But a move by the Kremlin would also ripple well beyond the common border of the two nations.
Experts fear it could usher in a new era of uncertainty in Eastern Europe, disrupt supply chains and the global economy, and force a shift in geopolitical influence that damages the West’s credibility.
If a raid does happen, it’s unclear what form it would take — and predicting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions is a notoriously ill-advised exercise. “Any modern warfare would be horrific, but there are degrees to the horror,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, a former British ambassador to Belarus and now a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think tank. . .
The effectiveness of a NATO-led response is also critical to determining how long and profound the effects of an invasion will be, analysts agree.
But any Russian move would test the resolve of Western countries and involve a range of economic and security uncertainties.
“This is easily the worst security crisis in Europe since the 1980s,” Gould-Davies said.
“Russia and the West have such a fundamental disagreement over the worldview and that fundamental disagreement has been brushed under the rug for years,” added James Nixey, director of the Russia-Eurasia program at London-based think tank Chatham House.
“Now Russia has decided to raise the bar,” he said. “It’s a real problem that has global implications.”
A new frontline in Europe
As the threat of a Russian move to Ukraine has increased, so has the rhetoric of the West.
US President Joe Biden told DailyExpertNews on Tuesday that there would be “serious consequences” for a Russian invasion. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country would contribute to any new NATO deployment after an attack, while French President Emmanuel Macron said “the costs will be very high” if Putin decides to move.
But the “scale of the global response depends on how close Russia is to Ukraine,” Nixey said. He added that while many observers are cautiously optimistic that all-out war will be averted, “I was mistaken before — as most Russian analysts have done.”
The most immediate effects outside Ukraine would be felt in the Eastern European and Baltic states, which would find an openly belligerent Russia on their doorstep.
“Ukraine borders several NATO states. There will be great concern that this is not just something nearby that could have spillover effects, but that their security could be compromised,” Gould-Davies said.
“If Russia is allowed, or not discouraged, from drawing borders again, then clearly Russia will learn its own lessons — where now?” Nixey added.
Much would then depend on NATO’s response, and countries that could find themselves in the firing line would quickly notice an increased troop presence. As many as 8,500 US troops have been put on alert for a possible deployment to Eastern Europe, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday. Three US officials familiar with the discussions also told DailyExpertNews that the United States and allies could send additional broadcasts to Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary in the coming days.
Ukraine is not a NATO member and the alliance is unlikely to send any soldiers into the country. But after a raid, a heavy troop presence would likely remain along Europe’s eastern edge as long as Russia held Ukrainian lands — a prospect that would evoke memories of a Cold War barrier separating east from west.
“There will have to be a response all along that NATO frontline that acts as a deterrent… Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
“In Europe, this would change things a lot — because we’re so far from thinking in those terms,” he added. Melvin predicted that nations would need “enough troops to fight for a long period of time, to bring in new troops from the US, [and] to fight cyber dimensions.”
“It’s going to be a huge shift.”
The economic ramifications of an invasion are unknown, but several potential knock-on effects have been worrying experts since the build-up of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border first became apparent.
Most directly, a disruption to Ukrainian agricultural production could have a direct impact on food supplies.
But more worrying is the wider potential impact on energy supplies and the fallout from harsh Western sanctions against Russia that would be expected after a raid.
“If you’re talking about a major conflict [involving] one of the largest energy suppliers in the world – and an important transit country to the rest of Europe – there can be no significant impact on energy markets,” said Gould-Davies.
Russia supplies about 30% of the European Union’s natural gas, with supplies from the country playing a vital role in power generation and heating homes in Central and Eastern Europe.
“We have seen Russia exploit and exacerbate global energy supply problems and higher prices in recent months,” added Gould-Davies. “Could they think about the cost of something much more serious than this?”
An acceleration in that shift would cause “a huge jolt on” [Europe’s] economy, because they’re going to have to do something else,” Melvin said. This could delay plans for a nuclear phase-out in parts of the continent if countries are forced to frantically turn to energy alternatives.
The Biden administration has drafted contingency plans to bolster Europe’s energy supplies should Russia invade, anticipating gas shortages and a shock to the global economy, senior government officials said Tuesday.
The EU, meanwhile, is working on a “wide range of sectoral and individual sanctions” in the event of further Russian aggression, according to a European Commission statement that followed a virtual meeting with leaders of the US, UK, Italy, France, Germany, Poland, the EU and NATO. Biden told DailyExpertNews he would expect “significant economic sanctions.”
Analysts generally expect a broad package of sanctions that could hit major Russian banks, the oil and gas sector and technology imports. But the effects on Europe and the rest of the world would also be felt.
“Every time you impose sanctions, you incur a high cost to the target, but you also risk harming yourself and your friends and allies,” said Nathan Sales, an acting Undersecretary for Civil Security, Democracy and Human Rights. rights at the United States Department of State during the Trump administration.
And while targeted sanctions against Russian individuals and companies have been relied upon since Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, there is still a “substantial investment relationship” between the country and the West that could be broken, Melvin said.
“The question now is how much further those sanctions would go and how much more isolated the Russian economy would become,” he added.
A watching world
Experts said the reverberation of an incursion, and more relevantly the strength of the Western response, will be felt worldwide. Some fear that any Russian move that could label it a victory could encourage other countries involved in border disputes.
That context underscores in some quarters the feeling that the US response to the crisis in Ukraine could dictate for a generation how it is viewed around the world.
“We would see knock-on effects” over the next few years and perhaps decades” if Russia orchestrates a successful move, Sales said. “That’s going to tell dictators around the world that the US is a paper tiger.”
He cited “rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran” as other countries that could benefit from such an outcome. But Sales added that there is also “a scenario where the US and NATO emerge from this crisis with greater credibility,” should a strong response lead a Russian climb down.
Should long-term tensions follow a Russian invasion, a debate could also resume in the US about the role that the country should play in Europe. “They now have a very strong political divide between the role of a global police officer, which Biden has advocated, and the other camp where we only do what is in the US interest,” Melvin said.
While many implications of a Russian move to Ukraine are far from certain, there is one thing experts can agree on. “In international politics, everyone is always looking at everyone,” Gould-Davies said.