Speculation has swirled since Russia’s setback in Kharkov Region that Moscow might change the nature of its special military operation in Ukraine into something more robust, which could be about to happen as soon as next week. Following the completion of the planned referenda in the liberated areas of that erstwhile Soviet Republic’s former Donetsk, Kherson, Lugansk, and Zaporozhye Regions on joining the Russian Federation, they might end up being considered by the Kremlin to be its own sovereign territory. In that case, the special operation would transform into a defense of its own borders.
This would qualitatively change the way in which the Russian Armed Forces’ campaign is fought since its troops would no longer have one hand tied behind their back for hybrid humanitarian-political reasons like has hitherto been the case when conducting their special operation in Ukraine. As President Putin himself announced on Wednesday during his televised address to the Russian people, all means will be employed to defend their country’s territorial integrity. This suggests that he’ll no longer mandate that his forces exercise self-restraint since Russia’s continued existence would be their only priority.
The Ukrainian Conflict would therefore evolve into a truly international one, and not just between Russia and Ukraine, but between Russia and Kiev’s NATO allies. Truth be told, it’s already reached that phase that long before the special operation, but what’s meant by this observation is that the rules of engagement would have completely changed. That’s not to imply that Russia would utilize its UN-enshrined right to self-defense to strike targets in NATO states and thus risk sparking World War III, but just that it’ll probably pull out all the stops in crushing the bloc’s Ukrainian proxies.
In the worst-case scenario, this could even include using tactical nukes in accordance with its doctrine to defend against “a conventional attack that threatens the existence” of Russia as a sovereign state as an absolute last resort if NATO pushes Kiev to launch an overwhelming conventional attack against that country’s new international borders should folks from those four former Ukrainian regions choose to join Russia. So as not to be misunderstood or have the preceding sentence maliciously spun by infowar forces, Moscow wouldn’t want to do that unless literally forced to, but all options remain on the table.
After all, the sudden transformation of the special operation into a defense of its own borders would also transform the rules of engagement. A setback like the recent one in Kharkov Region could never be allowed to happen since it would be considered by the Kremlin as amounting to an overwhelming conventional attack deep within the territory of the Russian Federation itself that thus threatens its territorial integrity and therefore the very existence of this newly restored world power as a sovereign state. Quite understandably, tactical nukes could be used in self-defense as a last resort in that scenario.
They could not, however, be used if the special operation were to remain in effect. The whole reason why it might be about to transform into a defense of Russia’s own borders is a direct reaction to the US’ series of moves through its Ukrainian proxy. Had Washington not marshalled NATO to resupply Kiev’s forces and help it plot this month’s pushback in Kharkov Region, then the remaining liberated areas of the former Soviet Republic probably wouldn’t have prioritized holding referenda on joining Russia as soon as possible in order to protect their people from that fascist regime’s retribution.
Considering this sequence of events, it can therefore be concluded that the responsibility for de-escalating the Ukrainian Conflict rests with the US and not Russia since the former controls the dynamics that resulted in the latter reacting to everything in the most reasonable and predictable way. It’s unrealistic to expect Russia to ignore the democratic will of the people in those four former Ukrainian polities, which in turn makes it unrealistic to expect Russia not to defend its new frontiers upon their incorporation into the country as autonomous republics per the Crimean precedent.
The US can either de facto recognize this rapidly emerging geopolitical reality just like it unofficially did when it came to Crimea’s democratic reunification with Russia or it can opt for repeating the Donbass scenario of pushing Kiev to militantly reclaim its former territories, albeit this time provoking a major international conflict since the target would be considered by the Kremlin to be Russian territory. President Putin already promised that all means will be employed to defend his country’s territorial integrity, so the Donbass scenario can thus rightly be described as the doomsday scenario for Kiev.