Could the West face up to Russia's military might?

Russia has upgraded its military, whereas the West has made huge cuts. Can the West face up to Russia if push came to shove?

Stefan Hedlund:

This is not really the point where we need to worry the most. Russia has invested a lot in upgrading its military but from a very low level. And much of that investment has been stolen, has disappeared, and has been spent on sub-standard components, making us wonder if even what looks like cutting edge military hardware really would work.

On the other hand, whilst the West has been cutting back it has been cutting back from a very high level. So the two are not getting very close to each other.

If push came to shove, and it really were to become a major confrontation between Russia and Nato it would be over in a few hours. Russians are well aware of this, as they are as aware of their inferiority to even the Chinese military – so they are not going to pick that kind of a fight.

What we need to worry about is if – and wars do not always start because people want it – if it really comes to a shooting war between Russia and Nato, then we must be realistically ready to face the fact that the Russia will go nuclear at a very early stage.

They view tactical nuclear weapons as some sort of reinforced battle artillery, and they have very sophisticated missiles and delivery vehicles.

So if it really comes to a shooting war between Russia and Nato it will get nuclear, and that is really horribly ugly. Hopefully all parties in this conflict will remain sane and save us from that.

Is there a real chance that the crisis will escalate into nuclear conflict?

Stefan Hedlund:

It will go nuclear at the point where Russia gets involved - I mean there’s a step-wide process - if Russia gets involved in a shooting war with the Ukrainian army and the West foolishly intervenes, then Russia will go nuclear. I think this is something everybody knows, and Russia certainly has no qualms about it.

They have held military maneuvers where they have actually simulated nuclear strikes on Warsaw just to drive the point home. So everybody knows full well. And they have sent the message to the Chinese – ‘if you invade us with a few million men, we will nuke you’. And I think that threat is credible because it will be a sort of survival instinct for the Russians – ‘either we go down alone or we go down together, and it’s better that we go down together’.

So I think that is the deterrent. That will deter the Russians from getting involved in a serious war with the Ukrainian army. And it will deter the Americans or Nato from getting involved because the outcome would be so horrible.

How does the Ukraine military measure up to Russia?

Stefan Hedlund:

Well that’s a very different kettle of fish. When we say that the Soviet leftover forces in Ukraine and Russia were the same 20 years ago, Russia has seriously upgraded its share of what it inherited from the Soviet Union. Not to Nato standards, but compared to what Ukraine has the Russian forces are more numerous and vastly more superior in terms of technology.

Ukraine has allowed its forces to lapse into obsolescence. And if it comes to a shooting war between Russia and Ukraine, that will not be very happy day for Ukraine.

What is mainly in focus now is the Black Sea Fleet, that is what the Russians are claiming ownership to and they are forcing Ukrainian captain’s ships and even the commanding admiral to switch sides and swear allegiance to the Russian side. And that is probably the way it will go, the Russians will simply take over the Ukrainian forces.

If it comes to a shooting war on mainland, i.e, outside the Crimean peninsula, between the Russian and Ukrainian armies, it will get extremely ugly. We cannot exclude a civil war within the Ukrainian forces that are Russian and Ukrainian. The Russian leadership will have to face the fact that if they shoot Ukrainians they are going to be shedding a lot of Russian blood.

Should the Baltic states be concerned over Russia’s military capabilities?

Stefan Hedlund:

It is fully understandable that the governments in the Baltic republics do worry about what happened in Georgia and Ukraine may come to happen in their countries as well. And it is fully understandable that they are now demanding consultations with Nato, which they are members of, according to Article 4 on mutual defence - the so called ‘Muskateer paragraph’, one for all and all for one.

And it would be wise for Nato to listen to this and give some sort of assurances that attack on the Baltic republics is are red line that will not be ignored.

But from my point of view I don’t think there is any serious ground for the Baltic republics to worry. This is more to do with Russia and Ukraine, it has to do with Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet, it has to do with what Russia regards as its vital interests.

Russia and Ukraine from the Russian point of view cannot be separated because that would be the end of Russia. The Baltic republics do not figure into that calculus, at least not today. Although if this conflict keeps on escalating then nobody knows where it will end.