Russia’s new land grab in Ukraine is an act of geopolitical theft that will make war more dangerous, add new risks to the West’s strategic calculations and pose a long-term challenge to international law.
President Vladimir Putin is expected to preside over a Kremlin ceremony this Friday to formalize the process of annexing the four occupied territories, cutting off thousands of kilometers of Ukraine’s agricultural and heavy industrial wealth.
Indeed, this move amounts to stealing territory from a sovereign power and declaring it part of Russia after an unprovoked invasion – a clear violation of international law and one reason why much of the world does not accept it.
Absorption of Ukrainian territories reminiscent of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 will not change the reality of a war that has set back Putin, paid a bloody tribute to his forces and created extraordinary divisions within Russia.
But it’s a ploy created by what the West calls fake polls — one that creates an alternate reality about the conflict and one that will have far-reaching consequences for Americans, America’s future world power, and the cause of democracy. , seven months later, may seem to many Americans a distant dispute fueled by old animosities on the fringes of Europe.
- First, in the political fantasy world invented by Putin, alliances transform war from an offensive to a defensive one. Because Putin has warned that all weapons systems (including codes for nuclear weapons) can be used to defend the Russian state, Moscow will now define these new possessions as part of a larger Russian territory, raising fears that the war will escalate.
- This new dimension to the conflict means that the West’s steadfast support for Ukraine, which has seen major advances in the east and south in recent weeks, carries a high risk premium. Control over annexed districts, using billions of dollars in US weapons and supplies.
- In the long run, these links will crystallize why the US and its allies have been so adamant about helping Ukraine’s war effort. The war threatens to set a precedent for a larger and more powerful nation to march in on a smaller nation and seize its territory based on spurious logic. This situation does not only threaten the margins of Europe; It is a scenario that is unfolding around the world and could be replicated by other autocratic regimes. If allowed to stand, it represents a fundamental challenge to the rule of international law. It challenges the post-World War II Western policy that free peoples have the right to choose their own national and political destiny.
US President Joe Biden rightly underscored this point during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly this month, when he argued that countries should not be allowed to pursue imperialist ambitions without consequences.
“This war is aimed at extinguishing Ukraine’s right to be a state, simply and unequivocally, the right to be the people of Ukraine,” Biden said. “Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe, it shouldn’t—it should chill your blood.”
The annexations cover four regions – Donetsk and Luhansk, which are self-established breakaway republics, and Kherson and Zaporizhia, which have been controlled by Russian troops since the invasion in late February.
The Ukrainian government, the United States and their European allies have all rejected the idea that the land would ever be part of Russia.
“The United States will never, ever, recognize Russia’s claims to sovereignty over the territory of Ukraine,” Biden warned at the Pacific Islands Summit in Washington on Thursday. “This so-called referendum is a travesty – an absolute travesty – and the results were fabricated in Moscow,” the president said, promising a new series of swift and severe punishments for Russia.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has already made it clear that the United States will not place limits on the use of American-made weapons by Ukraine’s forces, effectively countering Moscow’s plans for an attack it now sees as part of a wider Russia.
“Ukraine has every right to defend itself throughout its territory, including the return of territory illegally seized by Russia,” Blinken told a press conference on Tuesday.
“Since there is no change in the territory annexed by the Russians as a matter of course for us or the Ukrainians, the Ukrainians will continue to do what they have to do to reclaim the land that was taken from them. We will continue to support them in this endeavor,” Blinken said.
When Putin announced a partial demobilization last week that led to thousands of people fleeing the country, he warned that all means at his disposal would be used to defend the homeland’s territorial integrity. This was widely seen as a threat to use tactical nuclear weapons if the newly annexed territories were attacked. Such a scenario could test the red line recently set by Putin. But the threat of losing any newly annexed territories could add his own embarrassment to the battle he must win to continue his mighty reign.
The United States says it has not yet detected any movement of Russian nuclear weapons. These include tactical warheads with a smaller footprint than the high-yield strategic long-range warships that are the nuclear deterrents of the United States, Russia and other declared nuclear powers. Still, U.S. intelligence officials told CNN that while Russia’s use of nuclear weapons is considered unlikely, it cannot be definitively ruled out.
From abroad, the hastily organized referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine look ridiculously amateurish and hasty. In a sense, in another display of contempt for the idea of international law and democracy, Putin is setting an example for the West. Putin left no doubt on Thursday that he sees the war in Ukraine as part of a broader effort to check Western power and influence, telling the heads of the secret services of the former Soviet republics that “we are witnessing a difficult process of creating a more just world order”, and lamenting the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
But the apparent illegality of the referendums also points to their true purpose – to give Russians the appearance of progress in their country and justification for mobilizing thousands of reservists, who may now be said to be being sent to Ukraine. Fight for the defense of Russian territory.
In other circumstances, Putin’s connections could be seen as a potential way to save face from conflict and a way for him to announce the extent of his victory. But Ukraine said such actions were no reason to negotiate with Moscow. With recent battlefield success and the flow of Western arms — the United States announced another billion-dollar package on Wednesday — there is no strategic reason to stop fighting now.
The new Russian land grab is likely to boost support for Ukraine in the US Congress, while there is some evidence that the Republican majority in the House may be less interested in sending billions of dollars after the fall midterm elections. Aid to Kiev – a factor influencing Putin’s long-term strategy.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut released a draft resolution on Thursday that would require Biden to immediately cut economic and military aid to any country that recognizes Russian ties.
Graham noted that the connections are taking place as much of the United States is set in the wake of the devastation in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ian. Congress will be called upon to fund massive cleanup and rebuilding efforts in the coming days. But Graham, noting that the storm is now affecting his state, warned that lawmakers “have to do two things at once.”
“We need to help our friends and neighbors here at home, but we need to support what’s right abroad. So we’re dealing with, for lack of a better word, Hurricane Putin,” Graham said.
“He is trying to redraw the map of Europe, he is trying to do by force of arms what the political process cannot do.”
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