finally attacked Ukraine. The big question for the West now is: can Russia and President Vladimir Putin be stopped?

Putin announced an attack on Ukraine early Thursday local time, declaring the start of a “special military operation” aimed at “the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.”

In a televised address, Putin said Russia did not plan to occupy Ukraine but wanted to protect its citizens. He also issued a chilling warning that any country that tried to interfere with Russia’s actions would face “consequences they have never seen”.

Russian attacks then began on cities across the country, with explosions reported in several key cities, including Kiev, Odessa, Kharkiv and Mariupol. Explosions are continuing, according to reports.

The developments are a shocking escalation after months of simmering tensions and concerns over Russia’s intentions towards its neighbour.

Thursday’s attack comes days after Putin recognized two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent and ordered Russian troops into the region on a “peacekeeping” mission, a assertion denied by many.

Experts and officials believed it could be a precursor to a wider invasion of Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, but Thursday’s assault is bigger and faster than many feared.

Experts believe that Moscow’s likely aim in this military action is to force a change in Ukraine’s political direction and install a pro-Russian regime in Kiev.

“Based on Putin’s speech and the first waves of strikes, it is clear that we are in the ‘serious’ scenario, in which Russia launches major attacks across Ukraine and aims to overthrow the government in Kiev by military means,” Henry Rome, director of Global Macro Research at Eurasia Group, said in a note Thursday.

“Despite Putin’s assertion to the contrary, it is likely to include the occupation of territory by Russian forces.”

The attack rocks global financial markets, causing U.S. stock futures to plummet and global oil prices to soar. European markets are expected to plunge into broad daylight on Thursday as a military conflict erupts again on its soil.

Are the penalties enough?

US and European officials had tried to dissuade Russia from launching an attack by promising a barrage of new sanctions. Earlier this week, they imposed a series of punitive measures on Russian individuals, financial institutions and sovereign debt following Russia’s recognition of breakaway areas in eastern Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden promised more measures to hit the Russian economy after the invasion began. The EU, which borders Ukraine to the west, will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss its response. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called Russia’s actions a “dark day for Europe”, saying Moscow should cease all military action immediately.

It’s unclear whether the sanctions are enough to deter Putin, given that a series of measures imposed on Russia following its 2014 annexation of Crimea failed to deter the president.

Timothy Ash, senior sovereign emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, noted on Thursday that “Putin is putting a new iron curtain on emerging Europe. We are all less secure because of this.”

“The West must sanction Russia for this,” he added.

For its part, Ukraine is calling for urgent and immediate aid, with the country’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeting a list of ‘things to do’ for the West, calling for more weapons and aid. financial and humanitarian.

In a separate tweet, Kuleba pleaded for the world to stop Putin from causing further damage to Ukraine, saying, “The world can and must stop Putin. Now is the time to act.”

Western countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, have already supported Ukraine with financial aid and military equipment. While other European countries have offered military equipment to bolster NATO deployments in Eastern Europe.

Ukraine is not a member of the EU or NATO – the military alliance formed by North American and European nations – and so NATO is not bound to defend it.

As such, there are question marks over how far the West will go to prevent Ukraine from being completely suppressed by Russia, and it is unclear whether the United States and the EU are ready to respond with military means.

Rome, of the Eurasia Group, expects a sweeping sanctions package aimed at isolating Russia from the global financial system and severely damaging its economy to be announced in the near future.

“This will include the United States adding many, if not all, of Russia’s largest banks to the list of Specially Designated Nationals, imposing new export restrictions on advanced technologies and broadening the scope of sanctions against oligarchs and the family of the political elite,” he said. .

“The EU and the UK will impose similar measures. Given the gravity of Russian actions, we expect Western policymakers to go beyond their worst-case plans, which puts the expulsion of Russia from the SWIFT financial messaging system. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline will be sidelined indefinitely.”

Germany already announced earlier this week that it was suspending its approval process for the massive pipeline, which was designed to double gas imports from Russia to Germany and the rest of Europe.

A new cold war

The pressure is now on the West to counter Russia’s increasingly aggressive stance, especially towards its neighbors and former Soviet states like Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus.

What makes Ukraine particularly important is its position on Europe’s right flank – home to some of the world’s largest and oldest democracies and economies.

The Russian president has long touted the “unity” of Ukrainians and Russians, giving speeches and even writing an essay on the historical, cultural and linguistic ties between the nations. On Monday, he said Ukraine was created from Russian lands and reiterated that the breakup of the USSR, which led to Ukraine becoming an independent country, was a mistake.

The Ukrainian government, however, has sought alignment with Europe, aspiring to both EU and NATO membership.

This pivot to the West is a big bone of contention for Putin, anxious to maintain Russia’s sphere of influence. Russia demanded legal assurances that Ukraine would never be able to join NATO, which would bring the military alliance’s border back into Russian territory.

This request was refused by the West, leading Russia to claim that its security concerns were ignored.

Eurasia Group’s Rome said Russia’s latest attack and Western sanctions will have “tremendous impacts on the global economy” and that “the Russian invasion will mark the start of a new American Cold War.” -Russian, creating a rift between Washington and Moscow that will make anything but the most basic diplomacy extremely unlikely.”

“It will also mark the return of a major militarized border in Europe, increasing tensions between Russia and NATO countries, from the Baltic states to the Black Sea countries. The United States and NATO will face the there is a risk that the conflict will spill over into Poland, Hungary, or Romania… which would risk dragging the members of the alliance into a conflict. Finally, huge flows of refugees are looming on the horizon.” , he warned.

For the moment, it is not known whether Russia has the necessary military personnel to occupy Ukraine.

“Although Russia’s military build-up is significant, the number of Russian troops is still insufficient to occupy and hold large parts of Ukrainian territory, especially given the expected strong local resistance,” said Andrius Tursa, adviser for Central and Eastern Europe at Teneo Intelligence, in a press release. Watch out Wednesday night.

He said Moscow’s likely goal was to force Ukraine to give in to Russia’s demands.

“Earlier this week, Putin presented a new set of demands for Kyiv, which include (1) recognition of Crimea and Sevastopol as Russian territory; (2) abandonment of plans to join NATO (3) demilitarization of the country; (4) negotiation of the situation in Donbass,” he noted.

To advance its objectives, Russia could use a variety of actions, “including military action aimed at degrading the country’s defensive capabilities, inflicting significant casualties and damaging critical infrastructure in the hope of surrender. fast from the Ukrainian side”.

In short, Tursa said, Moscow could try to use various tactics to destabilize and demoralize Ukraine.

“This could include large-scale terrorist acts, political assassinations, cyberattacks on critical infrastructure and other actions aimed at creating chaos and undermining the country’s ability and will to defend [itself].”

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