Russian – Ukraine War New Military Checks & Balances

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The Russian war on Ukraine raging since late February‭ (‬February 24‭, ‬2022‭), ‬produced many geostrategic repercussions that are expected to have a clear impact on the future of relations between the major powers at the forefront of the current world order‭, ‬as‭ ‬well as the checks and balances of international power in general‭, ‬and military ones in particular‭, ‬depending on the outcome of‭ ‬the ongoing war‭.‬

Members of the armed forces of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic drive a tank on the outskirts of Donetsk January 22, 2015. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko (UKRAINE – Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY POLITICS CONFLICT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) – RTR4MHW8

Despite the ambiguity of the current military and geostrategic scene in light of the continuation of the war and the lack of clarity on the path it could take‭, ‬the repercussions that this war has and will produce‭, ‬indicate that there are important changes‭ ‬that will affect the nature of the existing military balances‭, ‬both on the European and the global levels‭, ‬which can be clarified through the following two axes‭:‬

A‭. ‬The military implications of the Russian-Ukrainian war‭:‬

The military operations carried out by Russia in the Ukrainian territory‭, ‬and the Western reaction‭ (‬American and European support for Ukraine in this war‭) ‬towards them reveal a set of indications and military results that this war has produced so far‭, ‬the‭ ‬most prominent of which are the following‭:‬

1‭- Refocus on the tools of conventional warfare‭:‬‭ ‬Over several decades‭, ‬there has been a recession in the idea of‭ ‬​​direct military wars as a source of threat to European security in particular and global security in general‭, ‬in favor of more focus on concepts such as human security and health security after the Covid-19‭ ‬pandemic‭, ‬and more attention to modern war patterns which goes by many names including 5th generation and 6th generation wars among others‭.‬

However‭, ‬the Ukrainian war brought back the focus to military threats and conventional wars with all their tools‭.‬

In contrast to the 2014‭ ‬Crimean War‭, ‬in which Russia employed hybrid warfare methods‭, ‬by supporting some separatist groups loyal‭ ‬to it and carrying out hidden or undeniable activities to foment unrest in eastern Ukraine by relying on the Russian-speaking communities in these regions and propaganda methods‭, ‬in parallel with The use of conventional military force to support these separatist movements that resulted in the Russian annexation of the Crimea and the separatists’‭ ‬success in controlling large areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions‭, ‬and the announcement of the formation of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic on the border with Russia‭.‬

The current war in Ukraine relied mainly on the use of Conventional military power tools‭, ‬with Russia mobilizing more than 150,000‭ ‬soldiers around Ukraine‭, ‬in addition to combat units‭, ‬logistical units‭, ‬and units for other tasks‭, ‬as well as the use of tactical‭, ‬operational and strategic methods of deception‭, ‬which did not prevent the western side from anticipating and preparing for‭ ‬the war‭.‬

For its part‭, ‬Washington has repeatedly warned that Russia could invade Ukraine‭ “‬at any time‭” ‬and even set a specific date for that‭ (‬February 16‭), ‬and Moscow launched the invasion a week later‭.‬

However‭, ‬the war saw the use of a lot of means of modern warfare‭, ‬including the use of smart weapons and cyber-attacks‭, ‬especially‭ ‬“DDos”‭ (‬distributed denial of services‭) ‬attacks aimed at flooding websites with intense fake traffic‭, ‬preventing them from communicating in the usual way‭, ‬and other methods adopted in modern wars‭, ‬but the nature of military war remained traditional‭, ‬based on the‭ ‬use of ground‭, ‬sea and air forces‭, ‬mobilization of forces and other tools of traditional wars‭.‬

2‭- Refocus on nuclear deterrent weapons‭: ‬The Russian war against Ukraine was accompanied by a series of developments that brought the nuclear file‭, ‬and its peaceful and military uses‭, ‬back into global focus in a way that had not happened since the end of the Cold War‭. ‬A week before the war‭, ‬Moscow conducted exercises to test the control operations of nuclear weapons and highly dangerous weapons‭, ‬which included simulating the use of nuclear weapons‭, ‬and according to Russian Defense Minister‭, ‬Sergei Shoigu‭, ‬these exercises were planned in advance‭.‬

A few days later‭, ‬Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of developing nuclear weapons‭, ‬indicating that it still possesses Soviet nuclear technologies and delivery systems for such weapons‭.‬

When the invasion began‭, ‬Putin warned that any outside country standing in Russia’s way would face‭ “‬consequences the likes of which it has never seen in its entire history‭,” ‬a threat of nuclear proportions‭.‬

The matter reached its climax with Putin’s announcement‭, ‬on February 28‭, ‬2022‭, ‬that his country’s strategic nuclear deterrent forces were placed on high alert‭, ‬for the first time since the Cold War‭, ‬and there were increasing‭ ‬talks about the possibility of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons in the war‭, ‬either for a show of force or to resolve the war and bring it out of the current stalemate‭.‬

These tactical nuclear weapons‭, ‬of which Russia is believed to possess about two thousand‭, ‬include bomblets and warheads that can be placed on different types of missiles that are usually used to transport conventional explosives‭, ‬and can even be launched‭ ‬as artillery shells on the battlefield‭, ‬or by planes and warships‭.‬

These insinuations and threats‭, ‬direct or indirect by Russia of the possibility of using nuclear weapons when necessary‭, ‬as well‭ ‬as the Ukrainian President‭ “‬Vlodimir Zelensky‭” ‬hinting in his speech before the Munich Security Conference‭, ‬on February 19‭, ‬2022‭, ‬at the possibility of abandoning the Budapest Memorandum that organized its abandonment of nuclear weapons‭, ‬and then its accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty‭, ‬meaning Ukraine could work on possessing a nuclear weapon‭, ‬now that its international commitments didn’t protect the unity‭, ‬integrity‭, ‬and sovereignty of the Ukrainian territory‭.‬

In addition‭, ‬major Western countries warned Russia against the use of nuclear weapons in the conflict emphasizing its readiness‭ ‬to respond‭, ‬all of this has not only shined a spot-light on nuclear deterrent weapons on the global stage‭, ‬but will have dangerous future effects on non-proliferation issues in general‭, ‬pushing more countries to seek nuclear weapons‭, ‬either for protection‭ ‬against aggression or to strengthen the elements of their strategic power‭, ‬which enhances the chances of the world heading towards a new nuclear arms race‭, ‬at a time when estimates already indicate that the number of nuclear warheads in global military stockpiles‭, ‬which includes nuclear warheads designated for operational forces‭, ‬is increasing again‭.‬

According to estimates by the US Department of Defense‭, ‬it is possible that China will have a thousand nuclear bombs by 2030‭, ‬and that North Korea will build up to 60‭ ‬nuclear weapons‭.‬

The war also made clear that Europe’s heavy dependence on oil and natural gas supplies coming from Russia constitutes a major weakness in its security system‭, ‬which may push it to search for alternative energy sources‭, ‬including reconsidering plans to increase the use of peaceful nuclear energy‭. ‬

This could lead to an expansion in the field of peaceful nuclear energy uses globally‭, ‬and the possibility of increasing the chances of other international and regional parties entering the circle of nuclear weapons capability‭.‬

This isn’t limited to nuclear weapons‭. ‬One of the important results of the Russian-Ukrainian war so far is the push towards increasing the levels of military spending and the levels of conventional armaments at the global level in general‭, ‬and within Europe in particular‭, ‬as will be explained later‭.‬

3‭- Refocus on military alliances‭: ‬The Russian-Ukrainian war underlined the importance of the traditional military alliances of large and small countries alike‭, ‬and restored the momentum to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization‭ (‬NATO‭), ‬after many years of the alliance facing doubts about‭ ‬the feasibility of its continuity‭, ‬after the disappearance of the enemy‭ (‬the Former Soviet Union‭) ‬that it was founded to confront‭.‬

Germany was among the countries that called for the dissolution and dismantling of the alliance‭, ‬while French President Emmanuel‭ ‬Macron stated in 2019‭ ‬that the alliance had entered a‭ ‬“brain death state”‭, ‬despite the success of the United States in creating new strategic concepts for the alliance‭, ‬through which he was able to work on new areas and issues such as terrorism and regional crises outside Europe‭, ‬such as Libya‭, ‬Iraq‭, ‬and others‭.‬

Although NATO did not intervene directly in the Russian-Ukrainian war‭, ‬its role was decisive in preventing the expansion of the‭ ‬war into the borders of the member states of the alliance‭, ‬especially the eastern ones‭, ‬as well as in supporting Ukraine’s military steadfastness through the direct military support provided by the countries of the alliance to Ukraine‭, ‬which prevented Russia from achieving a quick military victory‭, ‬as originally planned‭.‬

Hence‭, ‬there was a wide agreement among researchers and observers that the war re-established the alliance’s momentum and reaffirmed its importance for its member states and their peoples‭.‬

One of the direct results of the Russian-Ukrainian war was that Finland and Sweden‭, ‬the two historically non-members of NATO‭, ‬retracted for the first time their refusal to join the alliance‭, ‬after the growing conviction that the Russian war against Ukraine‭ ‬would not have taken place if Ukraine was a member of NATO‭. ‬

Despite the Russian threats to the two countries‭ (‬Finland and Ukraine‭), ‬the possibility of the two countries joining the alliance became great‭, ‬which means that the war contributed to strengthening the alliance and its expansion‭, ‬contrary to what Moscow aimed for‭.‬

Some analysts pointed to the scenario of the possible formation of a Chinese-Russian bloc in the face of the West and NATO‭, ‬especially after the Xi Jinping-Putin summit on February 4‭, ‬2022‭, ‬on the sidelines of the opening of the Winter Olympics‭ (‬in Beijing‭), ‬resulted in an important statement that talked about a strategic partnership without borders between the two sides‭.‬

However‭, ‬the current Ukrainian crisis reveals that this scenario isn’t unlikely‭, ‬as well as the limits of China’s willingness to‭ ‬unite with Russia in the face of NATO and the United States‭.‬

Strong Russian-Chinese cooperation does not necessarily mean that China is ready to classify itself as part of a Sino-Russian camp against the West and NATO‭, ‬which has been confirmed by Beijing‭.‬

Service members of pro-Russian troops ride on armoured vehicles in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict on a road leading to the city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 15, 2022. REUTERS/Chingis Kondarov NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

4‭- Confirming the trend toward employing foreign fighters in wars and trying to legitimize it‭:‬‭ ‬The Russian-Ukrainian war confirmed the growing trends regarding the involvement of foreign fighters and mercenaries in the war‭ ‬to reduce direct losses in the ranks of the regular forces and resolve urban battles‭.‬

Days after the Russian attack on Ukraine‭, ‬Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced the formation of the‭ ‬“International Legion”‭ ‬to recruit foreign fighters to help defend Ukraine‭, ‬for his part‭, ‬On March 11‭, ‬2022‭, ‬Russian President Vladimir Putin announced‭ ‬that those willing to fight would be allowed to go to Ukraine‭. ‬

Although the use of foreign fighters in armed conflicts is not a new thing‭, ‬the Russian-Ukrainian war has added more dangerous dimensions to this phenomenon from several angles‭, ‬the first of which is the legalization of this phenomenon with the tendency of‭ ‬European countries to enact legislation allowing the participation of these fighters‭, ‬organizing their work and denying that they are‭ “‬mercenaries‭”, ‬which may increase this trend in future military conflicts‭. ‬

The second is the great diversity in the nature of the foreign elements participating in this war‭, ‬which includes formations of‭ ‬right-wing extremists‭, ‬elements of private security companies and elements of extremist organizations such as ISIS‭, ‬Al-Qaeda‭, ‬and others‭, ‬and even regular fighters in some countries who may join the war under the slogan‭ ‬“volunteer fighters”‭, ‬which threatens to prolong the military conflict‭, ‬possibly turning Ukraine into another Afghanistan within Europe‭, ‬and increasing the risk of growing right-wing and religious extremism in the future‭.‬

The third is the huge number of these elements‭, ‬as the Ukrainian Foreign Minister‭, ‬Dmytro Kuleba‭, ‬announced on March 6‭, ‬2022‭, ‬that the number of foreign volunteers fighting alongside his country‭, ‬has reached 20,000‭ ‬fighters‭, ‬which threatens to transform the nature of the war from being a conventional military war to a hybrid war that mixes traditional warfare with guerrilla-style wars‭.‬

B‭. ‬The new military checks and balances

The Ukrainian war is widely viewed as a turning point that will have direct effects on the future of the entire international system‭, ‬and the future military balance of power‭.‬

The direction of this effect will depend on the nature of the course of the war‭, ‬which ranges from Russia’s success in asserting its control over Ukraine‭, ‬or entering into a long war of attrition with the Ukrainians and the Western powers that support them‭, ‬similar to the Soviet failure in Afghanistan‭, ‬or achieving some partial goals and reaching a mutually acceptable settlement‭.‬

Regardless of the nature of the scenario or the path that the war will take‭, ‬it will greatly change the nature of the military balances that existed before the war‭, ‬as follows‭:‬

1‭- The war strengthened the countries of the Western alliance’s‭ (‬especially the European countries‭)‬‭ ‬conviction of the importance of strengthening their military capabilities‭, ‬both individually and collectively‭, ‬in the face of the Russian threats‭, ‬and prompted many of these countries to approve significant increases in the volume of their military spending‭.‬

The German position seemed remarkable in this context‭, ‬as the largest European country abandoned its conservative military approach‭, ‬and decided to take great steps towards restructuring the German army and providing it with the latest armament systems‭, ‬including adding 100‭ ‬billion euros to the balance of the defense budget and pledging to allocate more than 2%‭ ‬of the army’s GDP‭, ‬a demand that the United States has been insisting on for years‭.‬

Germany also announced its intention to buy 35‭ ‬American F-35‭ ‬fighters and 15‭ ‬Eurofighters‭, ‬as part of its efforts to modernize its armed forces‭.‬

This approach was not limited to Germany‭, ‬as Sweden announced its intention to boost its defense expenditures and Denmark confirmed its commitment to allocate 2%‭ ‬of its national income to its military budget‭, ‬while Romania and Latvia announced an increase‭ ‬in their defense spending to 2.5%‭ ‬of GDP‭, ‬and Poland announced an increase in its defense spending to 3%‭.‬

For its part‭, ‬Canada decided to increase its military spending by 8‭ ‬billion Canadian dollars over five years starting from 2023‭.‬

All of these developments will contribute to a shift in the traditional military balance in the European theater to a large extent against Russia‭.‬

2‭- The war boosted the strength and importance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization‭, ‬as previously explained‭, ‬and prompted some European countries that were neutral to think about joining the alliance‭, ‬and it also led to the decline of internal divisions among the member states of the alliance‭. ‬All of this would reinforce the shift in the balance of military power against Russia‭, ‬especially as the increase in military spending by Western countries will necessarily be reflected in their contribution to the military strength of the Alliance‭. ‬

With the countries of the alliance aiming to strengthen their military capabilities and the alliance’s military presence in the‭ ‬eastern regions‭, ‬Russia will find itself forced to enter into a new and major arms race at the level of both conventional and nuclear weapons‭, ‬which may drain Russia economically‭, ‬especially if Western sanctions continued or increased‭, ‬and all of this would reshape the map of global power balances in the future‭.‬

3‭- The war showed the limited ability of the Russian conventional forces‭ ‬to achieve a military field victory inside Ukraine‭, ‬despite their advanced weapon systems‭, ‬which is due in large part to the great military support provided by the United States and Western countries to Ukraine‭, ‬with qualitative and strategic weapons as well as volunteer military elements which contributed to strengthening the capabilities of the Ukrainian defense and its ability‭ ‬to inflict significant losses on the Russian army‭.‬

Thus if the war lasted for a long time‭, ‬that would lead to further depletion of the Russian military and economic capabilities‭, ‬in a way that would be reflected in the balance of the existing military forces to the detriment of Russia‭.‬

4‭- The war showed that the military support that Russia can obtain from its potential allies‭, ‬such as China and some countries that‭ ‬were orbiting in the Soviet orbit‭, ‬in the face of Western countries and NATO‭, ‬is very limited‭, ‬which reinforces the prospects indicating that the balance of military forces will lean more towards The West‭, ‬which united in‭ ‬the face of the Russian war‭.‬

In general‭, ‬there is a wide trend among strategic thinkers that the war launched by Russia against Ukraine was a strategic mistake‭, ‬and that it will trigger a reshaping of the balance of international military forces to the detriment of Russia‭, ‬both in terms of its role in reinforcing the cohesion of the forces of the Western axis and its institutions‭ (‬European Union and NATO‭).‬

On the other hand‭, ‬it will increase the tendency of the countries of this axis to enhance their military capabilities‭, ‬both conventional and nuclear‭, ‬and the tendency of NATO to intensify its military presence in the eastern borders adjacent to Russia‭, ‬or‭ ‬even through an attempt to drain Russia’s military and economic capabilities by prolonging the war and tightening the sanctions‭ ‬imposed on it‭. ‬Although this conclusion may be true to a large extent‭, ‬the path of the war is what will largely determine its impact on the future of military balances in Europe and the world‭. ‬

‮«‬‭ ‬By‭: ‬Dr‭. ‬Fattouh Haykal
Research Director‭ – ‬TRENDS Research and Advisory

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