Nations clamber to check Russian aggression after Putin upends postwar order

Posted on : 2022-03-02 14:50 KST Modified on : 2022-03-02 14:50 KST
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has revived a nuclear standoff between the US and Russia and made traditionally neutral nations take sides
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the public in a video stating that Russia will begin its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. (AP/Yonhap News)
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the public in a video stating that Russia will begin its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. (AP/Yonhap News)

Tuesday marked six days since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine — a period of major upheavals in the European and global geopolitical orders.

For the first time in six decades, the US and Russia found themselves in a conflict over nuclear weapons, while countries like Germany, Sweden, and Finland either have altered or are considering altering the foreign affairs and national security approaches they have adhered to for over 70 years since World War II.

The US and Europe have been closely united in imposing harsh sanctions to choke off the Russian economy and thwart Putin’s attempt to use armed force to alter the status quo. US President Joe Biden has declared his plans to turn Putin into a “pariah on the international stage.”

The invasion has been more than just part of a “new Cold War” — it has swiftly brought back the kind of savage scenes seen during the previous Cold War.

Four days into the invasion, on Sunday, Putin ordered nuclear weapon units to beef up their alert posture, turning the Ukraine situation into a strategic conflict with the US over the use of nuclear arms. The threat of either the US or Russia using nuclear weapons has not been so explicit since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when it was the Soviet Union raising that specter.

When asked by a reporter at the White House on Monday whether he was concerned about the possibility of nuclear war, Biden said he was not — sending the clear message that he does not plan to get caught up in Putin’s provocations.

Instead, he spoke by telephone with the leaders of Canada, Germany, the UK and France, as well as senior figures in NATO and the European Union.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “We think provocative rhetoric like this regarding nuclear weapons is dangerous, adds to the risk of miscalculation, [and] should be avoided.”

Putin’s rampage has instantly transformed the longstanding geopolitical landscape in Europe.

Germany announced plans Sunday to beef up its military might — something it has refrained from doing since its WWII defeat. Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that day that he intended to raise the country’s defense budget to over 2% of gross domestic product. Breaking a taboo that has remained for years, Germany also plans to provide Ukraine with weapons such as Stinger missiles.

Traditionally neutral Sweden also announced plans to provide weapons to Ukraine. Sweden and Finland, which together have been synonymous with neutrality, began discussions toward joining NATO.

Moscow-friendly Belarus contributed in turn to the revival of nuclear fears by opting on Sunday to amend its constitution to allow for the deployment of nuclear weapons.

In a recent contribution to Foreign Affairs, Angela Stent, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, suggested that the European security order was entering its third postwar reorganization. The first was the formation of rival US-Soviet blocs after the war, while the second was the post-1990 drive to create a “whole and free” Europe after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Stent read Putin’s resurrection of the old Soviet sphere of influence as an attempt to form “tripolar spheres of influence.” With the US finding itself in a difficult battle against two major adversaries, it alluded on Monday to a return to the “two-war doctrine” abandoned during the Barack Obama administration.

The US and others are deploying the weapon of economic isolation to sequester Putin. After moving on Sunday to exclude Russian banks from the SWIFT international transaction network, the US and others also barred transactions with Russia’s central bank on Monday.

Numerous major multinational corporations have stated their plans to pull out of Russian projects, while demonstrations denouncing Putin as a murderer continued for a sixth straight day in major cities around the world.

In Russia, around 6,000 people were arrested for anti-war demonstrations.

The sanctions have also spread to the fields of culture and sports, as Russia was booted out of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

By Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent

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