The New Realities Of A MultiPolar World

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is widely recognized as being an event that heralds the formal transition to a multipolar era. Even though ‘Great Powers Competition’ has become the preferred term of pundits and social media geopolitical ‘experts,’ I prefer Multipolar World since it more accurately describes the global landscape at present. For better or worse, power in the world is distributed amongst a small collection of nation-states and alliances spanning multiple continents. As we are witnessing in Ukraine with regards to Russia, the interdependence of the multipolar world becomes imperiled when a powerful nation-state or alliance places its own interests above those of the herd, so to speak.

For the United States and many of her allies in Europe and the Pacific, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has proven the opening phase of this Multipolar World era will be chaotic and without the reins of international oversight and rules-based order in existence since the end of World War II. In other words, despite the wishes of policymakers in Washington, London, Berlin and Tokyo, the present international system could find itself either in need of major remodeling or complete replacement. Russia’s challenge will help to determine not only the future of Ukraine as a nation-state, but also the future of the current international order.

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has also reopened the debate on America’s place and role in the world. US actions and positions have consequences, there is no getting around that. Right now, the extent of those actions since the end of the Cold War are coming into focus as scholars and others in the field consider if Russia’s invasion was no more than an inevitable reaction to the US expanding its hegemony in Eastern Europe and beyond after the Cold War concluded. The US continues to play the principal role on the global stage, despite the desires of many Americans to step back from Europe and the Middle East and concentrate on Asia and the Pacific, where the most significant threat to US interests is at.

For the supporters of that line of thinking, Ukraine serves as a very rude wakeup call, proving that despite US desires and wishes, the world may not be ready to see the US shirk its responsibility or embark upon an entirely new endeavor.

Ukraine Update 8 April, 2022

  • The death toll from Friday morning’s attack on a train station in eastern Ukraine has risen to over fifty, with five of the victims confirmed to be children. Right before 10:30 AM (Local Time) Russian SS-21 ballistic missiles struck the area surrounding the main railway station in Kramatorsk. Nearby witnesses reported multiple explosions within a short amount of time, leading to some reports that the missiles were equipped with cluster-munition warheads. This was later found not to be the case. The Ukrainian government immediately condemned the attack. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy even went as far as to accuse Russia of deliberately targeting civilians with this attack.
  • The arrival of US Army Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries in Slovakia has enabled the Bratislava government to donate its own SA-10 Grumble SAM systems to Ukraine. Slovakia’s prime minister, Eduard Heger is in Ukraine today discussing future aid shipments with the Ukrainian government and EU officials.
  • The latest wave of European Union sanctions against Russia were announced earlier today. Bans on imports of coal, wood, chemicals and other goods will reduce the total imports from Russia by 10%. Russian ships and trucks will also be prevented from accessing EU ports and nations. This package of sanctions is decidedly larger than what was expected. The increase probably has to do with alleged atrocities committed by Russian troops in a number of Ukrainian towns since the start of the war.
  • With the Russian withdrawal from north of Kiev now complete, more or less, the new focus of the war will be in the Donbas region. If Russia can seize control of the Luhansk and Donetsk breakaway republics in their entirety, it may open the door to a renewed push towards Kiev at some point in the future. Certainly not in the short term, however.

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.

Ukraine Update 7 March, 2022 (Evening)

  • Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas has slowed efforts to sanction Russian energy and runs the risk of driving a wedge into the trans-Atlantic unified front that has performed impressively in sanctioning Russia and aiding Ukraine. Europe has been trying to wean itself off of Russian energy for years now, but progress have been at a snail’s pace and uncertain. Mostly because Europe has found it next to impossible to locate a replacement source for its blanket energy needs.  Today, the German government confirmed it will continue to buy Russian natural gas, oil and coal despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the growing mountain of sanctions on Moscow. In a statement, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country and the remainder of Europe are too reliant on Russian energy imports for the continent to cut trade links, even in the short term. This is why Germany made it a point to exempt energy from the sanctions the West has placed on Russia. Natural gas, oil and coal from Russia are the lifeblood of German and European industrial output, heating and electricity output. If Russia chooses to put the screws to European energy exports, Western unity could splinter.
  • The Pentagon confirmed today something many of us in the fields of geopolitics and defense have noticed over the past few days. With progress slowing to a crawl on the ground, Russia is relying more on long-range fires. These include artillery, multiple-launch rocket fire, cruise missiles, and close air support, which is being used in an effort to weaken Ukrainian defensive positions and strong points of resistance. Other terms used are softening the enemy or preparing the battlefield. The good news is that the reliance on long-range fires signals that Russia is not ready to resume the pushes towards numerous Ukrainian cities and other objectives. The bad news is that at some point, the advances will commence again.
  • The number of Ukrainian refugees is now approaching 1.8 million at last count and the number is anticipated to exceed 2 million within the next 24 hours. Europe is on the verge of a major refugee crisis, the likes of which have not been seen in decades.

Ukraine Update 1 March, 2022 (Evening)

-The war in Ukraine has the potential to unleash the largest refugee crisis Europe has faced since World War II. The European Union estimates as many as four million Ukrainians could potentially flee their homeland between now and the end of the war. Even then, assuming a Russian victory, that number could increase considerably. EU rules and restrictions on refugees are being lifted and Brussel promises that EU member-states will welcome Ukrainians with open arms. Eastern European countries are absorbing the first wave of refugees. As of 7 AM, 1 March, 2022, EST Poland had taken in 377,000 refugees. Hungary had taken 89,561, Moldova 65,391, Slovakia 54,304 and Romania 38,461. These numbers are undoubtedly obsolete by now, yet the vast scale of the exodus is apparent. It’s only going to become worse as time goes on. Despite the EU’s assurances, the potential for a once-in-a-century refugee crisis exists.

-The Ukrainian military intelligence believes Russia is preparing a pretext that will justify the introduction of Belarusian troops into the conflict. The role of the Belarussian military in this conflict is one of those points which pundits and journalists have been batting around since the shooting started. Belarus has a role to play in this war, one undoubtedly orchestrated by Vladimir Putin. When the time is right, the exact role will become known. According to intelligence estimates by the Ukrainians there are 300 Belarussian tanks and accompanying infantry massed at the Ukrainian border. Minsk has played the role of good cop to Moscow’s bad cop, even orchestrating the first round of negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. That will change at some point, however.

-Parting thought for the evening. Tonight, US President Joe Biden will give his State of the Union address in Washington. He will tout his goal for the US and all of its allies to be on the same page regarding economic sanctions. The sanctions now impacting Russia have been fierce and there are additional salvoes being prepared for delivery. But what happens if economic sanctions alone cannot do the job? The US and its allies have put all their eggs in a single basket. If it is not enough, what will be the next step?