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Can Europe and the U.S. Stop Russia From Invading Ukraine?

Rusia, El American

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By Carlos Augusto Chacón Monsalve *

It was not the end of history, as Fukuyama thought. Western liberal democracy did not end up becoming universalized as “the final form of human government.” Authoritarian states re-emerged, increasing their political, economic, and military power as liberal democracies ceded power, influence, and capacity for containment and deterrence.

Contrary to what was supposed to be democratizing trends, authoritarian states such as Russia have acted to advance their interests of territorial expansion to confront and reconfigure the existing international order based on rules—namely sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.

George Kennan—best remembered for his famous long telegram, which he signed under the pseudonym of Mr. X in Foreign Affairs in 1947—warned that in the face of Soviet interests it was necessary to maintain a policy of “long-term, patient, but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansionist tendencies.” These tendencies are being maintained and are advancing in the face of the appeasement of the countries of the West and the inaction of the organizations of the international system supposedly created to guarantee world peace and stability.

Russia’s aggression, interventions, annexations, and actions against the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, and its operations in other countries such as Syria, were left without a forceful response from the West. This was taken as a message of weakness and an invitation to continue advancing, among other reasons, because Russia has not been defeated when it has used its military power to achieve its interests and because the tactics of hybrid warfare have not been internalized as part of the doctrine of NATO and its member states.

A potential NATO expansion

Faced with this reality, Russia is again threatening to use force and violence to destabilize Ukraine while challenging Europe and the United States to impose what it considers to be its strategic interests. Under the Kremlin’s pretext of putting an end to NATO expansion, Russia hopes to guarantee itself a sphere of influence and control over a territory comprising Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia, preventing them from exercising their independence and sovereignty and imposing on them the type of economic, commercial and military relations they may or may not have with other countries.

This new action, which includes the mobilization of more than 110,000 Russian military personnel to the border, even using Belarusian territory, is an act of conventional war, with devastating consequences for the Ukrainian people, who have experienced enough tragedies at the hands of the Russians, such as the Holodomor, and with long-term implications for the stability of Europe and the West.

According to the Center for Economics and Business Research, between 2014 and 2020 the Russian war has cost Ukraine $280 billion in lost GDP. The annexation of Crimea represents a loss of up to $58 billion in lost GDP. The cumulative loss of output in Donbas, which encompasses Donetsk and Luhansk, amounts to $102 billion.

Russia’s hybrid warfare tactics in Ukraine, Crimea, and Syria

It’s not just conventional warfare. For decades Russia has been deploying hybrid warfare tactics, supporting pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, deploying disinformation campaigns and fake news, both inside and outside Ukraine. These have included everything from interfering in the presidential election in 2014, to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 —where false flag operations were put in place to create a casus beli to justify war— to shaping and supporting pro-Russian insurgencies that help consolidate hybrid tactics to destabilize the Ukrainian government.

Since 2014, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev launched a propaganda campaign against the Ukrainian leadership to destabilize the government of Volodymyr Zelensky and try to impose a pro-Russian government. They forged and positioned a narrative to delegitimize Ukraine’s decision to join NATO. There has been no shortage of accusations of corruption and serving foreign interests.

Russia has for years been creating gray zones that it has learned to control (Crimea and Syria), shaping and supporting insurgencies, promoting the convergence of criminal networks to undermine the territorial control and legitimacy of the governments of target states, launching intelligence, counterintelligence, and disinformation campaigns.

Consequences of western inaction

If NATO, its members, and the rest of the democratic states maintain an attitude of appeasement, dialogue, and concessions, without a serious commitment from Russia to respect Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity, the Kremlin will continue to challenge the West to revise the international order through threats of military force.

It is time for political, diplomatic, and strategic leadership that understands the complexity of the current scenario, and is capable of deterring and containing Russia, responding firmly to demand respect for the sovereignty of its neighbors.

It is also necessary to join efforts and demand commitment from as many democratic states in the West as possible, to deploy actions that combine deterrence by punishment, such as economic sanctions and political and diplomatic isolation, and deterrence by denial, supporting Ukraine to develop the capabilities required to confront Russia both conventionally and asymmetrically or irregularly.

The role of the Ukrainian people and the International Criminal Court

It is urgent to provide the Ukrainians with the means to fight in a confrontation scenario where the Russian superiority must be confronted by means of insurgencies and guerrilla warfare tactics, which requires cooperation in intelligence and war material such as mines, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and small drones.

The aim is to prevent a quick victory, limit the possibilities of controlling the invaded territories for a long period of time, increase the costs of keeping Russian troops on Ukrainian soil, in addition to the economic sanctions and the action of the insurgencies, which are increasingly higher for Russia and lead to political attrition for Putin.

In addition, it will be essential to document the war crimes against the Ukrainian people in order to denounce them before the International Criminal Court and to show the world the horrors of an unjust war promoted by an authoritarian regime that many in the West romanticize and even admire.

Implications for Latin America

Understanding what is happening in Ukraine is important for Latin America and especially for Colombia. Russia’s influence in the region has strengthened simultaneously with the process of consolidation of the authoritarian regime in Venezuela in recent decades.

It is not surprising that authoritarian states such as Russia (as well as others such as China, Iran, and Turkey) maintain and deepen relations with populist and socialist governments in Latin America, especially with Venezuela; a country that ended up becoming a criminalized state, governed by a corrupt, oppressive elite determined to stay in power for decades. To achieve this, they have ceded territorial sovereignty to serve as a theater of operations for the geopolitical power projection of extra-regional actors such as Russia.

It is opportune to recall that, in addition to having military agreements with Russia, the Miraflores regime is committed to defying the international order, extending its socialist political and economic project to the entire Latin American region, and confronting the United States. For this purpose, since the time of Hugo Chávez, it has implemented a doctrine of asymmetric warfare and hybrid warfare tactics, which it has perfected thanks to Russian assistance with armaments, intelligence, and cybernetic warfare capabilities.

This alliance of authoritarian states is based on the shared interests of creating and consolidating a theater of operations, not to deploy a conventional threat, as happened with the missile crisis in Fidel Castro’s Cuba in 1962, but to consolidate gray zones in a territory where borders are blurred and criminal networks control illicit economies and the population.

This allows them to advance in low intensity or fourth-generation war, destabilizing countries like Colombia from within, while advancing in expansionist tendencies, using the narrative of territorial claims, which will have as a precedent what will happen with Ukraine in the coming days.

Lessons from the past

The history of the 20th century has taught us that when democratic states are naïve or appeasing to authoritarian regimes, they end up leading the world into long wars. Stopping Putin is now essential for Ukraine, and also for countries like Colombia, which unwittingly has become a strategic target for the alliance of authoritarian states that want to create an unstable region, for which they are deploying various tactics, which depend on the context to be implemented.

It is essential to understand in depth what is happening in the Colombian-Venezuelan border area. The region is currently experiencing an upsurge in armed violence by criminal groups such as the ELN and the so-called FARC dissidents, who not only have a strategic rearguard or sanctuary in Venezuela, but also operate on both sides of the border and control illegal economies with the consent of the Maduro regime. They also converge with other criminal actors such as Hezbollah and Mexican drug cartels.

In the current Colombian pre-electoral context, it will be necessary to act to mitigate the risks arising from the actions and disinformation campaigns that Russia may deploy to influence the presidential elections, in order to help a candidate aligned with the Maduro regime and the political group vision of authoritarian states to win.

In these times of uncertainty, when we see that the enemies of freedom have always been there, waiting for liberal democracies to falter and weaken in the face of illiberal narratives, it is appropriate to remember Ludwig von Mises, who in his work Human Action said: “Whoever loves freedom must always be ready to fight to the death against those who only wish to suppress it.”

The difficult times we are living in demand leaders and citizens committed to defend what we have achieved in recent decades and to confront the authoritarians who threaten once again to lead the world to the human tragedy of war.

Although Putin has announced a gradual withdrawal of the troops he deployed on the Ukrainian border, it is essential to remain vigilant of the actions he will deploy in different scenarios to continue advancing his goal of reconfiguring Europe’s security architecture and imposing a pro-Russian government in Ukraine.

Carlos Augusto Chacón Monsalve

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