Russia is expanding its bombing in Ukraine to the west and deploying its artillery for intensified barrages on Kyiv. Poland is reaching the limits of its capacity to take in refugees. So are other near neighbors. Moscow is accusing the US of supporting biological and chemical warfare research in Ukraine. Russian forces have already taken control of several nuclear power plants. Moscow has also thrown a monkey wrench into negotiations on re-entry of the US into the Iran nuclear deal.
How bad could things get?
Pretty bad. Here are some guesses:
- The Russians could lay siege to Kyiv and obliterate its governing institutions, displacing many of those who remain of its 2.9 million pre-war population.
- They could also destroy what remains of Ukraine’s air force and its ability to operate. That is presumaby the purpose of their attacks on airfields in the west.
- Poland could limit the intake of refugees, forcing many to remain displaced and vulnerable inside Ukraine.
- Russia often accuses its adversaries of doing things it intends to do. Mocow’s obviously false accusations about biological and chemical weapons may presage Moscow’s use of them.
- Russian forces have already risked disaster in occupying nuclear power plants. Their continued operation depends on Ukrainians and electricity supplies that are at risk. A meltdown like the one at Chernobyl in 1986 would be far more catastrophic under current conditions.
- Moscow may de facto scupper the nuclear deal and try to trade with Iran despite US sanctions. That would allow Tehran to proceed with enrichment and nuclear weapons research.
- Putin is using the war in Ukraine to impose a dictatorial regime inside Russia, making dissent and protest ever more difficult.
All the while, Russia will continue to attack population centers, medical facilities, and schools throughout Ukraine. This “Grozny” strategy is a war crime, but then so is the war of aggression Moscow launched without provocation.
Sanctions aren’t likely to work quickly
The NATO Alliance meanwhile continues sitting on its military hands while Russia crosses multiple red lines. The EU and US are imposing more sanctions on trade and investment, but those rarely if ever change an aggressor’s mind quickly. You are far more likely to get what you want from them when you negotiate lifting them rather than when you impose them. The day when that might be possible is far off.
Military responses have been ruled out
President Biden has so far prioritized prevention of a wider war. He has repeatedly emphasized that Americans will not fight in Ukraine. The Pentagon has apparently blocked transfer of military aircraft from Poland to Ukraine on grounds that might cause Russia to attack Poland and trigger NATO’s mutual defense commitment. The US can’t send the best air defense systems because they require trained personnel that Ukraine doesn’t have and can’t produce in short order.
The Americans and other NATO allies are sending massive arms shipments to the Ukrainians, whose commitment to fighting for themselves should not be doubted. But it may not suffice. Ultimately, Russia has resources, technology, manpower, and immorality that Ukraine cannot equal. We are all likely to suffer the consequences