Significance of the Ukraine war

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Significance of the Ukraine war

Kim Min-seok
The author is an editorial writer and former director of the Institute for Military and Security Affairs at the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Godless,” a brutal Wild West miniseries on the Netflix, would also be a fitting title for the invasion of Ukraine. Hundreds of civilian bodies with their hands and feet tied were left abandoned in cities as Russians advanced and retreated. Apartments and office buildings were shattered by merciless shelling. The sights are the most horrific since World War II. Was Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow speaking for the devil when he called Vladimir Putin’s ruthless campaign “a holy war?”

Ukrainian people are waging a desperate war against the evil power of the Russian president. The United States, Britain and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations (NATO) are backing Ukraine indirectly lest direct engagement should provoke nuclear-armed Russia and trigger a World War III. It is like gangsters going on randomly attacking civilians in daylight while police and authorities do little about it. As mankind had often witnessed, justice is distant to a nation without its own power.

Putin’s misjudgment
Russia is hardly laughing. It is headed for a lengthy decline due to Putin’s misjudgment and his brutality. He has messed up big time due to his political greed to protect his power, the country’s security interests and a poorly thought-out war strategy.

Putin started the war for political and military reasons. According to an analysis by experts on Russia, Moscow wished to tame its neighbor who were trying to bolt away from traditional alliance with Russia and join the Western European society. Another reason is to protect Crimea, which hosts Russian military bases and the country’s Black Sea Fleet.

The fleet in the Black Sea is Russia’s centerpiece for naval operation and strategy. Since it was deployed in the Russian-occupied city of Sevastopol in Crimea in 1837, the Black Sea Fleet took part in nearly all Russian military campaigns, including the 1853-56 Crimean War, the two world wars, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 2008 Russo-Georgian War and the 2011 Syrian War, which is still ongoing. The fleet cruises the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic to contain southern Europe. Russia has deployed over 10 military units in the peninsula to support the fleet.

The Black Sea Fleet came under pressure after the pro-western and democracy fever swept Ukraine in February 2014. Since the Euromaidan Revolution, the Russian fleet was asked to leave Crimea. Angered, Moscow invaded Crimea in late February and forcefully annexed it. After Ukraine readied to join the NATO last year, Russia launched a full-fledged assault on the rest of Ukraine.
A Ukrainian serviceman holds a rosary presented by military chaplains after an Orthodox Easter service as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues in Kharkiv, Ukraine, April 24.A Russian warship presumed to be the Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, sinks after being hit by a ground-to-ship missile fired by Ukrainian forces. [TWITTER CAPTURE]

The need to support the fleet
Russians would have to pull the fleet out of Crimea if Ukraine stops supplying water and cuts off ground routes for military supplies after joining NATO. Up to 86 percent of Crimea’s freshwater needs are met through the North Crimean Canal, with water intake from reservoirs built at the lower reaches of the Dnieper River in Ukraine. Military supplies to sustain Russian troops and the Black Sea Fleet rely on the southern coastal roads in Ukraine via Mariupol.

Putin’s first goal was to secure the southern canal region of the Dnieper River and southern coastal roads along Mariupol. The second is to force Ukraine into capitulating politically by capturing Kyiv, the capital, so that Ukraine would never dare suggest the eviction of the Black Sea Fleet. The aim is to establish a permanent buffer east of the Dnieper River and neutralize Ukraine. Putin reportedly thought the operation would last 72 hours.

But the plan has not panned out as Putin has envisioned. The Russians have not been able to occupy Mariupol since they started the war on February 24 and have not captured Kyiv. After Russia even struggled in Donbas — the traditional pro-Moscow region and home of key logistics infrastructure for the Russians — Moscow has sent in reinforcements for an all-out assault. The waterway is also not safe. Once Russians leave, Ukraine can immediately cut off water running through the canal.

Unexpected cyber warfare
The early setback in the Russian military operation stemmed from the underestimation of Ukraine’s resistance and international response. Putin carried out the latest operation using the Russian manual for so-called hybrid warfare, employing cyber operation, information operation and deployment of military forces in stages. Despite a brief success in the early stage of the war, cyber warfare turned against Russia after an international hackers group called Anonymous joined forces to attack Russia, disabling Russian government, media and corporate websites in protest of the unjust war. Russia’s cyber infrastructure was destabilized as a result.

The second-stage propaganda war also did not proceed as planned, due to the defeat in cyber warfare. Russia wanted to weaken the power of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky through fake news and cause political chaos in Ukraine. But Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system helped social media send updates on Russian aggression around the world, uniting the Ukrainian people to defend their country. The developments were something Putin had not expected.

Due to strong resistance in all cities, Russia’s battalion tactical groups (BTG) struggled in ground battles. The Javelin anti-tank missiles and other weapons from the United States and others helped Ukraine’s defense. As of April 16, Russia has lost approximately 20,000 soldiers, 760 tanks, and 160 fighter jets. Moskva — the 11,490-ton flagship of the Black Sea Fleet fitted with cutting-edge radar and rotary cannon — was hit by a Neptune, a relatively unsophisticated ground-to-ship missile, and sank. Interceptors on the $750-million warship to down enemy missiles were of no use.
A Russian warship presumed to be the Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, sinks after being hit by a groupd-to-ship missile fired by Ukraine forces. [TWITTER CAPTURE] 

As BTG failed to seize key cities in Ukraine, the war prolonged and Russian troops have run out of food, fuel and other supplies. After scaling back his war goals, Putin withdrew troops from the Kyiv area and concentrated on seizing industrial base of Donbas and Mariupol. Whether the plan will work remains to be seen unless Moscow resorts to the extreme measure of using biochemical or strategic nuclear weapons.

Whether Putin wins his war or not, he is bound for doom as Russia’s leader. He has been named a war criminal and isolated by international society. Russia’s foreign-exchange reserves have been frozen and the economy has hit rock bottom. The war is estimated to have cost Russia as much as $600 billion, or more than $20 billion each day. Russia is facing its worst period since 1990, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The economic hardship could bring about a change in political system in Russia. Democratization fever could mean the end of Putin’s leadership.

Relations with North Korea and China
In due time, Russia’s regression could have an impact on China and North Korea. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has moved in sync with Putin on international affairs, could find his standing on the international stage greatly weakened. After earning foreign currency through labor in Russia and relying on international assistance, North Korea could no longer expect such benefits. The weakening in the alliance among North Korea, China and Russia can help denuclearize North Korea. But we cannot exclude the possibility of them uniting to engage in provocation to show off their solidarity.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine provoked a swift and decisive international reaction and resulted in scrutiny about other possible aggression, such as China’s invasion of Taiwan or North Korea’s missiles and nuclear threats. Putin’s downfall and the retreat of Russia also could accelerate international cooperation in the Northern Sea Route, which Moscow prepared to monopolize when the sea route connecting northern Europe and northeast Asia is expected to open in 2030.

South Korea must respond to the UN and other international calls to support the freedom of Ukraine. We must be thoroughly prepared for the impact and aftermath of the war. Russia must pay a dear price for its cruel act of violence. Justice in the end always prevails.
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