Russia invades Ukraine: what next?
Global condemnation of Russia’s Ukraine invasion
In his statement on the Russian “special military operation” in Ukraine the UN Secretary-General stated:
The Charter is clear: “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
The use of force by one country against another is the repudiation of the principles that every country has committed to uphold.
He went on to describe the Russian military offensive as ‘wrong, against the Charter, unacceptable but not irreversible’. He concluded:
Stop the military operation. Bring the troops back to Russia.
For the full statement by the UN Secretary-General, click on the arrow below.
The UN Secretary-General’s condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine was echoed by many countries around the world and their peoples, including protests against the military action inside Russia itself.
The World Future Council issued a statement on 24 February 2022 entitled World Future Council condemns acts of aggression and calls for restoration of peace and international law which states in part:
Regardless of any grievances and unresolved conflicts that Russia may have with Ukraine and the United States/NATO, the threat or use of force to resolve such conflicts is prohibited under Article 2 of the UN Charter.
President Putin, in ordering military attacks against Ukraine, has committed a Crime Against Peace for which he is personally accountable as Head of State.
The statement calls on the international community to use all non-military means possible to end this aggression, including those outlined in Articles 33-41 of the UN Charter relating to mediation, negotiation and the use of sanctions.
It ends with a strong assertion of solidarity with “the people of Ukraine, Russia, Europe and the world who do not want war….”
In the view of the Rideau Institute:
We unequivocally endorse this statement.
Western countries begin to impose wide-ranging economic sanctions on Russia
As President Biden and NATO member states had repeatedly threatened over the past weeks of the Ukraine crisis, with the onset of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, Western countries, Australia and Japan began to announce wide-ranging sanctions, in addition to those already levied after Russia’s unilateral annexation of Crimea:
The United States, the European Union, Britain, Australia, Canada and Japan announced plans to target banks and wealthy individuals while Germany halted a major gas pipeline project from Russia in one of the worst security crises in Europe in decades.
In levying new Canadian economic sanctions against Russia on 22 February, the Prime Minister of Canada stated, in part:
The sanctions and the additional military support we are announcing today is the first step Canada will take to stop Russia’s unwarranted aggression.
Those measures were followed by a second tranche of sanctions against Russia — announced on 24 February — including financial penalties against 58 individuals and entities and the halting of virtually all export permits for Russia-bound products. A third set of measures targets President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov personally.
The trouble with sanctions….
In addition to the unintended economic harm to ordinary citizens of the targeted country, there is a real question about the effectiveness of economic sanctions. Aljazeera senior political analyst Marwan Bishara observes:
If history is any guide, major powers like Russia are not dissuaded by sanctions, no matter how severe, when it comes to pursuing their core national security interests.
By way of comparison, Iran, a far less significant power than Russia, has shown that punitive measures by the West may hurt a lot, but can change very little, except when used as leverage in negotiations.
More on sanctions as leverage later.
For a more detailed examination of the potentially limited impact of financial sanctions on Russia, at least in the near term, see Why Putin didn’t flinch in the face of an onslaught of financial sanctions (Christiaan Hetzner, fortune.com, 24 February 2022).
In the view of Mark Haefele, chief investment officer of global wealth management at UBS:
President Putin’s decision to escalate the military confrontation into a war suggests a willingness to accept near-term economic pain in favor of securing long-term geopolitical goals.
And then there is the potentially significant cost to the economies of those imposing the sanctions. See these opening words of a New York Times article in the lead up to the invasion:
The boldest measures that President Biden is threatening to deter an invasion of Ukraine could roil the entire Russian economy — but also those of other nations.
This is a huge change for German foreign policy with massive implications for energy security…
For a deeper discussion on the Nord Stream 2 gas project see Pipeline politics and the Ukraine Crisis: Why Nord Stream 2 is a key part of the impasse (John Foster, canadiandimension.com, 6 February 2022) by clicking here.
Russia vetoes UN Security Council resolution condemning invasion
At approximately 6 pm EST on 25 February 2022, Russia vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine and demanding that Moscow immediately withdraw its forces. The resolution extensively references the Minsk agreements and calls on all parties, including in the Normandy Format and the Trilateral Contact Group, to work toward their full implementation.
Eleven members, comprising a majority of the Council, voted in favour, with China, the United Arab Emirates and India abstaining and Russia using its veto to block the resolution’s passage. This vote mirrors the result for a US-drafted resolution after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014.
Russia cannot veto the UN Charter – US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield
Despite the veto, the majority support for the resolution is seen as a “moral victory”, demonstrating Russia’s international isolation.
It is now expected that the 193-member UN General Assembly will take up the resolution, which will almost certainly pass, given the absence of any veto power in that body.
China and its abstention
China occupies a “pivotal role” in the crisis, as both an ally to Russia and the world’s leading exporter of consumer goods — deeply dependent on globalization to fuel its economy.
Much attention therefore has been focused on what stance China would take in the vote itself, in light of repeated calls by China’s UN Ambassador, prior to the invasion, for a “peaceful solution” to the crisis and the need to adhere fully to the UN Charter and international law:
China’s position on safeguarding the sovereignty and integrity of all spaces have been consistent. The purposes and principles of the UN charter should be jointly upheld.
Carleton political science professor Jeremy Paltiel spoke to CBC reporter Jason Proctor prior to the vote:
China has staked its reputation and position on the United Nations Security Council to the UN principle of territorial integrity, which prohibits states from using force to impose their will over the independence of another state.
On the other hand, prior to the vote, China had refused to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine, citing the complex historical context and “interplay of various factors” and condemning the USA and allies for inflaming tensions and pushing Russia “into a corner”.
On the impact of sanctions on the China-Russia relationship, an AP report notes:
Western trade and financial sanctions on Russia would strengthen Beijing in their relationship by increasing China’s importance as an export market and source of investment [for Russia].
The report went on to say that China’s customs agency has just approved imports of wheat from all regions of Russia, giving Putin an alternative to Western markets that might be closed under possible sanctions. And last month, state-owned Gazprom signed a 30-year contract to supply natural gas to China’s northeast from the Russian Far East.
These trade deals with China are the positive results of Russian efforts since 2014 to expand gas exports and other trade with China and East Asian markets to offset the impact of Crimea-related sanctions.
For more on the complicated relationship between Russia and China, see Invasion of Ukraine puts Chinese relationship under pressure (Jason Proctor, cbc.ca, 25 February 2022).
As for the reaction of the Chinese people to the invasion, University of B.C. political science professor Yves Tiberghien tells Jason Proctor:
many mainstream voices and middle-class Chinese are shocked by the reality of war in Ukraine and are writing that war is a crime…
Ukraine and Taiwan are very different situations
For a very informative discussion of key factors influencing both Chinese and American calculations on the use of force in relation to Taiwan, see Don’t Use the Ukraine Crisis to Inflate the China Threat (Michael D. Swaine & J. Stapleton Roy, nationalinterest.org, 23 February 2022). Swaine and Roy write:
The Ukraine and Taiwan situations are in most respects apples and oranges, involving different interests, obligations, and stakes for the United States.
The only lesson that the Ukraine situation poses for the United States regarding Taiwan is that brushing aside firmly stated redlines by powerful countries worsens the available options.
Israel pressured by West to condemn Russian invasion
Note also that Israel, not a member of the UN Security Council, at first refused to condemn Russia and then did so under pressure from the USA and after “significant criticism” in the West. See Israel reluctantly condemns Russia over Ukraine (Ben Caspit, al-monitor.com, 25 February 2022).
For more on the important Middle East dimension, including the impact on the Iran nuclear deal, where Russia is participating and there is an expectation of a successful restoration of the agreement possibly within days, see Russian invasion of Ukraine scrambles Middle East diplomacy (Week in Review, al-monitor.com, 26 February 2022).
How did we get here?
Beleaguered Ukrainian President Zelensky’s offer to negotiate with Russia has apparently been accepted. Before examining this in more detail, we need to briefly revisit how we got here.
In our last several blog posts, in an effort to encourage Canada to provide long overdue political and practical support to President Zelensky, to help overcome opposition from many quarters in Western Ukraine to the implementation of the Minsk agreements, we have tried to elaborate key factors underpinning the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
In the view of the Rideau Institute:
Reducing this horrific conflict to Putin’s undoubted fear and disdain of democracy, while ignoring the refusal of the USA, Canada and most of the rest of NATO to ever seriously entertain the notion of a negotiated neutrality for Ukraine, will do nothing to clarify how we got here and how we might avoid such a terrible outcome in future and even, at this late hour, how we might help Ukraine avoid the country’s de facto destruction.
The work of understanding Russian and Ukrainian motivations, underpinning the conflict between them, is therefore as important as ever. (And we emphasize, if needed, that explaining actions is not justifying them. There is not, and cannot be, any justification for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.)
To this end, we highly recommend the following:
- Why Vladimir Putin won’t back down in Ukraine (the conversation.com, Alexander Hill, 24 February 2022)
- Biden’s Escalation With Russia Over Ukraine is a Terrible Idea: An Interview with Richard Sakwa (jacobinmag.com, 26 January 2022)
The Hill article concludes:
For Putin, the only solution in the face of a lack of progress on the Minsk Protocols and western unwillingness to take Russian demands seriously has been to recognize the breakaway republics and move from covert to overt military action.
For an in-depth academic look at the complex history of Ukrainian-Russian relations, examined in relation to the failure to integrate Russia into European and Euro-Atlantic structures, see Ukraine and Russia: People, Politics, Propaganda and Perspectives, edited by Richard Sakwa and available in PDF format here. We quote one section of the conclusion:
Above all, it is now clear that no effective system of European security and political order was established in the post-Cold War era. It is not helpful to look for people to blame for this lamentable state of affairs, but instead we should look to the structural causes….
These lie in the asymmetrical end of the Cold War and the failure to create an inclusive and equitable system of European security, and this in turn arose from the inability to accept Russia as it is – a great power with legitimate interests in Europe and Eurasia, although accompanied by some profound governance problems.
Finally, for the clearest possible articulation of U.S. and allied culpability in the Ukraine crisis, see this video presentation by renowned Prof John Mearsheimer, to a King’s College, Cambridge audience on 15 Feb 2022; that is, 9 days prior to the Russian invasion, available here.
Was Russian diplomacy prior to invasion all a pretense?
The short answer is we do not know. What we do know is that, at some point prior to the invasion, Russia decided it was not going to get enough out of the negotiations and chose aggression instead.
RI President Peggy Mason comments:
If Russia wanted to discredit its legitimate security concerns in the eyes of the Western world, and beyond, then using high level diplomacy as a cover for military action it had already decided to take is surely the way to do it.
One further question must be asked of the NATO members, including Canada, who failed to take the Minsk agreements seriously:
If the USA and NATO were never going to fight with Ukraine against Russia, then what was the alternative to a substantive negotiation with Ukraine over its neutrality?
Russia and Ukraine discuss negotiations
As NATO countries refuse to engage militarily in the Ukraine conflict (for good reason), with little likelihood of sanctions producing an early result impacting the conflict, and as missiles rain down on Ukrainian air bases and military infrastructure in at least 25 cities, the Moscow Times reported that President Zelenksy has offered negotiations with Russia to discuss Ukraine’s “neutrality”.
In response, on Friday, 25 February Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov is reported to have stated:
Vladimir Putin is ready to send a Russian delegation to Minsk in response to Zelenskiy’s proposal.
According to the Moscow Times report, China’s foreign ministry is also confirming that President Putin told Chinese leader Xi Jinping that:
Russia is ready for high-level talks with Ukraine.
In a searingly blunt indication of just how much has changed since the Minsk agreements were in play, the Kremlin has made it clear that any new deal must include “demilitarization” and “de-Nazification”.
The Kremlin has further stated they do not want to “occupy” Ukraine but, in a truly Orwellian turn of phrase, want to “restore democratic order”.
Note that Ukrainian media too is now reporting that both sides are “discussing the place and time of the negotiations”, while indicating it was Russia that made the first move. Canadian media began reporting on this development (along with disturbing news of Russian nuclear sabre rattling) on Sunday, 26 February.
What is Putin’s endgame?
Most experts tend to agree that Putin’s endgame is not entirely clear.
For a snapshot of the views of over 20 experts from across the political spectrum, see What does Putin really want? (politico.com, 25 February 2022). Their prognostications include:
- a revanchist imperialist remaking of the globe to take control of the entire former Soviet space;
- the destruction of Ukraine’s military infrastructure and the replacement of its government with a puppet regime;
- Ukraine’s surrender on various terms; and
- Installing a friendly regime that is demilitarized and neutral and then turning to bargaining with NATO over new security arrangements that would be more friendly to Moscow.
Several of the experts drew attention to the difficulty that Russia will have “coping with the aftermath”, of a largely unfriendly client state with “lasting, simmering resistance.”
Other than the reference by Crisis Group expert Olga Oliker to “Ukraine’s surrender on various terms”, none of the experts actually forecast what now seems about to transpire, negotiations between Ukraine and Russia on its “neutrality,” entirely on Russian terms.
Will President Zelensky be left to negotiate alone?
The Rideau Institute asks:
With the leverage arising from the significant sanctions now in place, and the even harsher measures under debate, together with the near certainty that any regime installed by Russia in Ukraine would also be subject to its own crippling sanctions, is it conceivable that NATO and/or the USA will seek involvement in these negotiations?
Or is President Zelensky to be left on his own because the American President and other Western leaders fear a near-certain cacophony of accusations they are appeasing Russian aggression?
Alternatively, is it time for the UN to stop being brushed aside, and the Secretary-General encouraged to appoint a Special Envoy, ideally acceptable to all sides, and well-versed in the issues, to seek to lay the groundwork for a negotiated ceasefire agreement?
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (UN Security Council)