FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

With its army stumbling on muddy Ukrainian soil, Russia is rattling its nuclear saber instead.

Last week, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned that increasing western military support for Ukraine could lead to World War III. This week, in an apparent escalation of its efforts to intimidate the democratic alliance, Russia announced it was cutting off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria. This happens as officials from 40 countries met to discuss further efforts to assist Ukraine.

Moscow’s increasingly alarming rhetoric should not be ignored. Recall that the two world wars in the last century originated from squabbles over territory among European powers.

A senior Kremlin official gave us an insight into Russia’s strategy in Ukraine. Having utterly failed to take Kyiv quickly and decapitate Ukraine’s leadership, the Russian invading force is now trying to consolidate its control over the country’s south. The plan is not just to build a land bridge to occupied Crimea, but to close down all of Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea.

That strategy will require Russian troops to eventually take over the major port city of Odessa and eventually stretch to the breakaway territory of Transnistia in the adjacent Republic of Moldova. Russia has troops positioned in the breakaway Russian-speaking territory. Those troops could support a siege on Odessa.

Loss of access to the sea will cripple Ukraine’s economy. The beleaguered country is highly dependent on its agricultural and mineral exports that pass through her port cities to the Black Sea. Ukraine cannot survive as a landlocked country.

Heroic resistance put up at the port city of Mariupol delayed Russia’s sweep through the Ukrainian south. As soon as the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance at Mariupol is cleared, Russia could free up its troops for an assault on Odessa. Up to 97 percent of buildings and infrastructure in Mariupol have been destroyed by intense Russian bombardment.

The question on the table for Europe’s defense planners is whether the West will allow Russia to shut out Ukraine from the coast. This will have terrible consequences not only for Ukraine but also for the rest of Europe. This consideration is likely a major factor in Germany’s decision to send advanced tanks to the Ukrainian army.

Quite clearly, Western support for Ukraine is not merely to enable the beleaguered country to hold off the Russian invasion for as long as possible. Strategically, the support is now aimed at defeating Russia.

The US Secretary of Defense said this much after meeting with Zelensky in Kyiv earlier this week. He spoke about the need to “weaken” Russia so that it cannot threaten more adjacent countries.

Recall that at the onset of the Russian invasion last February, the western powers offered to evacuate Zelensky and his government so that they may form a government-in-exile abroad. Zelensky’s response to the offer is classic: He wanted ammunition, not a ride out of his capital.

In those early days of the invasion, no one really gave Ukraine much chance against the power of the Russian army. But the well-trained Ukrainian army put up a fight and the Russian expeditionary force demonstrated unspeakable incompetence in battle.

Today, more and more analysts are agreeing that Ukraine could actually win this. To be able to do so, her armed forces must be supplied with the most advanced weaponry.

Vladimir Putin miscalculated on many things. The two most important ones were the battlefield competence of Ukraine’s army and the strong consensus among the Western powers to support Ukraine to the hilt.

Over the past week, fuel depots on the Russian side of the border were suddenly bursting in flames. Kyiv has not claimed responsibility for these events that impair supply lines for the invading force. The Kremlin, however, found the temerity to complain that Western-supplied weapons were being used to attack Russian territory. That is a bizarre thing for the Russians to say, considering they had sent a large army to attack a peaceful neighbor.

The Kremlin likewise threatened to attack weapons deliveries from the West. That could mean launching attacks on territories of NATO member-countries. So far, however, they have confined themselves to launching cruise missiles against Ukrainian rail facilities. They could yet attack stockpiles of weapons intended for Ukraine positioned in Poland and Romania. That could constitute a major escalation that brings NATO’s forces into the fray.

It is obvious that the high technology weapons systems being delivered to Ukraine are causing the Russian army much grief. Russia’s battlefield losses are mounting. The Kremlin is sounding more and more exasperated by the day.

The global economy is hurting from the invasion’s fallout. Economists tell us the global economy is experiencing the worst price shock in over 50 years. Inflation is pushed higher by rising commodity prices. There could be serious food shortages in large parts of the globe.

It is a given that the fighting in Ukraine could carry on for a longer time as Russia tries to grab and hold on to territory, pretty much as Hitler did during the late 30s. The peril of escalation increases by the day.

The Philippines ought to be preparing for the food shortages that are bound to come. We are a major grains importer. The volume of tradable grain supplies is thin.

We cannot avoid the global surge in inflation. It is cost-driven. We have to start preparing to support our most vulnerable.

The times could get tougher. There are no signs of de-escalation in Ukraine and every sign the conflict could widen.


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