The last 15 days have been intense in view of the Russia-Ukraine war, and related happenings. As an analyst, I have been a panelist on a few TV channels in India to discuss these developments. Sometimes even 10-12 hours every day. There is so much that could be discussed, analyzed, and speculated.
It seems that there will be a conventional conflict between NATO and Russia — not possible to say when, but probably within the near to medium future in our lifetimes of present folks living on planet earth. And there is a probability, presently in the low teens, that this conventional conflict will spiral into a nuclear conflict (more on this NATO-Russia can be subject of a next column).
However, there might arise another scenario wherein nuclear weapons may be rattled within 3-6 months, in a different region of European theatre, as discussed below. As of today there are about 6-7 big picture scenarios of the future that are emerging from this conflict. In my column today, I shall restrict to 2 of these probable scenarios in the short term, 3-6 months.
1. The Black Wall — Some things have been clear from day 1 of the invasion. One of the
thing that is clear, and that makes eminent sense from the Russian point of view, is to create a Black Wall for the Ukraine of tomorrow, which will deny it access to the Black Sea (and Sea of Azov) — forever.
This Black Wall will be the boundary of a land corridor along the sea coasts of Ukraine. This zig-zag land corridor along the Black Sea coast, starting with Russia on the east of Ukraine, along the entire sea-coast of Ukraine till the south-west end of Ukraine, may range from 50 miles to 100-300 miles at places, and will stretch till Odessa and beyond, till the tail-end borders of Ukraine with Moldova and Romania.
Forget the fate of rest of Ukraine, this corridor would be converted into Russian territory. This will ensure that irrespective of the internal chaos and whatsoever happens inside a landlocked Ukraine, the Ukraine of tomorrow will be forever blocked from access to Black Sea (and Sea of Azov) — at the mercy of Russia.
Plus this region is rich in minerals, base metals and industrial infrastructure (Ukraine provides 70 per cent of global supply of neon gas — critical to the making of semiconductor chips), logistics linkages of railroads, and ports, including Odessa, the giant hub of shipping and ship-making. This is a rich region overall, will contribute to the Russian economy, and also create global leverage and supply-chain choke-points for neon gas, palladium (also to make semiconductor chips), wheat, and sunflower oil, among others.
It may be worth deploying Russian forces to own this region.
What happens inside the remaining territory of a land-locked Ukraine is a very different
matter. In this region, there may be urban civil war, political chaos, puppet regimes of Russia, or Russia-hating elements that hold power in the next years or decades — but Russia would have created a Black Wall for Ukraine for all times to come.
2. Black Umbrella over Finland, Sweden — One of the last remaining non-NATO countries
that share its border with Russia is Finland. Plus Sweden is one step removed from
Finland, and is a non-NATO country, thus far.
Both these countries now desire, and public opinion is growing inside both of them, to join NATO. In past months and weeks, some NATO countries have already expressed their
support for Finland and Sweden to join NATO.
Now, if Russia thinks that NATO, US expansionism is threatening Russia (and that is the
primary reason why it has gone to war with Ukraine), then of course the moves and
statements from Finland and Sweden should be cause of great worry in the Kremlin.
In the background of dark enmity and a proxy war in Ukraine with US and NATO that is
radically fracturing and redefining the European security structure and global geo-politics, logic indicates that Russia will want to deny NATO expansionism in Finland, Sweden.
What could Russia do to ensure that Finland and Sweden do not join NATO? Will it
warn both of them to not go down this path? Or, will Russia stand-by passively and in the next few years Finland and Sweden both become NATO members?
The “Black Umbrella” scenario posits that in view of signals emanating from Finland, and
Sweden, Russia may first warn both these countries to remain neutral, and to drop any of their NATO aspirations immediately. Russia may demand a written treaty from both these nations, to this effect. Essentially the same terms as were dictated to Ukraine are NATO membership. Finland, a small country of about 6 million people, and a defence budget of about $ 6 billion, is puny compared to Russian conventional forces. So is Sweden, though it is buffered by Finland in between. Thus a Russian warning could make them both halt, change their track.
The question is — what happens if Finland and Sweden ignore Russian warnings, and persist in their NATO admission process? Will Russia assemble forces on the Finland border, and threaten brinkmanship? Or, will it march to Helsinki? With a drumbeat rolling in the
background about reports from Russia, about nukes pointed at Helsinki and Stockholm.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland will have to make some choices. Soon.
Finland and Sweden do not have NATO cover yet, so it can be assumed that NATO will not
put its soldiers on the ground to defend them. (Note: well, NATO could move an emergency
resolution, and come to the aid of Finland, Sweden, and then it becomes a NATO-Russia war.
Or, NATO could accomplish a fait accompli in next few days, weeks, with secret activity
under a special fast-track process, and one fine morning very soon surprise the world, by announcing that Finland and Sweden are full-fledged members of NATO alliance, from that moment on.)
Barring the surprise announcement of Finland and Sweden as NATO member countries,
Russia may not need to marshal too large a force at the Finnish border to pose a dire and real threat to Finland. Sure, Russian forces will be stretched in Ukraine, but at the same time it could deploy some small, reasonable numbers on the Finnish border, and inform that its threat must be taken seriously.
Combine with some military and strategic nuclear exercise in North-West Russia, or in the Baltic Sea. Then give a 48 hour notice to both countries to sign a treaty of neutrality. Or face war. Will Finland and Sweden acquiesce to Russian demands, and live under the “Black Umbrella” of a Russia dictated foreign policy, or will Finland fight back? Finland may have no choice.
The US and NATO will certainly be upset, but what can, will it do? Will it tip-over and go to war with Russia, in support of a non-NATO country? And risk a nuclear conflagration with Russia?
Thus in the next 3-6 months, a Black Umbrella scenario may cover Finland and Sweden. Or,
otherwise it will be a war that could suck in NATO along with a rapid spiral to nuclear sabre rattling. Given the stretch of Russia’s conventional forces in Ukraine, it may not be out of place to speculate that Russia will resort to a nuclear threat to halt Finland and Sweden from joining NATO.
This has become a dog-eat-dog world in Europe, and will define the security architecture of Europe in this century. Russia has put Europe to notice, all gloves are off, and Russian red lines are now being linked — with a bluff, bluster, or reality of nuclear Armageddon.
Oh, a minor addendum to the above scenario. There will be still one more last remaining
country on the Russian border that is contemplating joining NATO, i.e., Georgia.
Georgia is a poor, former Soviet Republic, many miles and minds away from Europe as
compared to Finland, Sweden which are globally seen as pure-blooded European nations, and an integral part of the ‘West’. Russia will gain more heft and revenge against NATO when it delivers a counter-punch to the West by targeting Finland, Sweden, rather than targeting Georgia. Georgia can be tamed later.
(Robinder Sachdev is president, The Imagindia Institute. The views expressed are personal)