Smoke billows out over Ukraine as Russian forces launches devastating strike on airport Image Credit: AFP

We have yet to know for sure the scope of the Russian military offensive against neighbouring Ukraine as President Vladimir Putin keeps his cards close to his chest. However, the Russian attack seems to be in its beginning and a large-scale operation to ‘demilitarise’ Ukraine is likely to start anytime.

In the early hours Thursday, Russia began what President Vladimir Putin described as “a special military operation” in the breakaway region of Donbas, ending weeks of speculation about Russia’s intentions in Ukraine. Missile strikes and explosions have been reported in several parts of Ukraine, including Kyiv and Kharkiv.

The Russian attack underscore the failure of politics to resolve a crisis that had been brewing for years. But it is not the end of diplomacy. The operation, of which the scale is not fully clear, doesn’t by any way means the end of diplomacy.

Any attempt to force a political position by force is certainly unacceptable. But Moscow feels, however, that it was left with no choice after years of trying to get the US- led Nato alliance to acknowledge its legitimate security needs. Those security guarantees, against the unchecked expansion of Nato in eastern Europe, were promised by American and Western European leaders following the fall of the Soviet Union. The prospect of Ukraine joining Nato is understandably a major Russian concern and a clear threat to its strategic depth and the sanctity of its borders.

President Putin said in a televised address that the operation is aimed at the “demilitarisation” and “denazification” of Ukraine, alluding to Moscow’s claims that an anti- Russian ‘Nazi ideology’ had taken hold of the neighbouring country’s pro- western political elite.

“Massive and unprecedented” sanctions

Meanwhile, the West quickly announced that “massive and unprecedented” sanctions will be imposed in the next few days on Russia’s political, military, financial and business institutions. “With this package, we will target strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking their access to key technologies and markets. We will weaken Russia’s economic base and its capacity to modernise,” European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen said. “These sanctions are designed to take a heavy toll on the Kremlin’s interests and on their ability to finance the war,” she noted.

Condemning the attack, US President Joe Biden vowed to “hold Russia accountable”. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said President Putin has “chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction” and that the western allies would respond “decisively”. The Russian president said his country’s response shall be “instant” if anyone attempts to interfere with the ongoing operation.

These statements, especially those that said the sanctions would be announced in few days, means that there is a chance for a diplomatic solution to the crisis- one possible reason for the military attack could be that Moscow may have felt the West was procrastinating in their response to its demands for security guarantees.

This is a time for restraint. A diplomatic solution is possible and hopefully comes sooner than later.