Russian invading forces have been shelling civilians in Kyiv, Kharkiv and other areas of Ukraine in recent days, resulting in mounting casualties with hundreds of civilian deaths and raising questions about whether the West can get more involved militarily or economically, or take any other efforts to help besides facilitating the maintenance of channels of negotiation.
Here are some options and their associated risks.
No-fly zone over Ukraine
After the outbreak of the war, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, called on the West to introduce a no-fly zone over his country, arguing that “people are dying at this very moment.” This idea caught on with many as the explosions intensified.
The creation of airspace to prevent Russian Air Force flights must be secured by military means, usually through surveillance, pre-emptive strikes and, ultimately, downing denied entry. This would mean that NATO forces would directly attack Russian aircraft.
Western leaders have repeatedly said that the North Atlantic Alliance cannot impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine because, according to British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, “it will lead to a war against Russia throughout Europe,” as this would mean Western aircraft would have to take over airspace control.
But Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the British Conservative Defense Committee, complained that Wallace rejected the idea, at least publicly. “It shows that we have forgotten the rules of government in the post-Cold War era, showing weakness and not keeping the enemy on his toes. Even if you have privately ruled out this option,” said the British MP.
Ground Forces in Ukraine and Eastern Europe
During Boris Johnson’s visit to Estonia on Tuesday, the British Prime Minister said the UK, like other Western countries, “will not fight Russian forces in Ukraine.” And he assured that doubling British forces to about 2,000 men in the Balkan country “is nothing short of a defensive measure.”
There was no political will to allow Ukraine to join NATO, which meant that Kiev now had to defend itself in the face of a Russian attack. According to Malcolm Chalmers, an analyst at the Rusi think tank, a more realistic approach for NATO would be to “continue to strengthen its eastern flank” by increasing the size of military garrisons from Romania in the south to Estonia in the north.
NATO has already said it will deploy “thousands” of its rapid reaction forces on the territories of its member states in Eastern Europe. The United States alone sent over 12,000 troops. But this is unlikely to help Kiev directly. To do so directly would also mean starting a war.
Arms and military assistance
The United States and Great Britain provided anti-tank weapons to Ukraine before the start of hostilities. After the Russian invasion, many other countries joined in the supply of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, including Spain, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. However, to counter the Russian advance, supplies had to continue.
“The most important thing is to provide weapons that Ukrainians are used to dealing with, like man-portable air defense systems and a lot of anti-tank missiles,” Chalmers says. Ukrainian forces will also need the bare necessities: ammunition and fuel, as well as open supply lines, meaning that logistics in Ukraine and beyond will be critical.
But this week, a more ambitious plan to send planes from Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria collapsed. These were Russian-made MiG-29s and Su-25s, Ukrainian pilots know these. It is not clear how realistic this proposal was, but if the plan were revived, it could provide aid to the beleaguered Kyiv Air Force to withstand the offensive and also prolong the conflict.
Experts point out that although the Russian advance on Kyiv and other important places is slow, it is moving forward. Matthew Buleg of the Chatham House think tank says “unlimited warfare” is looming, with targeted strikes replacing massive area bombings and civilian casualties likely to rise.
They say that there is not enough food in eastern Ukraine, and humanitarian aid is delayed at the border with Poland and takes 48 hours. “In general, Ukraine’s neighbors need to prepare for a humanitarian catastrophe,” says Keir Giles of Chatham House. And he adds that the situation requires great efforts on the part of public donors and private individuals.
Block energy export
It is believed that the biggest step the West can take to hurt the Russian economy would be to block energy exports. So far, they are resisting because of the damage it will cause to European countries dependent on gas supplies.
It is estimated that the UK, US and EU buy up to $700 million (about 633 million euros) of oil, gas and other raw materials daily, fueling the Russian economy and helping the Kremlin. Russia accounts for about 40% of natural gas imports to the EU, up to 65% to Germany and 100% to some Eastern European countries.
But there are options to replace Russian gas, including seeking additional supplies of liquefied natural gas from other countries such as Qatar – a dictatorship. Coal use could also increase, or Germany could shelve its plan to shut down the three nuclear reactors it still maintains.
Stricter financial sanctions
Sanctions against Russian banks and the country’s central bank have the greatest impact on its economy. At the first sign of damage, the Moscow Exchange remains closed and the ruble plunged nearly 30% on Monday after steps were taken to freeze the Russian central bank’s reserves abroad.
Measures are still being considered to exclude more Russian banks from the Swift system for international payments. But there is concern that extending the measure too broadly will reverberate on the global financial system, which has never experienced a similar crisis.
The fight against the oligarchs
The EU, US and UK have announced sanctions against Russian oligarchs. The UK, which has particularly close ties to Russian money, has so far singled out only nine people, while the EU has imposed sanctions on many more.
The idea is that inflicting financial damage on the Russian elite, who are seen as collaborators of Vladimir Putin’s regime and whose wealth is distributed around the world in the form of investments in real estate and businesses, will eventually lead to pressure on the president himself.
There have been calls in the UK to expand the network of sanctioned oligarchs and do it faster. Margaret Hodge, Labor MP, urged the British government to include 105 more oligarchs. “We are involved in this and we contribute to this without stopping it.”
Translated by Maria Torrens Tillach.
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