Since becoming president, Putin has been unable to shake off the legacy of the Soviet era, propagating the same philosophy in his circle and the state. Indeed, many a Russian born in the Soviet Union is subconsciously guided by the perception of actions in the public eye. Engaging in ever more morally reprehensible activities, the dichotomy of creating a veneer of legality is entirely lost on them and has been leaving western onlookers pondering as to the meaning of the bizarre game afoot.
When it comes to the annexation of Crimea, Putin was true to form in providing a veneer of legality to the seizure of Ukrainian territory. The infamous Yanukovich letter, asking for Russian military forces to enter Ukraine was used as the reason behind the seizure of Crimea and subsequent intervention into internal Ukrainian affairs. The illegality of the letter, according to Ukrainian law, and the presence of Russian troops in Crimea before its signing was not a consideration for the fake news hungry Russian leader.
The illegal referenda held by Russia in the occupied territories of Ukraine have produced an expected result. A near 100% support for joining the Russian federation. While not under total Russian control, with Kremlin forces suffering attrition from missile and partisan attacks, the annexation of the regions by Russia is likely to see a mass deployment of troops to pacify the area and inflict further human rights abuses, as those witnessed in Bucha, Izyum and elsewhere. With reports of such atrocities already occurring on the occupied lands of southern Ukraine, there is no doubt over the actual support for the occupying forces among the Ukrainian public in these lands.
Nevertheless, the move will have devastating implications for the security of nations helping Ukraine. Whether manifesting as a nuclear strike, a renewed offensive with fresh forces of unwilling client states, or ethnic cleansing of occupied lands, the war is about to get more violent.
The annexation of the regions provides the Kremlin with a pretence to escalate the war from a Special Operation to an antiterrorist operation, as was the status of the Russian operations in Chechnya during Putin’s first presidential term. Characterized by its violence towards civilians, the severity of Russian atrocities in Chechnya were such that mere reporting of them became a state matter.
A conventional warfare response to Ukrainian attempts to liberate their territory will see the exhausted Russian military forced to appeal for assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation. The member states include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The involvement of one or more of these states will make Ukrainian defence untenable. Although fielding ageing weaponry, trained and fresh troops will be able to turn the tide of war in Russian favour, especially if the front was to extend north, in an attack from Belarus. Provisions for this are already in place as Belarus has engaged its military in near permanent manoeuvres on the Ukrainian border since the start of the conflict. The Belarus rail network has also undergone adjustment favouring troop movement, indicating a readiness to supply forces through its state-run infrastructure.
The worst-case scenario resulting from the referenda is a Russian nuclear strike, claiming self-defence of recently annexed lands. With an ICBM launch potentially interpreted as a strike on NATO, a tactical strike by Iskander or similar platforms in the field is more likely but no less devastating. Capable of desolating a circle of land over ten kilometres wide, the explosion will continue to destroy through fallout that can travel hundreds of kilometres, depending on the climatic conditions of the day. This puts EU member states and UK assets, including British nationals in Ukraine and neighbouring states.
Russian propaganda has been preparing the media field, justifying the use of nuclear weapons and highlighting the examples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, pointing to the possibility of using the land after a strike. In no uncertain terms, the Russian president has stated that the nuclear option in “no bluff”.
While the will of the Kremlin to resort to indiscriminate annihilation remains front page news, the absurdity of the discussion escapes the media narrative. If faced with a possibility of wholesale murder against the terrors of unjustifiable conventional desolation, the debate cannot be on the outcome. Enthused in polemics on the means, we are missing the simple fact of debating the body count over the way to prevent it. Having the means to engage, having the force behind instruction for the yet uninvolved Russian clients to desist abetting, we waste time and cause the deaths of those under Russian fire. As talk is cheap, we have to face up to our bankruptcy or wake up from a garrulous slumber.