How real is the threat of World War III in the current confrontation between Ukraine and Russia? Expert opinion.
Deutsche Welle tried to find out the real state of affairs, relying on the opinion of competent experts. It’s no secret that many countries support Ukraine with weapons, sanctions against Russia, participation in the war of volunteers. Could all this cause the Third World War, and how real is the threat, experts argued.
Two weeks after Russia invaded the country, Kyiv continues its tenacious standoff. Most countries of the world support Ukraine to varying degrees. On March 2, an absolute majority – 141 out of 193 states – voted for the resolution of the UN General Assembly condemning the aggression of the Russian Federation. Many countries are already indirectly involved in the conflict, most of them are on the side of the Ukrainian government. Their support lies in the supply of weapons to Ukraine (including from Germany), economic sanctions against Russia, the participation of foreign fighters, who were officially invited by Kyiv, creating an international legion.
Most of the experts DW spoke with, like many others, believe that World War III is out of the question. Mathieu Bouleg, an expert at the British think tank Chatham House, notes:
“Any conflict has an international component, the very fact of the condemnation of the war in the UN General Assembly, where the representative of Kenya taught Russian President Vladimir Putin a lesson in history, speaks volumes. Neither France nor the UK will declare war on Russia, unless there is an unforeseen escalation.”
A similar opinion is shared by Professor Angelika Nusberger, an expert on Eastern European law at the University of Cologne, and a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). She does not believe that the war in Ukraine has already become a “world war”:
“This is a war of two states based on Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which does not concern other states, although rhetorically, Russian President Vladimir Putin in his speeches indirectly perceives the West and NATO as adversaries. There is no legal concept according to which, for example, the participation of five countries would not be considered a world war, and some more would already be one. This could be feared if it came to a confrontation between the Russian Federation and NATO.”
Absolutely all experts, Buleg continues, do not agree with the words of Russian President Putin, who said that Western sanctions against his country are “akin to a declaration of war,” although he added that “it has not yet come to that. The expert explains:
This shows a complete disregard for the established deterrence mechanisms. If Russia chooses to interpret sanctions as an act of war, that’s up to her.”
Angelika Nusberger agrees:
“Sanctions are not a declaration of war. They are a reaction to a violation of international law, namely the UN Charter, which prohibits violence. This is based on the legal notion that the response to a violation of one treaty, the UN Charter, may be to break other treaties, in in this case, economic ones. Therefore, this is not a declaration of war.”
How, then, can we interpret the supply of weapons by Western countries to Ukraine? And the participation of citizens of foreign states in the battles on the side of Kyiv? Is it possible to call this, albeit indirect, but participation in the war? Nusberger says:
“Weapon deliveries are carried out all over the world. These are actions to support the Ukrainian side, designed to help it defend itself.”
For international law, attribution is decisive, the fact that the decision to use weapons or fighters is made by the other side, in this case Kyiv. According to the expert, this also applies to combat aircraft, the supply of which from NATO countries has so far been unsuccessfully sought by Ukraine. However, Buleg believes that such supplies are not only possible, they are necessary:
“This is an artificial distinction. We ourselves came up with something like a personal barrier, limiting Western aid, saying that, they say, there can be no talk of fighter jets, since this could cause too harsh a reaction from the Kremlin and there is a risk of escalation. But how do we know if we haven’t tried?”
The Chatham House expert suggests a phased approach to the supply of weapons, accompanied by explanations that this is “not a declaration of war, but the actions of a voluntary coalition to support Ukraine, which is defending itself.” But, according to him, the line that the West will not cross will be the direct sending of the military to Ukraine. Buleg is sure that the West can always do more for Kyiv:
“The moment we say we’ve done our best, we’ll lose.”