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In the game of political chess Russia positions itself well against the West

Rami Rayess

Published: Updated:

In the face-off between Russia and the West over rising tensions that a potential invasion of Ukraine is imminent, the former appears more relaxed about the unfolding situation.

The US has told Putin that severe repercussions await him if Russia’s forces start a war. NATO members are united in their ire of Moscow, witnessing the country amass a substantial military presence on the Ukrainian border.

Only, the western countries aren’t clear about what these repercussions are entirely, and once tied down how to implement them.

Closing the Nord Stream pipeline that pumps Russian gas to Germany is one proposal, and Berlin has said it will happen if Moscow’s forces invade Ukraine. In terms of helping militarily, Germany has limited itself to offering Ukraine helmets.

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Biden is adamant that sanctions will be enforced on Putin, limiting Russia’s access to financial markets. Only, there is a growing realization of the complications this involves considering the amount of Russian money from the country’s oligarchs embedded in London.

The British government isn’t really in a position to clamp down on this, introduce sanctions, or force Russian nationals to divest assets and leave the country. Given the billions of dollars at stake, London is unlikely to want to anyway.

Russia has always been considered an aggressor by the West and is ready to invade countries willingly expand its frontiers.

Indeed, it has controlled much of Eastern Europe since the end of the Second World War, but the argument stands that Moscow’s strategy was and remains to maintain a buffer zone with the West.

History is littered with countries invading Russia, and it believes there to be an existential threat from others. With the longest border in the World extending to almost 78,000 kilometers, Moscow might have a point.

Napoleon invaded Russia, and it was a disastrous campaign leading to defeat and a humiliating retreat, with almost 300,000 of his soldiers killed.

A Ukrainian service member points a next generation light anti-tank weapon (NLAW), supplied by Britain amid tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine, during drills in the Lviv region, Ukraine. (File photo: Reuters)
A Ukrainian service member points a next generation light anti-tank weapon (NLAW), supplied by Britain amid tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine, during drills in the Lviv region, Ukraine. (File photo: Reuters)

Hitler tried, too, ordering close to three million troops to invade, which became the most significant military invasion in history, and possibly one of the greatest defeats with the Germans ground down trying to take hold of vast swathes of the Russian land.

Russia’s stance towards Ukraine is problematic for the West. Kiev is the home of an independent nation and has the right to practice self-defense policies as it sees fit, but so does Russia.

NATO has been steadily pushing eastwards since the collapse of the Soviet Union, leaving Moscow exposed and frustrated. Putin’s nervousness is growing, while watching the installation of missiles in former Soviet Republics and his Western front.

Forget the rhetoric from the Western side for a moment: As Russia’s historical enemies gain ground, is it unreasonable to expect Russia to flex its political and military muscles?

The argument that Ukraine is a sovereign state and can join NATO if it wants is, of course, correct. Kiev can approach the European Union and profit from its economic development. It has the full right to choose its paths of foreign policies and its allies.

But, putting the shoe on the other foot, if Cuba invites Russia to base troops on its territory with the argument that it is fearful of the US, this too is valid.

When this happened during the Cuban missile crisis in the 1960s, the United States reaction was not dissimilar to Russia’s today.

For Washington to chastise Russia for its threatening stance with Ukraine is hypocritical.

Another consideration in the mix is international law. If Moscow pushes into Ukraine, the West can legitimately claim that’s Russia’s actions are illegal and enter the fray themselves. But, again, there’s a level of hypocrisy sitting on the West’s side.

Taking into account the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US and UK, which the United Nations Security Council did not approve, it was thus illegal. It was disastrous and left the country paralyzed.

Then, Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories has existed for almost eight decades. Supported by the US, it continues.

Many claims that the last classical occupation remains unresolved, and the bulk of the Security Council resolutions enacted that support Palestine are not.

Jerusalem disapproves of the two-state solution, and illegitimate settlements are spread all over the territories, including areas beyond the 1948 lands, confirmed under international law as part of the potential Palestinian state in any future peace treaty.

This is not to justify Russian policies that are indeed aggressive, but we cannot dispute the double standards.

If Ukraine withdraws from NATO in return for Russia stepping back and removing its troops from the borders, it’s difficult to say whether this is the solution. It might have been several weeks ago, but the posturing on both sides makes it less likely.
Considering all factors, including the West’s unclear military strategy to address the scale of Russia’s invasion, the gas pipeline, oligarchs in London, and Russia’s strong bond with Cuba, it isn’t clear cut what the West can achieve. Moscow isn’t in as weak a position as many are saying.

But then, what do you expect from the World’s chess grandmaster? It’s perhaps not checkmate yet, but Russia appears to have its pieces well positioned.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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