Tensions only continue to rise following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia is now in control of Crimea and some believe that it could be preparing for a larger incursion into eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, observers are noting the parallels between Russia’s acts of aggression and the build up to World War II. Could Russia’s actions set off another round of global conflict?
Ukraine’s leadership has called Russia’s act an act of war. Indeed, an armed invasion and now the promise of an all-out assault on Ukrainian forces if they do not surrender by 3:00 GMT would certainly appear to be in violation of the UN code of conduct.
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Meanwhile, the international community appears to be a loss for how to contain Russia. Most countries agree that Russia is violating Ukraine’s rights and most countries have moved to condemn the invasion. Outside of strong words of condemnation and the vague threats of economic and police sanctions, no country has moved to do anything.
Situation resembles build up to World War II
Indeed, the appeasement itself and lackluster response draws close parallels to the world’s response in the face of German aggression in the 1930’s. In the buildup to World War II, Great Britain and France both tried a policy of appeasement, essentially giving in to German demands and looking the other way when Germany invaded smaller countries.
Much like the situation in Ukraine, Germany started by invading areas that it had close ties to. First, it was Austria, which was annexed in 1938 with little resistance from the international community or Austria itself. Next, it was the Sudentenland in Czechoslovakia, a German populated region, just as Crimea is a Russian populated region in Ukraine.
British Prime Minister Chamberlain, who pioneered the appeasement policy, believed that the concessions would be enough to satisfy demands and would preserve peace. Yet with each move, Germany became more powerful and put itself in a better position for a continent-wide invasion. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland, setting off World War II.
Invasion could embolden Russia and other countries
The invasion of Ukraine itself will not start any sort of global war. Ukraine is largely within the sphere of Russian influence and its ties to the West and other countries are not exceptionally strong. Besides, most countries are so economically and politically intertwined that a global war would appear to be highly unlikely.
The loss of Crimea itself doesn’t mean much for anyone outside of Russia and Ukraine. Even for both countries, the change of control really doesn’t change business as usual. After all, most of the citizens in the region are of Russian heritage and the Russians maintain a large military base there.
Had Russia invaded a NATO country, the alliance would have been forced between deciding to honor its decade old pact, or making concessions. Ukraine, however, is not a member of NATO and Russia so far appears to have no ambitions outside of Eastern Ukraine.
The most important element is the precedent it sets. If Russia can seize territory and face little international backlash, will other countries be emboldened also? Numerous countries around the world are locked in territorial disputes with one another. Many larger nations have refrained from throwing their weight around, largely out of fear of backlash from the international community.
China, for example, is engaged in conflicts over islands in the South China Sea and elsewhere with Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and other countries. China also wants to reincorporate Taiwan into the country. If the international community fails to contain the crisis in Russia, could China become emboldened and try to seize islands in the South China Sea?
Indeed, such words might appear to be hyperbole, but other countries appear to be readying for the possibility of such events. Japan, for example, just announced that it is building up a 3,000 strong amphibious strike force, specifically to guard its island claims against any aggressions against the Chinese.
Tensions high across the world
Asia is not the only hotspot for international border disputes. While wars between countries have become exceptionally rare, they are certainly not altogether impossible, as the invasion of Ukraine clearly illustrates.
With tensions mounting, a weak global economy, and radicalism taking root in some countries, the prospects of a global war, while slim, are probably higher now than at any point since the fall of the Soviet Union.