Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
By now, nearly everyone in the world knows about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, it seems that many people are still shrugging it off as a problem for another country that is so far away, it won’t affect them. They’ve become so numb to news of war in distant countries that they’re unable to appreciate the unique danger of this conflict.
At the center of it is Vladimir Putin. Until recently, I believed Putin was a rational actor. Evil, but rational enough not to launch nukes and end all life on planet Earth. Now, I’m not so sure. Putin is absolutely hellbent on taking Ukraine. For him, failure is not an option.
Before I get into the reasons for this conflict, let me state upfront that I am no expert in geopolitics. The tensions between Russia and NATO are incredibly complicated and go back decades. However, I am very interested in what’s going on, mainly because it could literally lead to my death and the deaths of everyone I love.
In fact, my research has in part been motivated by a desire to find some evidence that everything is going to be okay. So far, it’s not going well. I believe this situation is even more dangerous than the Cuban Missile Crisis.
First, we need to understand why Russia wants control of Ukraine. There are two main reasons, and I will explain both in the sections below.
(Please note that the following is a very simplified explanation of what’s going on. Also, I want to credit the Youtube channel, Real Life Lore, for making this video which helped me understand how we got to this point.)
Why Russia Wants Ukraine
Reason #1: To Keep NATO At Bay
To understand why Russia wants to control Ukraine, we have to go back to the days of The Warsaw Pact, which was created in 1955 as a counterweight to NATO power. The Western side of the USSR sat on The Great European Plain, which is flat and thus very difficult to defend. Therefore, it was in the USSR’s interest to push their sphere of influence as far West as possible, where the plain was more narrow and easier to defend.
The Westernmost countries in the Warsaw Pact included East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, all of which provided a huge buffer between the USSR and NATO. But today, all those countries are part of NATO. Plus, three countries that used to be part of the USSR—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—are also part of NATO.
Naturally, this makes Russia feel very threatened. For the past few decades, NATO has gradually pushed its frontlines closer and closer to Moscow. If Putin sees NATO as a hostile force, then he has reason to be alarmed.
Today, the USSR has broken up into 15 independent countries, and the Warsaw Pact is no more. Russia’s new alliance is called the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which consists of six countries, two of which are West of Russia and share borders with NATO. Those countries are Armenia and Belarus. And right between Belarus and the Black Sea is a large country known as Ukraine.
If Ukraine joined NATO, it would put NATO borders a mere 300 miles from Moscow. And while it’s true that the borders of the NATO countries, Latvia and Estonia, are only a few hundred miles from Moscow, they are not seen as much of a threat because Russia could easily cut them off from the rest of NATO by taking over The Suwalki Gap.
Russia is determined to stop Ukraine from ever becoming a member of NATO. Ukraine is so large (the second largest country in Europe after Russia) that losing it to NATO would—from Russia’s perspective—be a disaster for their national security. It would mean the new NATO frontline stretches across 1400 miles of flat plains right next to Russia. Plus, it would mean that Belarus is surrounded by NATO territory, making it virtually indefensible.
I truly believe that Putin would rather destroy the entire planet than let that happen. Just hours after Putin put his nuclear arsenal on high alert, Russian state television host Dmitry Kiselyov said, “Why do we need a world if Russia is not in it?”
Reason #2: Natural Resources
Russia is already the world’s second largest producer of oil, and they have the world’s largest reserves of natural gas. All this energy represents 30% of Russia’s GDP. However, it won’t do them any good if they have no one to sell it to.
Fortunately for Russia, they’ve been able to sell natural gas to the European Union and use the money to rebuild their country, especially their military. In fact, Russia supplies the EU with 35% of their natural gas.
But in 2012, huge deposits of natural gas were discovered off the coast of Ukraine in the Black Sea. Plus, thanks to new technologies that make it possible to extract natural gas from shale rock, the large deposits of shale gas in East and West Ukraine are suddenly very valuable.
In fact, there is so much gas in Ukraine that it has the potential to be Russia’s biggest competitor in the natural gas market. To Putin, this is infuriating. He believes Ukraine is on land that rightfully belongs to Russia, so the idea that Russia should have to complete with Ukraine in the natural gas market is unacceptable. Putin believes all that gas belongs to Russia, and he is not going to give it up.
I believe that is likely the main reason he invaded and took over the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, to ensure that Russia could maintain control of most of Ukraine’s natural gas. But he also invaded Crimea to take control of the port city of Sevastopol, which is crucial for Russia’s naval operations in the Black Sea.
The main strategic disadvantage of Crimea is that it relies on freshwater from Ukraine. After Russia annexed Crimea, Ukraine promptly plugged up the North Crimea Canal. Now, Crimea is withering away, forced to ration water, and struggling to maintain control of its population. Thus, water is another reason Russia wants to control Ukraine.
Yet another reason is food. At one time, Ukraine was known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union. Because of its very fertile cropland, Ukraine has the potential to grow enough to food for itself and all of Russia. Although Russia can feed itself, it understands the value of good cropland, especially during a time when droughts are becoming more and more common.
And I haven’t even mentioned the mineral resources in Ukraine. They have large amounts of minerals including coal, iron, uranium, lithium, gallium, graphite, manganese, titanium, and much more. I could continue, but this post is already longer than I expected.
Apologies if you find all these details boring, but you need to understand why Putin isn’t going to just give up and back down. Ukraine is more important to Russia than it is to NATO. And because of that, Russia will always have an escalatory advantage over us, which means they are more likely to get desperate and fire nukes than we are.
You could almost think of Putin as a terrorist threatening to blow himself up and us with him if he doesn’t get what he wants. Because of that, we need to be very careful in how we deal with him.
How This Conflict Could Escalate into World War III
Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and many others have been calling for a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine. Most of the people calling for this don’t seem to understand that doing so would essentially be a declaration of war on Russia. If we shoot down Russian planes over Ukraine, then they would likely retaliate with cyber attacks on our power grid or long-range ballistic missiles on our mainland.
Such a scenario could easily escalate into a direct nuclear confrontation. Fortunately, most NATO leaders seem to understand this, so I believe a no-fly zone is very unlikely. However, there are other ways this conflict could lead to nuclear war.
I want to credit Clint Ehrlich and his Twitter thread for the following explanation on how the war in Ukraine could escalate into a conflict between NATO and Russia, something that must be avoided at all costs. It really helped me understand just how much danger we’re in.
In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world has imposed brutal sanctions on Russia, enough to send their economy into a major depression. The value of the Ruble has collapsed, and the people of Russia (many of which are against this war) are going to suffer greatly.
Of course, Putin was expecting this to happen, but he decided that it would be worth it to take control of Ukraine. I don’t think he will make any direct attacks—cyber or nuclear—against NATO countries because of the sanctions.
However, if he believes—whether it’s true or not—that NATO forces are attacking Russian troops, there’s no telling what he might do. Yesterday, the European Union announced that it would provide fighter jets to Ukraine.
Russia, being paranoid, might suspect that these jets aren’t being piloted by Ukrainians, but by fighter pilots from the EU. And since Russia has destroyed most of Ukraine’s airfields, these pilots would have to fly their combat missions from NATO bases in Poland.
Imagine Russian troops getting attacked by what they believe are NATO pilots operating out of Poland. If this hinders Russia’s ability to win the war, Russia might decide it has no choice but to attack airfields in Poland.
And if that happened, it would trigger Article 5 of NATO which states that if one NATO member is attacked, it will be considered an attack on all of NATO, and the member countries would respond by fighting alongside the attacked country. Suddenly, NATO would be in a hot war with Russia.
In other words, World War III.
Fortunately, this morning Polish President Andrzej Duda said that Poland will not be sending any jets into Ukrainian airspace and that NATO will not enter the conflict. For now.
But remember, this is just one of many ways that the conflict could turn into World War III. This war has only just begun, and so far, it’s not going well for Russia. It seems that Putin expected to take over Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, in just a few days, but President Zelenskyy and his people are determined to hold the city, even if it means their deaths.
As a result, Putin is frustrated and reportedly lashing out at his inner circle. Meanwhile, several Russian billionaires and even a few members of Russia’s parliament are beginning to speak out against the war. The longer it takes Russia to get control of Ukraine, the more support Putin will lose—and the angrier he will become.
Meanwhile, Russia is losing the information war. Countries all around the world are condemning Russia’s actions and supporting Ukraine. For example, Switzerland, which remained neutral throughout World War II, is freezing Russian assets. Countries like Finland and Sweden now want to join NATO. And the European Union, which was gradually getting weaker due to infighting and a lack of defense spending, has suddenly been galvanized. Even Germany has committed to a huge increase in defense spending and to wean itself off of Russian gas.
In other words, Putin’s long-term plan to weaken NATO is backfiring spectacularly.
Putin is nearly 70 years old, and I believe he is attempting to secure his legacy while he still can. For the past two decades, he has been strongly influenced by a book called Foundations of Geopolitics, which calls for Russia to rebuild its power by annexing countries and forming new alliances. It has been said that the book reads like a to-do list for Putin.
If Putin feels he is unable to take over Ukraine and that Russia’s economy—and thus its government—is doomed, who’s to say he won’t simply upend the game board and fire the nukes? What if that’s why he has moved his family to an underground bunker?
We can always hope that Putin’s generals will turn on him and force a regime-change rather than start a nuclear war, but the idea of a civil war in a country with a nuclear arsenal that rivals the U.S. doesn’t sound good either.
The fact is, we are closer to nuclear annihilation than ever before, and the situation is only going to get more tense in the coming days and weeks. If you haven’t already, I highly recommending reading a book called Nuclear War Survival Skills. We also have a few articles about nuclear war survival on our site including this one and this one.
However, I must admit that your odds of surviving a nuclear war are slim to none. Even a small nuclear war would still result in the deaths of billions of people due to dying crops and famine. As always, the more supplies you have and—much more importantly—the more basic skills you have, the better your odds of survival.
But if you survive, you would be living in a world like the one depicted in The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’m not sure I would want to live in a world like that.
Please know that I’m not writing this article to scare you. If you follow this site, you know that we don’t publish doom-and-gloom posts and instead focus on emergency preparedness. But with the world so close to the edge, I think now more than ever is the time to learn about emergency survival—if it isn’t too late already.
Perhaps more importantly, now is the time to hug your loved ones. Because we might not have as much time as we think.
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