The Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Principal Observations
The Russian military moves in Ukraine mark a political and military escalation between Russia and the West. At this stage, the extent of the invasion is unknown. To judge by open-source statements in Russia, the aim of the operation is demilitarizing Ukraine and eliminating nationalist elements in the country.
In our assessment, Russia, through a combination of hybrid forces, aspires to destabilize Ukraine and topple the government. Ukraine, for its part, is calling on its citizens to mount a defense and show solidarity and steadfastness in the face of Russia. In parallel, the East European countries on Ukraine's border have declared a state of emergency. The pace of developments is fast, but certain elements are evident.
Russia's objective is to bring about a new international order in which it plays a significant role. Moreover, the importance of Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space is critical to Moscow, especially regarding Ukraine.
The Russian demands placed before the West on the negotiating table remain the same. Inter alia, a demand was made that Ukraine not join NATO, and that NATO draw down militarily in the Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.
It is thus expected that as Russia completes its military moves in Ukraine and escalates the situation, it will demand an international conference to establish a new arrangement – and the West will apparently have to agree to this. We also assess that at this stage, Russia intends to conduct the military conflict within Ukraine's borders and not cross the border toward NATO countries.
The sanctions imposed by the West pose significant economic difficulty for Russia, but are not enough to prevent Russian belligerence and a completion of the military moves in Ukraine. It appears that an intensification of the sanctions was taken into consideration, and additional sanctions are liable to harm President Putin and those close to him.
Given the imposition of sanctions, attention should be paid to the rise in oil prices and the impact this has on the Russian economy, which depends mainly on oil and gas exports. Consequently, Russia still hopes to leverage its pressure on the West and employ additional measures.
Hence the Russian maritime exercise in the Mediterranean Sea – which, inter alia, serves as a message to NATO – and the recent statements in the Russian media regarding the Middle East and the Syrian-Israeli border suggest that Russia is liable to act to destabilize the Middle East as well.
Finally, it is worth noting the voices emerging within Russia itself. We are now seeing the awakening of an internal protest in Moscow against the Russian military moves in Ukraine. These join the letter by former Russian senior military figures, calling on President Putin not to go to war in Ukraine. While the clout of dissidents is not significant at this stage, it still merits attention. The 2014 experience shows that military moves in Ukraine are meant to drum up domestic support for Putin.