On March 1, the upper house of Parliament in Moscow gave Russian President Putin the authority to use force to protect Russian citizens and soldiers not only in Crimea, but throughout Ukraine. The following day, the new leaders of Ukraine accused Russia of declaring war against their nation and mobilized their armed forces.
Three days later, on March 6, the Crimean parliament voted unanimously to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia, and to hold a March 16 referendum, in which Crimean voters would be offered two choices: for Crimea to remain in the Ukraine or for it to become part of Russia. On March 7, Russia indicated that should the vote go in favor of secession, Russia would be willing to accept the offer and make Crimea part of Russia.
On March 8, there were widespread reports and videos of Ukrainian military forces leaving their barracks. However, Reuters reported that Ukraine has no plans to send troops into Crimea. The Ukrainian Defense Minister maintains that whatever troop movements are occurring in Ukraine are only "routine work that the armed forces have always had to do."
It is likely that we shall find out soon whether or not these movements are part of a "training drill." Suppose they are not, suppose instead that the new Ukrainian government is preparing to send its mobilized armed forces into the Crimea before the March 16 referendum can be held. Should they do so, they will come into direct military conflict with the Russian troops that are garrisoned in Crimea (up to 25,000 Russia troops are permitted to be in Crimea, by virtue of a 1997 Ukrainian-Russian treaty).
There are approximately 90,000 active members of the Ukrainian armed forces, with 1,000,000 reserves. Although the 22,000 Ukrainian troops in Crimea appear to have chosen to side with the forces in Crimea, it would appear that a mobilized Ukrainian army still would be able to field a formidable force.
Putin has already mobilized Russian military forces, as evidenced by the 150,000 Russian troops who took part in more "routine" drills near the Ukrainian border. These forces are obviously are quite ready to be deployed to Crimea to support Russian troops garrisoned there, just as they are ready to move to defend Russian citizens in Eastern Ukraine, where the Russian Foreign Ministry has also condemned "lawlessness" and violence its says is now taking place.
Thus there are now multiple pathways that can lead to civil war and international conflict in Ukraine. The first hinges upon whether or not the new government in Kiev can prevent increasing violence and chaos in Eastern Ukraine, which could lead to a Russian intervention there. The second and perhaps more dangerous possibility is that the Ukrainian government will be reckless enough to attempt to go into Crimea in force.
Either pathway would represent an utter catastrophe for the people of Ukraine. However, under such circumstances, the next question is, will NATO come into the conflict to support the Ukrainian armed forces? Note that the new ruler of Ukraine is coming to Washington this coming Wednesday, March 12, to meet with Barack Obama. Suppose Obama promises to "protect" the Ukraine?
The greatest single mistake that the US can make now is to pledge that US/NATO forces will provide military cover, assistance, or support to Ukrainian military forces. This would set up the situation where, in the event of a Ukrainian civil war, US/NATO forces could come into direct military conflict with Russian forces.
Furthermore, US/NATO naval forces should not be deployed in the Black Sea, where they would be in close proximity to Russian naval forces. In the event of a war in which Russian forces were actively engaged, the presence of US forces nearby would create a significant chance for a mistake in which US or Russian forces would fire upon each other. Supersonic fighters traveling at more than 1,000 mph can easily overfly national boundaries or "hostile" military forces.
If NATO and Russian forces to come into direct military conflict, then the possibility of nuclear conflict increases exponentially. NATO cannot send in its 25,000 man Response Force and expect to defeat 150,000 Russian troops (or more) in a fight at the Russian border. In a NATO-Russian conventional conflict, in which Russian forces were prevailing, NATO would have the choice of withdrawing, calling for a ceasefire, or using its nuclear weapons against Russian forces.
NATO has at least a couple hundred US B61 nuclear weapons forward deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. The B61 is a "variable yield" weapon; the two models currently forward-based in Europe, the B61-3 and B61-4 both can be set to have an explosive yield of 300 tons of TNT (0.3 kilotons).
In other words, the B61 is designed to be "useable" nuclear weapon, beginning with a "small" detonation that is roughly 20-30 times larger than our largest conventional weapon. However, the B61-4 can also be set to have an explosive power as much as 50,000 tons of TNT (50 kilotons), and the B61-3 as much as 170,000 tons of TNT (170 kilotons) – which is 70% greater than many of the strategic nuclear warheads carried by US nuclear subs.
Even if NATO could manage to use its conventional forces to defeat Russian conventional forces, Russia would *not* allow such a defeat upon its very border. Russia would certainly use nuclear weapons to stop NATO.
"In order to maintain a credible nuclear deterrence effect under the conditions of a regional war, Russia believes it should not rely on strategic nuclear forces, or on them only, but must maintain a range of options for the limited or selective use of nuclear weapons in order to be able to inflict a precisely set level of damage to the enemy sufficient to convince him to terminate military confrontation by exposing him to the danger of further nuclear escalation
. . . When introducing the concept of "nuclear de-escalation" in the late 1990s, the Russian defence establishment was obsessed with the possibility of a Kosovo-type US/NATO intervention in the war ("armed conflict") in Chechnya, which resumed in 1999. It did not exclude the possibility that, in the event of such a case, Russia would be forced to resort to nuclear weapons."
In a NATO-Russian conflict, in which Russia introduced nuclear weapons, NATO would be fully capable of responding in a tit-for-tat fashion. This would be the same pattern as was seen in the NATO war games of the Cold War. Once the nuclear "firebreak" is crossed, once nuclear weapons are introduced into a military conflict in which *both sides have nuclear weapons*, there would likely be an almost inevitable escalation of conflict, a progressive use of nuclear weapons by both sides, with progressively larger targets being taken out.
Peer-reviewed scientific studies predict that a war fought with hundreds or thousands of US and Russian strategic nuclear weapons would ignite nuclear firestorms over tens of thousands of square miles. These mass fires would produce between 50 million to 150 million tons of smoke, which would quickly rise above cloud level in to the stratosphere, where winds would carry it around the Earth. In a matter of weeks or months, a global stratospheric smoke layer would form, which would block up to 70% of warming sunlight, quickly producing Ice Age weather conditions in the Northern Hemisphere.
The scientists predict that temperatures in the central US and Eurasia would fall below freezing every day for about three years. The smoke, the darkness, and extreme cold weather would last for ten years or longer, eliminating growing seasons, making it impossible to grow food. Most people and animals would perish from nuclear famine. Nuclear war is suicide for the human race.
Therefore, it is imperative that NATO does *not* come into support Ukraine or enter into any Ukrainian conflict. Should it do so, it would risk coming into a direct military conflict with Russia. A US/NATO-Russian battle in Ukraine could easily become a nuclear war that could destroy all nations and peoples.