Despite the efforts of Putins cult of personality (which now includes many of those on the political right in the UK) to deny it, the fact is becoming clear that Russian troops have invaded Ukraine and are fighting alongside the rebels (those who arent Russian that is).
Evidence includes photos of tank variants known to be only operated by Russia, satellite images from NATO showing them crossing the border, the capture of several Russian servicemen by Ukraine and secret funerals for Russian soldiers killed in action in Ukraine.
While Putins strategy is something known only to him and his cronies, its likely they are hoping to carve out an enclave in North Eastern Ukraine which will serve as a bridge head to Russian occupied Crimea.
The implications of this are quite serious. As I speculated would happen some months ago, Ukraine has now announced its intention to join NATO or enter into some sort of mutual defence treaty with NATO. This plus the fact that Russia will now be occupying disputed territory puts us right back to 1947 and the cold war with NATO and the Warsaw pact facing off over Berlin and the two halves of Germany.
Back then it was generally accepted that if the cold war went hot, it would likely be due to one side, trying to take over the rest of Germany by force (likely by an attack through the so-called Fulda Gap), something that would likely have eventually resulted in a nuclear exchange of some sorts.
However the Ukraine crisis threats not just a return to the balance of cold war terror, but something more serious, given that much of the on the ground fighting will be by rebels and other groups who will not be taking into account the implications of their actions on the wider political situation.
Back during the cold war there were strict orders to military forces about what they should or should not do, so scared where the leadership about a stray shot starting world war III (both sides were quite happy to lose a few men, the odd plane or even ship to prevent Armageddon). This is how an attempted defector (Peter Fechter) was left to bleed to death at Checkpoint Charlie for several hours in full view of Western media.
Furthermore, back during the cold war it was generally assumed that the Soviets with their superior ground forces would be the likely antagonists. However, now the boot is on the other foot. As I pointed out in a prior post, NATO now has a massive tactical advantage over Russia in terms of the location of its bases (in many cases ex-Warsaw pact bases in Eastern Europe!), technology, numerical superiority and the levels of training of its forces (most Russian soldiers are conscripts while most of NATOs are professional soldiers). There is little doubt that Russia would struggle to stop NATO in any future conflict. And given NATOs improving ABM capabilities this would probably force them into an increasingly hair trigger launch on warning scenario, something which has nearly led to nuclear war in the past, most notably in the 80s and in during the Yeltsin era.
Of course there is some hope that economic pressure on Putin will bring down his regime. My suspicion is that Putins major flaw is he didnt learn the lessons of history and could well be about to repeat the mistakes of the soviets. For example in retaliation for western sanctions, his government imposed counter sanctions on food stuffs…which of course inevitably triggered price rises of between 10 60% in just a few days and could well lead to the return of the long food queues Russians remember from the last days of the soviet empire.
Indeed the Russians have several queuing jokes from the soviet era that they might need to rehash, such as:
Two men in a queue in Moscow, one goes to the other Im sick of this, the Communists have ruined the country, Im going to the Kremlin to kill Brezhnev….a few hours later he returns did you kill him? his friend says no, I got to red square and there was an even longer queue there!
But jokes aside, whosever in charge of that Doomsday clock needs to dust it off and move it a minute or two closer to midnight by my reckoning.
And it might be a time to watch again the Beeb documentary series from the 90s Cold War.