Authors: Raihan Ronodipuro & Hafizha Dwi Ulfa*
The United States’ new tripartite defense alliance with the United Kingdom and Australia, as well as the nuclear-powered submarine cooperation that will follow it, will only add to the region’s instability.
Since its announcement in mid-September, several countries have joined China in expressing reservations over the so-called AUKUS security alliance. Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s foreign ministers joined others voicing alarm over Australia’s ambition to construct nuclear-powered submarines within the AUKUS framework, as well as the risks of the region’s rising geopolitical competitiveness, on Monday.
Indeed, with the United States reviving old and new alliances in the Asia-Pacific and militarizing the area in an attempt to contain and isolate China, the region risks becoming a powder keg waiting to be ignited. For decades, Southeast Asian nations have had strong and mutually beneficial relationships with China, and the COVID-19 outbreak has further enhanced this relationship. Last year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations overtook the United States as China’s top trading partner.
In such a situation, ASEAN member nations should be mindful of AUKUS bringing fake presents, although Australia said will continue its commitment to ASEAN Centrality and ASEAN-led mechanism. Given the US’s recent behavior, ASEAN members should expect overtures from AUKUS at the national level aimed at fracturing the bloc’s cohesiveness, since ASEAN has been hesitant to stand with the US in its geopolitical battle with China. How ASEAN official should respond to AUKUS is likely to be discussed at the bloc’s summit meeting later this month.
It would be helpful to the area and beyond if ASEAN could establish a common-will firewall to protect regional peace and stability, preventing AUKUS from worming its way into any chinks in the bloc’s unanimity and tearing it apart.
AUKUS has indeed become very dilemmatic for ASEAN, especially with the existence of ASEAN norms and principles, ASEAN needs to be careful to rethink this while maintaining the ASEAN Way. Those are being the reasons why ASEAN’s silence behind the AUKUS agreement. AUKUS is a new challenge for ASEAN Centrality, even now, observers are still waiting for ASEAN’s response. How ASEAN views AUKUS will determine not only the future of the Southeast Asia region, but also the future of the Indo-Pacific region.
On the other hand, a significant incident in the region involving a US submarine should enlighten those who are still perplexed about the negative impact AUKUS may have on regional security. The USS Connecticut, a nuclear-powered submarine, collided with an undersea object in the South China Sea on October 2.
So far, the US has declined to offer any further information regarding the incident, much alone explain what the submarine was doing in the area or whether the mishap resulted in a radioactive leak that harmed the local marine ecology.
As a result of this reckless approach, ASEAN should reconsider the appropriateness of having more nuclear-powered submarines in the region in the future, and extrapolate the risks posed by the US’ tactics in its “race” with China.
We are faced with two sides in seeing changes in the dynamic realities construction in the Indo-Pacific region due to the AUKUS agreement. First, ASEAN needs to rethink its norms and principles facing the anarchy systems. Second, we need to acknowledge the balance of power that neorealism glorifies has failed again in explaining how the balance of power is able to maintain international security and peace. So, if several countries respond to the AUKUS defense alliance as an old way of the cold war, then ASEAN’s role in maintaining centrality, as well as ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific is very important and needs to be recognized.
The ASEAN-centered regional cooperation architecture has shown to be successful in supporting regional peace and prosperity through their Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). Especially for this case, ASEAN member countries must consider their commitments to Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ) and Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality (ZOPFAN). It is something that all ASEAN members should value and uphold. Not to mention the fact that it is in their best interests. However, challenges may come from domestic problems, ASEAN member countries must be able to harmonize state interests and common interests.
*Hafizha Dwi Ulfa is a Research Assistant of the Indonesian International Relations Study Center with focus analysis in ASEAN, East Asia, and Indo-Pacific studies.
Will India go Nuclear in the Future? – A regional overview
South Asia has not seen stability in long while. Ever since the colonial takeover by the British, it has been run rampant with conflict, be it religious, ethnic, territorial, or nuclear. The region compromises of a total of 8 countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, and Maldives; some scholars include Iran and Myanmar to the mix as well, but it is not a popular opinion. The region has a volatile history, the main reason being that it is home to two nuclear powers, India, and Pakistan, that have been locked in battle since the day of their conception. South Asia also acts as a neighbor to two major powers of the world, Russia, and China, both of which have played a direct role in disrupting regional peace with their own turbulent relations with the American superpower. The regional hegemon in S.A is India, however, with its hostile rhetoric and refusal to partake in table talks on pressing issues such as Kashmir, Aksai Chin, and Arunchal Pradesh, it seems to be backing itself into an isolationist stance.
‘Is it easy to go nuclear?’ a question that has haunted heads of states, policy makers, and scholars alike for several decades. What is to be the tipping point of a state that may lead it to take on the worst and most aggressive step there is?
India is currently seen as the regional superpower, but it seems to be losing its grasp on the reins as the power dynamics of Asia itself are changing. Slowly but surely the shift from military and hard power to economy and soft power is acting as a parallel to the shift of an Indian-Centric Asia to a Chinese-Centric one. It is a worrisome movement for those who see it as an impending trigger for India that may lead the nation to take a harsh, impulsive, and nuclear step with unending consequences for the entire region.
The upcoming alliances of the region which are going to define the power dynamics are already free of major Indian involvement. Two major examples of such are the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Golden Ring of Security.
BRI is the major reason why the upcoming century is called The Chinese Era or The Asian Century. Its reach is global, and its application is not just a utopian daydream. It impacts two-thirds of the world population with its far-reaching model and brings massive profits back to east and Southeast Asia. Within the first five years, BRI has brought around half a trillion dollars to the Southeast Asian States such as Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam (Freeman and Freeman 2019).
The G7 countries came up with the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative to counter Chinese influence and build back the Western impact which China’s activities has been reducing. India, unsurprisingly, supports this stance wholeheartedly and was even invited as a guest to the 47th G7 summit by Great Britain. However, while the B3W looks to provide economic relief to low- and middle-income states that are struggling due to the pandemic, the Chinese initiative looks to form a sustainable economic integration program that gives states the ability to stand back on their own feet without handouts or veritable charity with strings attached. The Indian support for B3W is born from fear of China conquering all three avenues of territorial power, Heartland (John Mackinder), Rimland (Spykman), and Sea Power (Mahan).
The Golden Ring of Security comes with its own set of concerns for the declining regional hegemon. Its signatories are to include Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. The aim of this alliance is to stabilize the turbulence in Afghanistan and by relation, in the region. This agreement poses a hidden threat to India as it goes to show not only regional cohesion without involvement of India but also gives Pakistan another platform on which it can strengthen ties with great powers of the current political climate.
De Gaulle said that ‘Nuclear Weapons often make alliances obsolete.’ In this scenario we analyze the importance of nuclear weapons to a state that is being backed into an isolationist stance while its two major rivals aka Pakistan and China, are not only at the same level of nuclear capability but also have the upper hand of numerous alliances which confirm global backing to a certain extent.
No matter how strong or valid the incentives may be, using nuclear weapons comes with its own host of consequences that you are only exempt to if you are a superpower.
India’s geostrategic location and the fact that it is an immediate neighbor to the two states that are most likely to be a target of its nuclear warheads, significantly reduce the chances of a nuclear attack. There is not only the risk of inflicting damage onto self, but also towards the people of the region. An attack on either one of these neighbors would result in a military response from both. Thus, any damage that India plans on inflicting would be reciprocated onto its own people. This damage would include people and state centric destruction. For people centric, the ‘air-blast effects’ alone would carry out enough damage as a conventional weapon would, the thermal radiation would start fires, and the fallout (soil mixed with fission material) would spread over the land rendering it useless for years to come.
Second is the concept of deterrence and nuclear strike policies of both Pakistan and China. Pakistan has time and again refused to occupy the standing of ‘No First Use’ and has maintained ambiguity, meaning that it is already in the arena ready with mass retaliation if India hints at aggression. Pakistan’s major stance is deterrence and if that fails then Indian annihilation.
China on the other hand has always had a ‘No First Use’ Policy declaring its stance to be defensive. It looks to deter attacks in the first place, which is in fact working in regard to India due to the scars of conventional wars India has lost against China in 1962.
Then comes the fact that China is an impending superpower that is allied with Pakistan and will fully support it against India, not solely due to ‘friendly relations’ but also because of Chinese interests in the downfall or splintering of India which has now replaced Pakistan as the American conduit and puppet in South Asia.
It has already been discussed above that India is backed into isolation, meaning it needs all the global acceptance and support it can garner, especially if it is determined to solidify its stance against China and BRI. However, if it undertakes a nuclear copout, the global backlash, sanctions, and general discontent against it would be enough to bury any hopes of Indian relevance in regional, much less global matters. It is unlikely that India would take this harsh step and endanger its standing in the international system.
 Christoph Nedopil Wang. 2021. “Countries of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – Green Finance & Development Center.”
 (“Prime Minister’s Participation in 47th G7 Summit” 2013)
 Effects of Nuclear Earth-Penetrator and Other Weapons 2005, Chap 6 Human and Environmental Effects
 Sadia Tasleem. 2016. “Pakistan’s Nuclear Use Doctrine.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
U.S Vs China view on the Iranian nuclear proliferation risks
The Chinese view and philosophy on Iranian nuclear proliferation can be understood through (the Chinese emphasis on the current global security situation and its passing through complex and profound changes, and the challenges of curbing and exacerbating proliferation and nuclear security are exacerbating, while the threat of nuclear terrorism cannot be ignored), which it overlooked and ignored the Western powers and American policies themselves, contrary to the Chinese vision.
The Chinese understanding regarding confronting the US pressure on Iran over its nuclear program is characterized by the mechanism of Iran’s regional positioning in the Middle East and making it a major regional power, especially after the “strategic partnership agreement with Iran for 25 years in March 2021”, with China intensifying its partnership efforts with other powers to mobilize them and recruit them to the Chinese side to exert collective pressures on the United States of America regarding forcing it to accept the Iranian conditions on negotiating the nuclear proliferation file, and the importance of Washington making concessions in favor of Tehran, especially related to lifting and easing US sanctions imposed on Iran.
And what can be emphasized here, that it seems important here, in light of the growing competition between the United States and China, that (the countries of the region pay attention to bridging the gaps, liquidating regional conflicts, rebuilding strategic alliances and security initiatives), which makes the region a difficult figure in the face of (all Attempts to employ it in the context of the conflict between the major powers). The countries of the region should also deepen their relations with the countries and partners of the middle and influential powers in the international system, especially those countries that have permanent membership in the UN Security Council, as well as the European Union, so that there are (alternatives and front lines of defense on the part of these powers to defend their interests in the region And to impose a balanced equation that prevents exposure to the effects of any new cold war that may affect the region, due to the policies of US-Chinese competition).
In my personal opinion, that (the Iranians may have another opportunity to negotiate about it by turning back the movement of history), and what I mean here is (Iran’s presentation during the rule of former President “Mohammed Khatami” and after the United States invaded Iraq after 2003, a generous offer to the West from During what is known, as (Swiss diplomacy), where that show was known at the time, as the “Grand Bargain Deal”).
By that (Swiss diplomacy) means the (Iranian pledge to be fully transparent about its nuclear file, and to prove stopping its support for Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon, in return for full security guarantees from the United States of America, and full normalization of relations with it), and I believe that Iran according to that Swiss diplomacy will win the ranks of the international community, including (Israel and the Arab Gulf states as Iran’s staunch enemies in the Middle East).
China also wants, with the Iranian side, to stick to the 2015 negotiations, known as the “5+1” Group”, which includes: (USA, France, Britain, Russia, China, in addition to Germany with Iran). But, the US withdrawal came unilaterally during Trump’s term in 2018, which formed a series of tensions about the reasons for this American withdrawal in the media and diplomacy, and China’s constant question about (the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in confronting Washington and its unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear agreement that the USA has signed with Iran in 2015).
I can also stop here on a serious issue that is rarely touched upon, regarding (the role of the Western, American and even the Israeli media itself towards Iran and mobilizing the whole world against it, by accusing Iran that it is months away from manufacturing the first nuclear weapon, which represents real pressure on the work of the Agency). In my personal opinion, Iran still needs long-term years to complete its nuclear project, especially in light of the severe economic crisis that the Islamic Republic of Iran is suffering from, which lacks sufficient financial, technical and psychological resources and the final decision to possess this nuclear weapon in its final form.
China is seeking to reach an agreement on a tight and comprehensive framework on the Iranian nuclear program, which guarantees (complete and free international control without US, Israeli or international pressures on uranium enrichment and plutonium residues), which may block any endeavor to manufacture a nuclear weapon, according to the assurances of the American experts themselves in the nuclear technicians file.
Here, China insists on a number of terms and conditions in advance, regarding the new mechanism relating to (the renegotiation of the Iranian nuclear file against the United States of America), which are:
Calling on China to (lift the economic sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States on Iran), as a prerequisite for goodwill towards Iran.
China understands the International Atomic Energy Agency’s long-term restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, but China supports the (continuation of uranium enrichment in small, identifiable proportions, for the purpose of Iran’s peaceful nuclear uses in legitimate work such as electricity generation), and so on.
China’s support for the efforts of (reducing the number of Iranian centrifuges by two-thirds, while keeping the rest and monitoring the nature of its peaceful uses).
China’s monitoring and supervision of the activities (disposal of enriched Iranian uranium under the supervision of the supervisors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, without American pressures), which may be exercised on them to random level of accusations against Iran.
China agrees with the Iranians not to export nuclear fuel in the coming years, and support (the strategy of not building Iranian reactors that may operate with heavy water generating dangerous nuclear uses, and China’s support for the IAEA’s scarcity of not transferring Iranian equipment from one nuclear facility to another in Tehran for a period of approximately 15 years, in order to ensure integrity and transparency).
The Iranian allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to enter all suspected sites, including: the Iranian military sites, but this is done after “consulting with Tehran itself out of respect for its internal affairs and sovereignty”.
The necessity of maintaining (the ban on the import of Iranian weapons for an additional five years, and eight years for ballistic missiles).
China’s requesting from the US and the international community to (release of Iran’s frozen assets, which are estimated at billions of dollars), in order to restore the wheel of development and economic growth for the benefit of the Iranian people themselves.
China is demanding to (lift the ban on Iranian aviation, as well as on the Central Bank and Iranian companies).
China’s call to the International Atomic Energy Agency to cooperate with Iran internationally in (the areas of its superiority in energy and technology to benefit from it on the one hand and to integrate and qualify Iran to win the affection of the international community on the other hand).
Here, we find China’s keenness to (the success of the negotiations of the Iranian nuclear agreement, as a Chinese diplomatic success and victory in the face of Washington), and this was demonstrated through the previous Chinese proposals, which (included a negotiating framework based on mutual concession step by step to make it a success, meaning Iran’s concession in exchange for the concession of the United States of America and IAEA negotiators).
The Chinese long-term vision is represented in proposing and negotiating all endeavors, proposals, and solutions regarding the Iranian nuclear file, in order to (gain a double international political weight for Beijing as a superpower in the face of American and Western policies, and in support of the Chinese position calling for international pluralism and the existence of a multilateral system that is active in it). If this is achieved, Beijing will be the (first and most international beneficiary of the completion of the Iranian nuclear agreement on conditions satisfactory to all), whether on the political or economic level, and without leaving any clear negative repercussions on the Chinese side itself in the future.
During the various stages of the negotiations, China also made unremitting efforts to resolve the differences between Washington and Tehran, especially (encouraging Beijing to adhere to the international joint plan of action, which China proposed as a solution to the problem of the Iranian nuclear file), known as: “JPOA”
The most prominent (proposals for the formulation of the Chinese negotiating framework towards Iran and the international community) to reach a comprehensive solution are the development of Chinese proposals, based on five points, as follows:
- Ensuring commitment to dialogue between the (5+1) group and Iran.
- Seeking a comprehensive, fair, appropriate and long-term solution.
- Follow the principle of solution step by step and alternately.
- Creating a suitable atmosphere for dialogue and negotiation.
- Ensuring a comprehensive approach to address the symptoms and root causes of the crisis.
The “Chinese comprehensive solution strategy towards the Iranian nuclear crisis”, is also based on China’s proposal for a comprehensive solution based on four points, the most prominent of which, represented in:
It is necessary to activate political decisions with Iran, and not just rely solely on technical solutions, given that the (Iranian nuclear file has a political-security character).
All international parties must meet and move with each other in the middle of the road to achieve the necessary flexibility, and this requires (accepting settlements from all international parties, including Iran).
Follow the principle of “step-by-step and reciprocal solution”, which is the common item in all the internationally proposed Chinese proposals.
Thinking outside the box to find a comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, meaning: reaching solutions that may be (new, innovative, technical and technical), as steps in achieving negotiations with Iran.
The most prominent of these innovative, new and unconventional Chinese solutions for the step of resolving the nuclear crisis with Tehran, is (China’s proposal for a solution that includes redesigning the core of the “Arak Heavy Water Facility” reactor, which will distance it from the nuclear problem by reducing its consumption and reducing the efficiency and degree of its work to the maximum extent), and here, we can note that the Iranian Arak nuclear facility is capable of producing plutonium, a dangerous substance that is usually used to make a nuclear bomb, that is, for military uses. The (Iranian Arak reactor) was a serious obstacle to the progress of negotiations with Iran, until China proposed an innovative solution outside the box, it is (the idea of redesigning the Iranian reactor core so that it is unable to produce plutonium for military purposes).
China adheres here, in accordance with the text of the previous nuclear agreement with Tehran in 2015, to establish (a mechanism that guarantees common responsibilities among all, especially the group of negotiating countries (5+1), which are the countries that participated in the negotiations with Iran for the purpose of reaching the nuclear agreement), especially at the invitation of China towards a step of the (international integration of Iran in the fields of peaceful nuclear cooperation, as well as providing technical and technical assistance to Iran for peaceful purposes). Hence, China will have a leading role in achieving the future negotiation plan with Iran.
According to the official Chinese vision, (setting a condition for lifting the sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, in exchange for Iran imposing long-term restrictions on its nuclear program), that the West suspects is aimed at making an Iranian nuclear bomb in the long run, with China constantly launching a major diplomatic offensive to counter all the unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and Europe.
An official Chinese assertion came, through (a major report issued by the “Chinese People’s Daily”, which is the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party of China, which confirmed that “China’s leadership of talks with Iran has sent a message of hope to the world about the success of Chinese diplomatic efforts towards the solution step”. The Chinese newspaper emphasized the result, by emphasizing of “The facts are now showing that dialogue and negotiations were the only correct and effective path to an appropriate solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, and that a particular country’s threat to use force against Iran and impose unilateral sanctions is unacceptable”. The Chinese People’s Daily concluded its directed primarily speech to the international community, by emphasizing that: “China is one of the main advocates of the principle of searching for political solutions regarding Iran, and that Iranian talks, according to Beijing’s vision and philosophy have always demonstrated the importance of this philosophy”.
The confirmation made by the current Chinese Foreign Minister, (Wang Yi) who has assured that: “China and the United States of America bear great responsibilities in protecting the international regime for nuclear non-proliferation, so they should remain in good contact during the negotiations, and trying to instill positive energy towards the negotiation file with Iran”.
China is trying (to prove its ability before the International Atomic Energy Agency and the international community to convince the Iranians of appropriate solutions, through China’s supervision of the formulation of a neutral agreement that satisfies all parties, through China’s continued close coordination with all relevant parties, including the United States of America itself), and the Chinese attempt to supervise on all arrangements and play a constructive role during this process. This is despite the differences between China and the United States of America on everything, starting with (the United States of America signing the AUKUS Defense agreements and the Quad agreement to confront China, electronic security differences between the two parties, the dispute over the value of the Chinese currency, trade differences, and the United States’ ban on dealing with the Chinese company of “Huawei” to introduce the fifth generation of the networks)….etc.
War Between Russia and Ukraine: A Basic Scenario?
Concern is growing in the Western media over Russian military activity in the southwestern theatre. There are opinions that Russia is preparing a military campaign against Ukraine. The supposed goal is to break the deadlock of the Minsk Agreements, to impose further coexistence conditions on Kiev and its Western partners, to prevent the US and NATO from “developing” the territory of Ukraine for military purposes, and also to reformat the country’s political system and its state structure. Such rumours are spreading quickly, causing alarm among the political leaders of foreign countries as well as latent, albeit tangible fears in the business community. However, it is still premature to consider such a development as a baseline scenario.
Several circumstances speak in favour of the military scenario outlined by foreign commentators. The first is the recent experience of the Russian armed forces and the political consequences of their use. Moscow intervened in Georgia’s conflict with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008, quickly changing the situation and recognising the two autonomies as independent states. In 2014, Russia carried out a lightning-fast operation in Crimea, creating conditions for the subsequent referendum on reunification. Later, the Ukrainian army was defeated in Donbass, and the political consequence was the formation of the LPR and DPR. In 2015, Moscow radically changed the military situation in Syria by deploying a compact but highly effective air group. The political result has been the preservation of power in the hands of the Assad government and the defeat of a number of terrorist groups. All these events indicate that Russia is ready to use force suddenly, in a concentrated manner and at the same time to seek concrete political changes.
The second circumstance is that the international political consequences for Russia which resulted from the military campaigns were relatively insufficient. No foreign state has intervened openly in these conflicts. Foreign military aid does not radically alter the balance of power. Economic sanctions in their current form harm the Russian economy, but they are still not the main factor contributing to existing problems. The economy itself is stable. In short, there are no major checks and balances on a new military campaign.
The third circumstance is that Russia is not ready to bear with the existing status quo in relations with Ukraine. Kiev is almost openly talking about sabotaging the Minsk agreements, and is not ready to implement them. The US and the EU cannot or do not want to change this; while at the same time they are verbally calling on Russia to abide by the agreements. Ukraine itself, after 2014, for obvious reasons, has been pursuing an anti-Russian line. The events of 2014 significantly strengthened the position of the nationalists. Any attempt to pursue a political dialogue with Russia is deemed unacceptable. A “mopping-up” of politicians who are in any way loyal to Russia is under way. Militarily weak and fearful of further complications with Moscow, Ukraine is seeking to deepen its defence ties with the United States and its allies, as well as trying to expand military aid and supplies. In Moscow, this is perceived as the “utilisation” of the territory of Ukraine by Western countries and is accompanied with subsequent threats to the strategic interests of Russia. Moscow considers the emergence of Western military infrastructure in Ukraine only a matter of time.
Taking into account these circumstances, a scenario where Russia takes action can be hypothetically considered in the West and in Ukraine in the following vein. With a sudden and decisive blow in several directions at once, Russian troops dismember the armed forces of Ukraine in the East of the country, surround separate groups, or press them against the Dnieper river. The actions of tank and motorised units are accompanied by powerful air, missile and artillery strikes. The Russian Aerospace Forces seize air supremacy. The apotheosis of the operation should be the encirclement and the subsequent capture of Kiev, and the stabilisation of the front line along the Dnieper. The creation of a new Ukrainian state with the capital in Kiev would be announced and recognised by Russia. It would include the previously-independent DPR and LPR. Russia thereby resolves several historical problems at once. The immediate threat to the southwestern borders is removed. Full control over the Sea of Azov and a land corridor to the Republic of Crimea are ensured. Two Ukrainian states appear on the map, one of which should be “friendly and fraternal”.
Even if one fails to write off this scenario as a reflection of existing phobias and nationalist complexes, it still seems unlikely for a number of reasons.
First, such a military conflict is unlikely to culminate in any intelligible agreement. A victory over the armed forces of Ukraine will not by itself lead to a fast peace. The war could develop into a long and sluggish confrontation, especially if part of the territory (for example, Western Ukraine) remains under the control of the Ukrainian armed forces. Capturing the whole of Ukraine is technically possible. However, it will be more costly, and subsequent control would be much more difficult. The option of “two Ukrainian states” would allow Russia to squeeze nationalists out by sending them West. Under a “one Ukraine” scenario, this would be impossible, given all the ensuing consequences.
Second, the conflict would inevitably lead to a sharp change in the Western approach toward providing Ukraine with modern weapons and military equipment. In the United States and in the West as a whole, the new situation would be considered as an emergency and they would not limit funds to support the armed forces of Ukraine. Moreover, in this case, all possible types of conventional weapons will be supplied. Large-scale military aid from the West would prolong the conflict. Russia would not be able to block such supplies. The United States and its allies will not enter open military confrontation with Moscow. However, the level of support for the Ukrainian army will grow significantly.
Third, regarding the Ukrainian issue, Russia would find itself in diplomatic isolation. It is unlikely that any country would voice support for Moscow’s actions. Unlike Crimea and Donbass, we’re talking about a large-scale and open clash between the armed forces, that is, about a full-fledged war. Russia would certainly be on the offensive. This would allow its actions to be classified as aggression without any problems. While the situation in Crimea and Donbass arose against the backdrop of revolutionary events in Ukraine and could be construed as part of a civil conflict, then in this scenario, such conditions are not visible. At the moment, there is no obvious conflict between the East and West of Ukraine. The legitimacy of Moscow’s actions in this case would be extremely weak, if not entirely impossible. In addition, Russia would have to bear responsibility for the civilian casualties, which would be inevitable in a large-scale conflict.
Fourth, all key Western players would introduce qualitatively new sanctions and restrictions against Russia. These would harm a number of Western countries and cause temporary shocks in world markets. But in an emergency situation, the West would take such measures, despite their economic cost. Possible measures include blocking sanctions against all Russian banks, including the Bank of Russia. This would largely cut Russia off from the global financial system. Another possible measure is a ban on the purchase of Russian oil, and then gas. Such bans can be increased gradually in order to avoid crisis situations with fuel supplies in the West itself. But in the event of a war in Ukraine, the West would take these measures. Other, more focused restrictions would be applied to imports and exports of oil and gas. The cumulative damage to the Russian economy would be colossal in scale.
Fifth, controlling Ukraine, even its eastern part, could be problematic. Taking into account the Western sanctions blockade, any transactions with the territories of Ukraine under Russian control would be impossible. Russia would have to take on a huge territory. The big question is whether the Russian market, in the grip of new sanctions, would be able to compensate for the damage to the Ukrainian territories under Russian control. The seizure of territories wouldn’t solve any of the problems facing the Russian economy today.
Sixth, the loyalty of the population of Eastern Ukraine to Russia is not obvious. Despite all the internal disagreements, over the past 30 years Ukraine has developed its own civic identity. The population of the eastern regions may have a negative attitude towards excessive nationalism. However, this does not guarantee their loyalty to Russia. Moreover, the war could finally undermine sympathy for Russia, which has already dwindled over the past six years.
Finally, seventh, the war is fraught with destabilisation of the situation inside Russia itself. There is no demand in society for a war with a neighbour, even despite the odiousness of the anti-Russia discourse in Ukraine. It is quite possible that Russian troops would be able to inflict resounding defeats on the armed forces of Ukraine and push them to the West. The losses, however, would still amount to hundreds, and possibly thousands of fighters. In the event of a possible prolongation of the conflict, human losses would become a permanent factor. Combined with a possible economic crisis, these are not the best conditions for generating public support. While reunification with Crimea was accepted with enthusiasm in Russian society for many reasons, a big war is unlikely to find such support.
In other words, the costs of a possible war far outweigh the benefits. The war is fraught with significant risks to the economy, political stability and Russian foreign policy. It fails to solve key security problems, while it creates many new ones.
The question arises—to whom and under what conditions is this scenario beneficial? First of all, it is attractive precisely as a hypothetical rather than a real situation. In this form, it makes it possible to consolidate Ukraine on an anti-Russian basis, to seek the expansion of Western military aid, and to justify such aid to the West. The threat of war and an exercise of power can also be used by the Russian side. Moscow shows that it is technically ready for a radical scenario and will not allow its “red lines” to be crossed. These “red lines” include a military solution to the Donbass problem. In other words, the scenario has a practical meaning as a tool for information warfare and political signals.
From the point of view of the balance of benefits and losses, neither side is interested in a real war. Therefore, it is hardly worth considering the war scenario as a likely one. However, history knows many examples when rational calculations have failed to put an end to escalation. There is only the hope that this isn’t the case here.
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