Ordinarily I try not to post about current events. While very meaningful at the time you are writing them, 95% of them do not do well 5 years hence or with audiences that do not have the background (the same is true of pop culture). That said, I am taking a offramp today, based partially on my post about Transfers of Power.
For any that have been under a rock over the last two weeks, Russia and Ukraine have been steadily building up forces along the Luhansk/Donetsk and Crimean borders. If the photos and reports are to be believed, both sides are pouring thousands of troops and a great deal of military equipment into the area (if I might give a shout out, I would recommend EndGameWW3 on Twitter. They have very good information, are non-partisan, and you do not have to have a Twitter account to follow).
Both sides have grievances: Ukraine for what it considers the annexation of the Crimea in 2014, Russia for what it considers to be the threat to ethnic Russians in Luhansk and Donetsk regions of the Ukraine. Both sides claim that they want a de-escalation but continue to build troop strength. Ukraine has reached out NATO for support, up to and including the point of asking to join NATO. Russia has apparently requested assistance from Belarus (which shares a border with Ukraine), opening the risk of a two front war.
The US, for what it is worth, has continued to call for de-escalation while unequivocally supporting the Ukraine, up to and including providing non-weapons support in the form of a shipment that recently arrived in the Ukraine (you may also recall that our Sitting President called President Putin a killer. Not a great way to win friends and influence people).
This may turn out to be something. This may turn out to be nothing. What is interesting to me - in a rather dark and "if I am right, it is a horrible thing" way - is that this is the sort of thing that leads to terrible conflicts.
Think about it. If you have not read Barbara Tuchman's classic The Guns Of August, which is a history of the start of World War I, you would do worse than to pick up a copy (as a prognostication tool, if nothing else). What her book - and history - will tell you is that it was not inherently the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that started the war. It was a fuse, but a fuse that could have been extinguished. What started the war was the resulting mobilizations because of a feared impending conflict. Once the mobilizations started, along with the transfer of troops, the forces that could have called the war to a halt were thrust aside. As the other side was mobilizing, our side had to mobilize as well. And then our side had to get in the first strike before their side could.
It was really only a matter of time at that point.
This is where the real risk is: a major event, in the end, by intent, but by a potential mistake or error: the vial that is dropped that has a plague, the one soldier that opens fire precisely when they should not have, the computer virus that infects a network because someone accidentally opens a file. All relatively simple errors, but all errors that have tremendous impacts.
What would also be helpful, of course, would be if everyone would take a moment and actually try to de-escalate the situation. But this seems precisely to not be the case. Ukraine builds up troops - in response to Russia - and openly calls for outside aid, including NATO (To be clear, parking NATO on Russia's doorstep will simply not be allowed. Russia considers NATO an existential threat. NATO somehow cannot see that after 77 years in business against the then Soviet Union and now Russia, Russia might be a little concerned about having them at their doorstep). Russia builds up troops - in response to Ukraine -and suggests that everyone mind their own business, while conducting drills on their side of the border (without considering that to the Ukrainians with the history of the Soviet Union, thousands of troops on their border might be a bit worrisome).
There are so many ways this can go wrong. Really only one or two that can go right.
Time will tell, of course. Two weeks from now, we can possibly all have a good laugh about this and remind me why I should never do current events. Or, we could be looking at a major European Theater War, something we have not seen since the 1990's in Yugoslavia.
It is not that I am inherently pessimistic about the situation. But at the same, time, all I see is weapons and troops flowing into an area and absolutely no-one with any moral authority or perceived wisdom stating "We might want to think about this for a little bit. Maybe stop sending troops up. Maybe stop lobbing the odd shell or bullet the other way." To be fair, I cannot think of anyone that could serve in that role at this time. There are no more neutral parties anymore, just countries and groups fighting for power and perceived interest.
Wars have started over less.