Many people have all but forgotten the ongoing Russian Crisis, perhaps due to recent incidents such as the horrific ISIS atrocities, or the devastating Greek Banking Crisis overshadowing it. While both of these issues are very important, we mustn’t lose sight of the more pressing problems closer to home, such as the ongoing war in Ukraine, the threat of the Russian invasion of the other Baltic States, or the issue of Russia having the monopoly on gas and oil in some of the leading states in Europe.
The problems that surround Russia are particularly relevant to me, as I have recently returned from visiting Finland as part of a cultural exchange. Finland shares a land border with Russia. This is problematic for the Finnish, as Vladimir Putin the President of Russia has recently made clear, that he intends to re-conquer Finland, as well as the rest of the Baltic States, “Parts of Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States and Finland are states where Putin claims to have ownership”, says Andrej Illarionov one of Putin’s closest advisors. The Finnish take this threat extremely seriously, as they have only been independent for ninety-eight years, after previously being a part of the Russian Empire, as well as being invaded by Russia in the Second World War. Finland lost eighty-two thousand people in the Second World War, most of these lost in the war against Russia. However the Finnish did manage to kill a disproportionate amount of Russian soldiers, despite only having a third of the fighting force that Russia had, and at the end of the war Finland, England, and Russia, were the only European countries involved in the War not to have their capitals occupied by a foreign military force. An event which highlighted the seriousness of this threat from Russia, was last year when my exchange's college was visited by Carl Haglund, the former Finnish Defence Minister, who warned pupils about the potential imminent risk of a Russian invasion.
An escalation of the Russian Crisis was the recent sentencing of Eston Kohver, an Estonian police officer accused of espionage in Russia, when investigating cross-border organised crime. This arrest occurred a few days after President Obama visited Tallinn, the Estonian capital and assured the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian people (all members of NATO) that NATO would protect all its member states. What makes the arrest even more controversial, and inflammatory is that it occurred on Estonian, not Russian soil, with Officer Kohver being lured into a trap, stunned with flash bang grenades and taken at gunpoint into Russia by the FSB (Russian secret service). Kohver has been sentenced to fifteen years in a Russian hard labour camp, and has to pay a fine of one hundred thousand Roubles, without a public or fair trial, creating an even tenser atmosphere in the Baltic States. Experts have suggested that Russia is aiming to provoke an attack from the Baltic States in NATO, thusly alienating them from the rest of NATO, and leaving them open to a justifiable counter-attack from Russia.
Some people would argue that the times of Empires, and imperialism are behind us, and that Russia would never invade the rest of Europe, however these words give very little reassurance to the Finnish, as just last year Russia invaded the Ukraine, breaking the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances signed in 1994. This Treaty ensured that the Ukraine's sovereignty and independence would be acknowledged by the three main nuclear powers, Britain, America, and Russia. This was incredible news for the Ukrainians as they had wanted their independence for centuries, as throughout history the Ukraine was constantly being invaded by foreign nations. However, as a result of the Budapest Memorandum, the Ukraine has to forfeit the World's third largest nuclear weapons stockpile, which had previously been installed by the USSR. As Russia did not honour the Treaty, the Ukraine is now essentially at the mercy of the largest country in the World, with no major deterrent, or means of defending themselves, other than guerrilla warfare, which so far been unsuccessful. This is shown by the fact that Russia has already annexed the Crimea, and is already spreading deeper into the Ukraine. These actions from Russia show that any words or treaties will not bind it, and unless there is direct intervention from the main Western powers there is little that can be done to stop Russia.
The situation is intensified by the fact that ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, allegedly stripped and reduced funding for the Ukrainian military to make it more susceptible to a Russian invasion. These allegations do appear to be true, as the majority of the fighting in the Ukraine is between controversial armed football gangs, such as the far right "Azov", and the Russian assault troops. These football gangs are better equipped than the Ukrainian military, who wear threadbare uniforms and use weapons that would not have been out of place in the Second World War. The football gangs on the other hand have somehow managed to acquire heavy artillery, as well as other high powered weapons, and are quite surprisingly one of the main reasons that the Russian conquest of the Ukraine has been drastically slowed down.
Despite there being no official intervention in the Ukraine from other nations, there have been reports of ex-soldiers from other European countries joining the fight against Russia, most notably from the Scandinavian countries, as like Finland they fear a large scale invasion from Russia is imminent, and wish to stop it at its earliest stages. Although this is a valiant effort, it has not tipped the balance and Russia continues to advance into the Ukraine, breaking through all resistance with their sheer numbers and superior arsenal.
The fact that there has been no official military intervention in the Ukraine from Western nations is intriguing in itself. The West has previously had a history of trying to be the World's peacekeepers, for example in places such as Poland, Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan, and more recently the Islamic State, but interestingly not in Eastern Europe. This is possibly because there is a large fear of another Cold War, and Russia is playing on this fear, allowing it to expand its borders without any major hindrances from other nations. However, as history shows, it is important to crush imperialism before it grows and becomes a threat. For example, in World War Two, Hitler managed to take Czechoslovakia and Austria, as well as remilitarising the Rhineland, before Britain reluctantly declared war in 1939 when the Soviets and the Nazis divided Poland between themselves, and only because we had made the Anglo-Pole Pact in which we agreed to protect Poland. Had Britain not made this pact, we would probably not have been involved in World War Two, until the Germans crossed the English Channel and landed. This was because Chamberlin was more willing to let Hitler expand his Reich, rather than fight him, as Hitler was seen as an ally against the Soviet Union. The most interesting thing is that despite fears that Hitler would declare war if the League of Nations instructed him to withdraw from Czechoslovakia, Hitler made clear in his memoirs that he would have withdrawn and demilitarised had he been instructed to, but he received no such instruction from the West. This supports the argument that any action against imperialism must be taken early to avoid the offending nation growing in power and confidence. It is important to note the similarities between Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia and Putin's occupation of the Crimea. Pre-invasion, both leaders rallied the support of, then stirred up their ethnic population residing in the neighbouring country, by creating false rumours that insinuated their ethnic population was being mistreated by the majority indigenous population. This then justified an invasion in both Hitler's and Putin's opinion, as they claimed they were only protecting the interests of their people.
During my cultural exchange I also had the pleasure of visiting my host's uncle in Sweden. He is employed by a company called Scania, which is the largest lorry manufacturing company in the World; his role entails designing and test driving lorries. I was fortunate enough to have a tour of the Scania compound and surrounding areas, during which I was informed that a line of about twenty yellow lorries were supposed to be bound for Ukraine, but for the last year had been left in Sweden, as they could not be transported due to the ongoing conflict.
This highlights another reason why the West has not become involved in the Ukraine Crisis. Trade. In places such as Iraq, or Afghanistan there are large reservoirs of oil, and Western Nations headed by America have vested interests in these areas. These interests are so great that even Western leaders, such as Tony Blair, deceived their population with claims of Weapons of Mass Destruction, which were never discovered. However the Ukraine offers little in comparison, and with its main exports of petroleum and steel being dwarfed by the flooding of these products in the World market, the Ukraine is of marginal interest in trade. Most of the Ukraine's trade is with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), some with Belarus, Kazakhstan, but mainly with the largest CIS partner, Russia. This in itself dissuades the West from involvement, as if the Ukraine was aided militarily, it could go back to trading with Russia, which would not be in the West’s best interests. It is not surprising that the pro-Russian ex-President Viktor Yanukovych was responsible for this, as he turned down a deal with the European Union, and instead favoured more trade with Russia, pushing the Ukraine further from the West. This trade dependency on Russia also weakens the Ukraine, as at any time Russia could place sanctions on Ukraine and essentially bankrupt the country. So far Russia has restrained itself from doing this, but perhaps they are waiting until the Ukrainian economy is weakened to such an extent by the ongoing war, that trade sanctions will cripple it permanently, making it much easier to take over.
Russia also supplies Germany with 40% of all its oil and gas, making it the largest supplier of these resources to a leading country in the European Union. Germany's dependence on Russia will therefore affect its position on Russia in the European Union, which was shown in 2014 when sanctions were put on Russia, but interestingly not on oil or gas exports, again showing how one nations interests can be prioritised over another's.
It is important to note that Russia is also a formidable enemy. As well as being the largest country in the World, with the ability and resources to be self-sufficient, it also has the fourth biggest army in the World, with 766,055 active military personnel and 2.5 million in reserve. History has also shown that Russia is near impossible to conquer, with both Napoleon's and Hitler's (two of the most powerful men of their times) armies failing to succeed. In World War Two the Russians were the first allied country to reach Berlin, thus ending the war in Europe, and as mentioned earlier was one of only three European countries involved in the War whose capitals were not occupied. Russia is also protected by fierce Winter storms, so any advancing army will have to take Russia within six months, retreat, or freeze to death. So even without mentioning it's nuclear weapons, Air Force, or Navy, Russia is still a very dangerous country, which perhaps explains why there has been no major Western involvement in the Ukraine. However, NATO has announced that it will be creating a strike force of four thousand soldiers who will defend the Baltic States in NATO, but this appears to be more like a gesture of good faith, than an actual defence plan, as it is physically impossible for those four thousand troops to defend the borders of all three NATO Baltic States in the instance of a Russian invasion.
So is Russia a threat? It would appear that Russia has the potential to be a threat, as it has the influence, and power to collapse and disrupt several affluent countries' trade, such as the Ukraine, Germany and to some extent, even Britain. Russia has already invaded the Ukraine, and has refused to honour previous treaties, showing that it has no regard for any document or pacts, potentially even all nuclear ceasefire agreements. This of course is the largest threat, nuclear warfare. Russia still has a large arsenal of nuclear weapons, and although it's collection is not as big as the USA's, it has still made threatening gestures towards Western powers, such as flying nuclear planes over the Swedish capital, Stockholm, as well as near the British Coast in February, with no permission granted from either nation. The question of whether nuclear weapons will be used or not lies in the hands of President Putin, who has already made his plans quite clear. For those who believe nuclear war is a survivalist’s fantasy, why was it only last year that Portsmouth tested its nuclear warning sirens?
It is unlikely that the Russian Crisis will diminish in severity over the next few years, and in fact it appears that it will escalate. Hypothetically, even if Russia did end the war in Ukraine tomorrow, it still would possess territory it gained illegally, and would still pose a threat to the rest of the West. So it is imperative that we seriously reevaluate our military and diplomatic stance with Russia before we proceed with any future trade agreements, demilitarisation, or removal of sanctions. We must also start to think of the security not only of Britain, but also of the Baltic States bordering Russia. We created the Russian force of today directly through the conferences post-World War Two, and indirectly through the consequences of militarisation in the Cold War, therefore it is Britain’s responsibility, as a leading Western Power in Europe, to head the efforts that aim keep Russia in line with the rest of the modern World.