Lavrov’s Warning

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned the world against underestimating the chances of a nuclear conflict emerging from Russia’s war in Ukraine. “The risks now are considerable,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia’s state television. “I would not want to elevate those risks artificially. Many would like that. The danger is serious, real. And we must not underestimate it.” Lavrov’s warning comes as the West increases its material support for Ukraine as the war shifts to the Donbas region. Heavy weapons are now being shipped from NATO nations into Ukraine, including self-propelled artillery and self-propelled anti-aircraft gun systems. Russia’s previous warnings that NATO equipment could be considered a legitimate target of war once it enters Ukrainian territory. In Washington, Moscow’s ambassador to Russia has told the United States to stop weapons shipments to Ukraine, warning that Western weapons are inflaming the conflict. Lavrov extended the argument in his comments. “NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war.”

While Lavrov’s warnings could be nothing except for bluster, his words should not be dismissed entirely. The risks of a potential nuclear escalation are at least present at this stage. We’re at a point now where the United States and her allies need to consider the viewpoint of Russian leadership. It would help to view the situation from the perspective of Russia and not make decisions largely based on interpretations stemming from a prism of Western views and opinion. The stakes for Russia in this conflict are enormous, to say the least. If Vladimir Putin concludes there is no chance of a victory on the battlefield through only conventional means, all bets are off.

The West should not be intimidated from supporting Ukraine. However, at the same time, some government officials in Europe and the US might want to consider how their recent remarks are being interpreted by the Kremlin. For example, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin admitted a US goal now is to see Russian military capabilities significantly weakened to the point where it cannot conduct military operations abroad in the aftermath of this conflict. Austin’s words run the risk of  being interpreted as the US posing an existential threat to Russia and provoking Moscow into expanding the war beyond Ukraine’s borders.

Escalation is not in the best interests of anyone.

Ukraine Update 27 March, 2022

  • The White House was forced to walk back potentially explosive remarks made by President Biden during yesterday’s speech in Warsaw. In the speech, Biden called Vladimir Putin a ‘butcher’ who ‘cannot remain in power.’ The remarks were largely viewed as escalatory among America’s NATO allies with French President Emmanuel Macron remarking, “We want to stop the war that Russia has launched in Ukraine without escalation — that’s the objective.” Granted, Macron has his own more self-serving reasons for not wanting to escalate the situation with a presidential election on the horizon. Then there is Macron’s continued hope that the war provides the opportunity for France situate itself in a position to Europe in the post-Ukraine War era.
  • The head of Ukrainian military intelligence noted today that Russia’s new strategy appears to be dividing Ukraine into two separate states with one being controlled by Moscow. Since Russia’s failure to occupy the entire country so far appears to be permanent, the Kremlin is turning to an alternate plan containing more attainable political goals.
  • In the past twenty-four hours I have spoken to a handful of chemical and biological weapons experts who claim a consensus is growing in Western defense circles that Russia will use chemical weapons in the coming days. The subject has been lurking in the background for the past week as Russia’s advances in Ukraine have come to a halt, with little prospect of resuming anytime soon.
  • Finland has suspended rail services with Russia, terminating the rail link between the European Union and Russia. All passenger, commercial and cargo services have ended for the moment. Finland’s national railway operator announced the halt will start on Monday.

Ukraine Update 23 March, 2022 (Evening)

  • As evidence grows concerning Russian troops digging in north of Kiev, I do not understand the knee-jerk reaction by Western media outlets in declaring this a Ukrainian victory. Earlier this week it started becoming clear Russia was shifting to a strategy of attrition and Western newspapers, TV new channels and internet outlets openly reported this. The meaning of this was also discussed by pundits and for the most part they were correct. A strategy of attrition means a halt to advances by Russian forces for the time being and a reliance on indirect and direct-fire weapons to degrade Ukrainian defenses. With this in mind, the digging in and preparation of defensive positions by Russian troops should come as no surprise at the very least, nor should it be regarded as a Ukrainian victory. I understand the media and get why they do many of the things they do. But I do not like it, and sometimes I simply have to vent. This is one of those times 😊
  • When the meeting of NATO leaders starts in Brussels on Thursday, President Biden will face increasing pressure from US allies to spearhead alliance efforts to play a more active role in the Russia-Ukraine war. Aside from the ever-present desire by some NATO leaders to implements a no-fly zone over Ukraine or parts of it, there are other methods for assisting Ukraine that nations such as Poland and Slovakia would like to implement. None of these methods will move forward without at least tacit US approval and the Biden administration has been careful not to undertake or agree to any moves that could allow Russia to label the US or a NATO country as a co-combatant. Avoiding escalation has been at the forefront of US policy since hostilities began. On the other side of the coin, the less than stellar performance of the Russian military in the war so far has made some NATO members want to push the envelope so to speak. Right now wouldn’t be an ideal time to risk possible escalation, however. Vladimir Putin’s back is against the wall and if he feels trapped, the Russian leader will lash out. Then escalation becomes almost certain, and so does the prospect of a larger war.

The Ever-Present Risks of Escalation

The possibility of the Russia-Ukraine War escalating into a larger conflict involving NATO member-states has been on the minds of politicians, diplomats, and general officers around the world since hostilities started in late February. For some nations, imposing economic sanctions on Russia and providing overt military support to Ukraine has forced them to walk a line that at times strays perilously close to promoting escalation. The prospect of provoking a wider conflict has forced the West to throttle back when it comes to undertaking some of the more perilous courses of action in response to Russia’s invasion.

This was clear in the first few days of fighting when the European Union moved to establish the groundwork for a plan allowing willing Eastern European nations to transfer their Soviet-era aircraft to Ukraine. Initially, there was a significant amount of enthusiasm for the proposal. As the days went on and the consequences this action could release was realized in capital cities across Eastern Europe, many governments quietly backed away from their pledges to send surplus MiGs and Sukhoi combat aircraft to Ukraine. Their concerns are justified. Sending warplanes is an overt act of support, quite different from the shipment of small arms, handheld SAMs and anti-tank guided missiles.  Poland is the only nation has stayed the course with Warsaw still actively searching for a way to ship its MiG-29s to Ukraine without being labeled as a co-combatant by Russia. The latest move, dependent upon US involvement was immediately turned down by Washington.

The prospect of a no-fly zone has also been surreptitiously sent to the grave.  A number of retired general officers and politicians in NATO nations have been vociferously calling for the introduction of a no-fly zone over Ukraine to prevent Russian airstrikes and missile attacks. The Ukrainian government has been the biggest proponent of a no-fly zone and its position is contrary to the Ukrainian Air Force’s claims of having shot down over fifty Russian combat aircraft and eighty helicopters. Air forces that inflict these types of losses do not need outside help. Therefore, it is increasingly certain that Ukraine has lost air superiority over the bulk of its territory. A no-fly zone involving air units from the United States and other NATO nations runs the risks of clashes with Russian aircraft. The consequences of this are apparent. NATO and Russia would find themselves engaging each other in combat and escalation would be imminent.

Bloody Clash In the Himalayas

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Indian and Chinese troops battled on Monday night in the same disputed border area these two nations fought a war over in 1962. Soldiers from the two ascendant, nuclear-armed Asian powers met brandishing rocks, and sticks. When the dust settled 20 Indian soldiers were dead, and according to Chinese state media 43 Chinese troops had died. It was the first fatal clash along the Line of Actual Control since 1975 and came after weeks of smaller incidents between Indian and Chinese forces at the border area. There is no independent confirmation on what brought about the skirmish but predictably Beijing is blaming India, and vice versa.

Following talks between Indian and Chinese general officers last week there was a feeling that the situation along the border was under control and could be managed until a diplomatic solution was found. Obviously, this is no longer the case. This clash was too large, and bloody to just sweep under the carpet and move forward. Lives were lost on both sides and even more significant to Beijing and New Delhi, national pride has been wounded. The fact that both Indian and Chinese leaders are nationalists will be a major factor in what comes next. Nationalism has been fueling Indian and Chinese policy moves at home and abroad to varying extents for some time.

This latest escalation has caught much of the world by surprise, myself included. The rest of the week’s posts will be dedicated to updates of the Himalayan crisis, and if time allows, a more in-depth analysis of what the near future could have in store.