Analysis: Russia’s war in Ukraine reaches a critical moment

Sep 29, 2022, 11:51 PM | Updated: Sep 30, 2022, 2:45 pm
FILE - In this image made from video released by the Russian Presidential Press Service, Russian Pr...

FILE - In this image made from video released by the Russian Presidential Press Service, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressees the nation in Moscow, Russia, on Feb. 24, 2022. (Russian Presidential Press Service via AP, File)

(Russian Presidential Press Service via AP, File)

              FILE - In this image made from video released by the Russian Presidential Press Service, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressees the nation in Moscow, Russia, on Feb. 24, 2022. (Russian Presidential Press Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - In this image made from video released by the Russian Presidential Press Service, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressees the nation in Moscow, Russia, on Feb. 24, 2022. (Russian Presidential Press Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - In this image made from video released by the Russian Presidential Press Service, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressees the nation in Moscow, Russia, on Feb. 24, 2022. (Russian Presidential Press Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Soldiers walk amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)
            
              FILE - Russian military vehicles move on a highway in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces near Mariupol, Ukraine, April 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov, File)
            
              FILE - Ukrainian soldiers take positions in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti, File)
            
              FILE - Debora Aberastegui holds the hands of her father Pedro Aberastegui through a plastic sleeve at the Reminiscencias residence for the elderly in Tandil, Argentina, Monday, April 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
            
              FILE - People in protective clothing walk past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the Iranian army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran, on Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)
            
              FILE - Workers wearing personal protective equipment bury bodies in a trench on Hart Island, Thursday, April 9, 2020, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
            
              FILE - Iraqi mourners, leading a procession with coffins carrying the dead, protest in front of American soldiers guarding a site where an American ammunition dump exploded and killed at least six Saturday April 26, 2003. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File)
            
              FILE - After making a tailhook landing in an anti-submarine aircraft, President Bush is welcomed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, Thursday, May 1, 2003, off the California coast. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
            
              FILE - A U.S. marine watches a statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in downtown Bagdhad Wednesday April 9, 2003. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)
            
              FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2001 file photo, firefighters work beneath the destroyed mullions, the vertical struts which once faced the soaring outer walls of the World Trade Center towers, after a terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
            
              FILE - Thick smoke billows into the sky from the area behind the Statue of Liberty, lower left, where the World Trade Center was, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Daniel Hulshizer, File)
            
              FILE - Pedestrians in lower Manhattan watch smoke billow from New York's World Trade Center on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. Just this century, the 9/11 attacks in 2001, as the US launched a “shock and awe″ war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq two years later, March 2020 as the pandemic began to sweep across the globe, killing millions and upending everything in its path, and most recently when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. The latter brought ruinous war back to Europe’s heartland. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

LONDON (AP) — There are moments in history that appear as critical to the world as they are terrifying.

Just this century: the 9/11 attacks in 2001; the U.S. “shock-and-awe´´ war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq two years later; the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 killed millions and upended life; and most recently the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine by Russia, bringing ruinous war back to Europe.

Friday seemed one of those watershed moments as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed treaties to illegally annex a large swath of eastern and southern Ukraine, like it did with Crimea in 2014.

Coming seven months into the conflict and with near daily nuclear threats by backs-to-the wall Kremlin leaders, Putin chilllingly vowed to protect the newly annexed regions by “all available means.” Almost immediately, Ukraine’s president countered by applying to join the NATO military alliance, setting Russia up to face off against the West.

Any thought that this kind of harrowing brinkmanship had ended with the 1980s when the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and then U.S. President Ronald Reagan eased the Cold War and the specter of nuclear Armageddon, is now gone.

Even with the horror of Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki burned on humanity’s collective consciousness, the world finds itself once again contemplating the possible use of nuclear weapons.

After a series of humiliating setbacks on the battlefield, Putin has made it painfully clear that any attack on the newly annexed regions would be construed as an attack on Russia. He would use any means available in his vast arsenal — the nod to nuclear weapons was barely veiled — and wasn’t bluffing, he said.

“We’re in an escalation phase, and Russia now is faced with a series of more extreme choices than before,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, the former U.K. ambassador to Belarus.

Gould-Davies, who is senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Russia’s attempts to win the war by more moderate means have failed, and Putin is now having to increase the “range and severity of the measures” Russia is taking, including annexation and nuclear threats.

Even as Moscow annexed the four Ukrainian regions in a move that will not be recognized by an overwhelming majority of the world, tens of thousands of Russian men called up to fight in the war were fleeing Russia.

Former Kremlin speechwriter turned political analyst Abbas Gallyamov on Friday linked Russia’s reversals in the war with the annexation push. “It looks like an attempt to respond somehow, and it looks quite pathetic. Ukrainians are doing something, taking steps in the real material world, while the Kremlin is building some kind of virtual reality, incapable of responding in the real world,” he said.

Driving Putin are years of perceived humiliation at the hands of the West after the demise of the Soviet Union. And the fact that previous bloodshed and atrocities committed against Chechnya and Syria escaped severe international intervention seemed to give him the conviction that he had carte blanche to rebuild an Imperial Russia.

That’s not the case now.

Billions of dollars in United States and European military aid are helping highly motivated Ukrainian forces liberate territory in the war amid clear signals from Washington that ”catastrophic consequences” will follow any use by Moscow of non-conventional weapons.

On a day like Friday, Sept. 30, as Russia’s war in Ukraine enters a flammable, even more dangerous phase, the question remains; Is a wider war looming with devastating results for the world, perhaps not seen since 1939-1945?

—–

Tamer Fakahany is AP’s deputy director for global news coordination and has helped direct international coverage for the AP for 20 years. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/tamerfakahany. Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Analysis: Russia’s war in Ukraine reaches a critical moment