The Bear Trap

On what is now Day 6 or Day 7 of the Russian military incursion into Ukraine, it has been reported that virtually all of Ukraine’s major cities are now encircled by Russian forces. Thus, in addition to having the objective of the aerial attacks met on the first day, which was the neutralization of Ukrainian air defense systems, there is also rapid progress towards the achievement of the ground objective, which is the encirclement of Ukraine’s major cities. Russia’s foreign minister and Russia’s foreign ministry have also stated that Russia will continue with its course of action until it has “achieved its goals.”

Russia’s strategy in Ukraine is being framed as a security initiative by Moscow, and security initiatives require a certain level of military force. But there is also the possibility that Ukraine is not the “end game” or the “end goal” of Russia’s course of action. Ukraine is perhaps the short-term goal of Russia’s “course of action.” What the long-term goal of Russia’s “course of action” which is now manifesting in Ukraine remains to be seen.

But if one were to speculate, there are perhaps two possible end goals or two possible “end games” for Russia’s “course of action” that is now manifesting in Ukraine. One is pressure on NATO to roll back its expansion towards Russia’s western frontier. The other is perpetual conflict with Europe. Perhaps Russia’s actions in Ukraine are a warm-up or a signal to Europe as a whole that Russia has no qualms about employing its capabilities and force when it comes to defending what Russia perceives as its basic national interests.

Therefore, the issue of NATO expansion might be part of the whole. The whole of Russia’s “course of action” is preparation for perpetual conflict with the West. After all, the core assumption or element of Russian state ideology has always been that conflict with the West is “inevitable.” Kissinger is one of the most prominent Western intellectuals to highlight this core assumption or element of Russian state ideology. Thus, if the core assumption or element of Russian state ideology has been the view that conflict with the West is “inevitable,” then it is likely that Ukraine is not the end goal or end game.

Instead, Russia’s course of action in Ukraine is perhaps a demonstration of capabilities and will towards a greater purpose, namely, perpetual conflict with the West. Even if NATO expansion were rolled back to a certain extent, there is the issue of Russia’s history with Germany that remains unsettled. During the course of my book project, I attended an academic seminar in Washington, where I became acquainted with one of Russia’s defense attachés. As with most of the Russians I have met in person, he was an amicable and friendly personality. His first interaction consisted of sliding his business card to me from across the table. It then extended to long and friendly conversations after class.

He even offered me rides, which I kindly turned down because I had my own car. And then he gave me a piece of literature from Russia’s cultural and information ministry as a gift. I perused through the literature, and at the heart of the literature was a strong emphasis on Nazism, and that the losses which Russia incurred as a result of Nazism in the 20th century was a historical wrong that needed to be corrected. This is just one reason why one can infer or speculate that Russia’s end game and goal goes beyond just Ukraine.  

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