Will a war between Russia and NATO start in February? Here's how it could happen


NATO has already failed the test of Putin's ultimatum once, and it was February 24.

The shooting down of Russian planes over the Sea of Azov is a headline story, but it is hard to say whether it will have any impact on Putin, as Ukrainians hope. In addition, the Russian public is dispersing information that it was they who shot down the planes, and that the "friend or foe" system did not work. This is nothing new. Do you remember the story of the Moskva cruiser? It is impossible to admit that Ukraine can do such things because it is humiliating for them. But at the same time, again, in trying to cover up one place, you reveal another. That is, if it is your own air defense system that shoots down an airplane, this particular instance of it is absurd. It's an aircraft that was supposed to coordinate the work of the same air defense system. So it turns out that the A-50, or the one that replaced it, the Il-22, targeted the aircraft and called the fire on itself? This is complete nonsense.

The other day, the German newspaper Bild wrote that the Bundeswehr is preparing for a hybrid Russian attack on NATO's eastern flank in February. Bild reported about this with reference to a secret Bundeswehr document. We remember that Bild is a tabloid. But we must thank Bild for once again drawing attention to such an important issue as the possibility of a direct military clash between NATO and the Russian Federation. Why do I say this?

Such occasions have already appeared from time to time. Moreover, it is a fairly routine procedure when the military and politicians develop various scenarios and war games, which form the basis for specific planning. This is another example. I would like to mention a book by retired British General Richard Shirreff, written in 2016, which lays out a scenario of how a war between NATO and Russia could take place in fiction. After he had worked for many years in very high positions and retired, he attempted to fictionalize his experience.

So, let's again define the difference between a scenario and a forecast.

The fact that the date of February was chosen should not be taken as a forecast, so I will not spend any more time explaining the connection between the elections and other events. But again, if we talk about the value of this scenario, in my opinion, our Western partners still lack a more realistic perception of the existing threats. They proceed from the classical approach that this possible war, a clash between NATO and Russia, will follow the same patterns that Putin used against Ukraine, which is a rather grave mistake. Second, the war between Russia and NATO is already underway. De facto, it is in a hybrid plane. This is not only the cyber plane, but also the information space, so the war is already underway. Whether it goes into a hot phase will depend to a large extent on how realistically these threats are assessed and how well this range of possible scenarios is worked out. The scenario proposed by Bild, in my opinion, is unlikely. Although, of course, it cannot be ruled out.

So what is the likelihood that the Russian Federation will go to direct war with NATO, and what measures are the Allies currently taking to protect themselves from such interference? Poland, the Baltic states, Finland, and also Sweden, although it is not yet a NATO member - these countries have a fairly realistic understanding of what could happen. From my experience with my Baltic and Polish colleagues, they are taking concrete, practical steps and have done so before. If we talk about NATO in general, I don't think that, as I said, there is a complete understanding of how Russia can defeat them.

If we're talking about conventional warfare, Russia has zero chance of holding out for a few hours or a few days if full American power is utilized. Therefore, no matter how stupid and unpredictable the Russians are, they understand this and will not do it. What Russia can do, and where NATO's weakness lies, is to take them, figuratively speaking, "for a ride." They issued an ultimatum before the full-scale invasion. We all know how NATO reacted to this. Frankly, the reaction was weak, and it gave Putin confidence that NATO would do nothing if he invaded Ukraine. So, once again, NATO has failed this test.

What will happen next? I don't want to be a prophet, but it will most likely be something similar. Russia will, at some point, use its strategy of escalation for the sake of de-escalation, and NATO will blink. If Russia threatens with nuclear weapons, let alone, God forbid, makes a demonstrative strike (and we have a good idea where that might be), I am far from convinced that NATO will not back down for the sake of de-escalation, as we have seen, at least during the Biden administration.

The sooner Ukraine can get the support that will allow it to inflict a convincing military defeat on Russia, the lesser the threat to NATO countries that Russia will embark on another such adventure. Russia, as I said, is testing NATO's resolve. This is where the real test comes in. The scenarios Bild writes about are still in the theoretical realm, but here is a practical test.

Read also: The F-16, Crimea, and the end of the war. What will happen next?

If NATO now demonstrates the determination that will finally convince Russia that it will not achieve its goals in Ukraine, it is logical (I am not saying that it is 100%) that the Russian leadership will understand that if NATO is so strongly supporting Ukraine, then no one should have any questions about NATO's determination if it affects the territory of NATO countries-the Baltic states, Poland, anyone. That is, NATO now has a chance to prevent future Russian aggression against NATO countries at the expense of Ukraine.

No matter what they say, the arguments why Ukraine should not be admitted to NATO right now are just an attempt to justify it. Just like the infamous Budapest Memorandum. It would be used for its intended purpose if they wanted to use it. If they want to call it an "excuse," they can find the right word.

In this situation, the problem is not even what Article 5 says and how we interpret it. The problem is that there is no leadership. Even if the Alliance, especially the United States, were to be led by a politician of Churchill's or at least Boris Johnson's stature, you must take risks. Then everything would be different. Today's leaders, those on whom such decisions mainly depend, are incapable of handling such steps - of escalating relations with Russia, and Russia will definitely fight back. There are no such leaders now. We have what we have.

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