Firstly, my heart goes out to the people of Ukraine and their loved ones through this unnecessary conflict.
My heart bleeds for all those that have been uprooted and lost lives trying to protect it. This is also true for the millions of Russian people who also fight against their will; the vast majority of Russians are against the Ukranian war (confirmed as far back as 2014 following the annexation of Crimea).
Let us be clear that this invasion is not about Russians against the world, but an authoritarian leader against the world.
I have summarised my reading here for those who want a better understanding of the situation. I highly recommend reading with a map besides you, and urge you to do your own reading too.
Russia today is extremely vast (11 time zones vast) but lacks geopolitical advantages other than its pocket of gas and oil reserves in Siberia; It is mostly cold, infertile, flat land which makes it treacherous to defend. Russia has been invaded roughly every 33 years or so in the last 500 years on the Northern European plane alone. Most of its coastal regions freeze up for 4 months of the year rendering them unusable as reliable naval bases/ports. To add insult, the population density is extremely low giving rise to a fragile economy.
From Russia’s perspective, Ukraine forms a seismic opening into western Europe which is now mostly part of NATO. From a geopolitical perspective, ceding Ukraine to NATO is kicking the door wide open into Russia for the west – the Ukrainian border is simply too large to police effectively when combined with Latvia and Estonia from a Russian perspective. Furthermore, it suffocates the connection to the Baltic Sea (via Crimea) which is the only access to a body of warm water that Russia currently have.
Losing control over Ukraine is therefore interpreted as an existentialist threat to Putin. Since NATO have declined to decline Ukraine from its NATO membership, it is in Putin’s interest to take Ukraine before they form an alliance with the west. The hysteria surrounding Kiev’s historic ties to former Soviet Russia is merely an exercise in propaganda to develop an excuse to invade it.
This is where we are today.
There is reason to maintain optimism amid this crisis – Russia is reliant on foreign aid in order to buoy its fragile economy. There has been a mass exodus of global companies from Russia in every sector, with a crippling withdrawal from Shell which has cumulatively undermined Russia’s financial infrastructure more than expected. This makes the need for nuclear involvement far less likely and hopefully, suffocates any further violence.
There is a simple rule every diplomat knows well: great powers faced with an existentialist threat will use force to stop it. What we are observing is nothing new.
As humans we must find a way to co-exist more peacefully, and mitigate the kind of suffering that comes from unnecessary existentialist crises.
For me, it starts with more empathy and love.