The geopolitical implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Conflict management Diplomacy Defence War International relations Russia (Federation) Ukraine

This paper analyses the reasons why President Putin decided to invade Ukraine and annex Crimea, the implications of this for Russia’s return as a major power, and the broader geopolitical policy implications.

Executive summary

  • This is the worst crisis in Europe since the end of the Cold War. It marks the return of a Russia hostile to the West that is prepared to reject international norms about state sovereignty and risk confrontation with NATO. Under Putin, we can expect protracted and wider confrontation with the West.
  • Putin invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea because he regarded the threat of Ukraine’s membership of NATO as undermining Russia’s vital national security interests.
  • Russia has significantly improved its military capabilities since its invasion of Georgia in 2008. This was demonstrated in the surprise occupation of Crimea. Moscow’s positioning of 50,000 troops on the eastern Ukrainian border threatens further intervention, the risk of civil war and military conflict with Ukraine.
  • The strategic implications for Australia are whether Washington’s pivot to Asia will now be diverted to Europe and whether China also will be encouraged to greater territorial adventurism.

Policy recommendation

  • Australia’s defence strategy should now take account of how major powers such as China and Russia might use conventional force, or threats of use of conventional force, to challenge territorial sovereignty and impose their will more generally.
  • Canberra also needs to factor into its strategic assessments the impact of the Ukrainian crisis on a) China’s strategic policy and regional ambitions and b) the US military commitment to Asia.
  • Given the rise of military capabilities and nationalism in our region, the new Defence White Paper should give appropriate priority to policies of countering conventional threats and coercion, including from major powers.
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