A lesson from the Russian invasion of Ukraine: the insufficiency of the NATO nuclear umbrella

It is surprising that to date no emphasis has been given to a precedent comparable to the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, namely the war between Finland and the Soviet Union, fought in the short span of three months, from November 30, 1939 to 12. March 1940, among other things with a potential juxtaposition of the two dictators who settled in Moscow, today Putin, yesterday Stalin. What is striking is first of all the disproportion of the forces in the field, being Ukraine, like Finland, much less strong than the neighboring power, which, as now, sinned by a serious underestimation of the resistance that could be opposed to it. As Khrushchev writes in his memoirs, “all we had to do was just raise our voices and the Finns would obey. If that didn't work, it would have been enough for us to fire one shot and the Finns would have raised their hands and surrendered. Or so we believed … None of us thought there was going to be a war. We were sure that the Finns would accept our requests without forcing us to war ”.

A heroic resistance, which, however, was eventually folded, forcing Finland, with the peace of Moscow, to give up a significantly larger slice of territory than that demanded by the Soviet Union before the invasion, something that would seem to comfort those who would like to end of the support policy practiced by the West towards Ukraine by sending defensive weapons and / or by launching sanctions. It must be said that even then there was no lack of the international support on which Finland had relied: weapons arrived from France and the United Kingdom, including offensive ones, about 300 airplanes and 500 pieces of artillery, as well as volunteers, mainly but not only from Norway and the Sweden, in a number exceeding 20 thousand; while the direct intervention of about 60,000 French, British and Polish men, through a landing in Norway, took place when the Germans had already started the occupation of the Scandinavian country.

At the time of the invasion of Finland, the world war was already underway. Under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Germans attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, with the immediate reaction of France and the United Kingdom, who declared war on Germany on September 3. Then the Russo-Finnish war took place when France and Germany looked at each other in arms from their respective fortified lines, the Maginot and the Siegfried ; while the Soviet Union, apparently safe after attacking Poland on September 17, remained uneasy, so much so that it wanted to look over its shoulder, moving forward the border line with Finland, which was close to Leningrad, to less than forty kilometers. In the continuation of that passage just quoted, Khrushchev adds: “One may wonder if we had any legal or moral rights for our actions against Finland. We certainly didn't have any legal rights. As far as morality is concerned, our desire to protect ourselves was sufficient justification in our eyes ”.

A retrospective recognition, as a retiree by now far from the absolute power enjoyed at the time; but the same cynicism, freed from all the current propaganda junk for internal use, trying to sell the "special operation" as a re-edition of the patriotic war against a resurgent Nazi threat, appears to be shared by Putin himself. Of course, well aware of violating international law, but convinced of having to contain a possible territorial enlargement of NATO close to its borders, here is a preventive intervention aimed at creating two buffer states, Belarus and Ukraine, one puppet, the other territorially resized and militarily weakened, only to be neutralized.

The classic confrontation between international law and reason of state: the one that the first excludes, the second allows, the invasion of a country universally recognized as sovereign. On closer inspection, if Putin is concerned about NATO expansionism, which followed step by step the collapse of the Soviet bloc after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this is perceived under a double profile, which combines different expectations, but competitors: defensive, as given by a lower exposure to a possible western threat; offensives, such as constituted by an imperial vision, cultivated, without solution of continuity, by Tsarist Russia and by Communist Russia. But Putin himself does not lack a non-strategic justification, but an ethnic one, even if generally assumed to justify wars of conquest with the excuse of wanting to annex enclaves exposed to heavy discrimination: Hitler used it for the annexation of the Sudetenland, the Kremlin resident now uses it to have the newly proclaimed republics of Donbass recognized.

It can be said that in the course of the war the emphasis shifted from strategic to ethnic justification, certainly due to an unexpected resistance, such as to make the final goal of the "special operation", that is the capture of Kiev, extremely problematic. the defenestration of Zelens'kyi, the imposition of a puppet government. Now Putin speaks only of freeing the Donbass, downgrading the attack on Kiev to a mere tactical diversion, only to keep a substantial part of the Ukrainian forces occupied in the north; but it does not let us understand what it really intends to do, given that it has taken on the task of establishing a territorial continuity between Donbass and Crimea, with the exclusion of Ukraine from the Sea of ​​Azov, not without suggesting the existence of a mental reserve about the taking of Odessa, extending the exclusion also from the Black Sea.

Returning to the comparison with the precedent of the Russo-Finnish war, he notes the extreme diversity of the territory involved, here made up of large, medium and small cities, a very dense urban fabric, with a strong impact on the Ukrainian population in terms of destruction and civilian losses , accompanied by a massive mass emigration; but also with great difficulty for the Russian military force to conduct a street-by-street, house-to-house battle. But what weighs above all is the changed international scene, with a Europe not at the center of two world wars in the span of twenty years, but largely reunited in the EU, which has 27 countries, but is allied with the US in NATO. . Yes, the impact of Putin's move, for not being able to put everyone in front of the fait accompli with a blitzkrieg, was counterproductive: it reunited the EU, with the implementation of heavy sanctions; it has revitalized NATO, with the convinced, albeit belated, agreement by member countries of the clause implying the allocation of 2 per cent of annual GDP to military spending.

At that time Finland appeared to be a secondary event, confined to the far north, in a self-isolation that should have kept it unscathed from the cyclone that had already hit the heart of Europe, while a tragic re-edition of the war challenge between France and Germany was taking place. ; now Ukraine is a central affair, which evokes a structural weakness of the EU, the lack of a unitary military force that can be used on the international scene, as demonstrated by all its irrelevance in the matches that have been played by Russia in Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine, yesterday with Crimea, today with Donbass, not only by Russia itself and by Turkey in Libya. This was the bitter truth with which in the end he had to come to terms, that the nuclear umbrella of NATO, that is, mainly of the United States, is not at all a sufficient deterrent, because it cannot be used without only triggering a third world war of the all suicidal. If Russia were to attack the weakest part of the alliance, the Baltic republics, the only feasible choice would be to counter it on the ground, with an immediate response that would naturally require the effective presence of immediately available land, air and naval armed forces.

This is the lesson that can be drawn from the invasion of Ukraine, as evidenced by a first concentration of allied forces on the border with Russia, but what is the prospect of Ukraine itself? According to what Putin recently argued, it would seem to be resolved in the recognition of the annexation of Crimea and the two republics of Donbass, but certainly the main objective of the invasion, the neutralization of Ukraine, a word that can be expressed in more than one word, must not be excluded. a variable, from no to NATO to total or partial disarmament. Nor is it credible that the Russian army docilely withdraws from the conquered territories at the price of heavy losses in terms of men and means, it would be the result of the internal consensus, overly inflated by obsessively representing an enemy determined to wipe Russia off the map, Ukraine as a mere launching pad for a final offensive. There could be a cessation of fire, with an interminable negotiation, such as to justify the stay of the Russian army in the occupied areas, especially in the south.

It is not possible to say when Ukraine will be able to begin to rebuild its cities, to heal its wounds in terms of human losses, to bring back its citizens, it is certain that it will be a further bet of solidarity for Europe, to which it he showed he wanted to belong, not only for geography, but for the identity of tradition, culture, ideality.

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This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Atlantico Quotidiano at the URL https://www.atlanticoquotidiano.it/quotidiano/una-lezione-dallinvasione-russa-dellucraina-linsufficienza-dellombrello-nucleare-nato/ on Mon, 28 Mar 2022 03:53:00 +0000.