Russia’s military standoff: The hypersonic missile factor

Russia’s military standoff in the eastern flank of Ukraine has all the trappings of the developments that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 16 to November 20, 1962. The only difference now is that Russia is the complainant. In 1962, the United States of America (USA) was the complainant.

The U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba on July 1961 ended in a fiasco. Even as the CIA-backed invasion ended in humiliating defeat, Fidel Castro, Cuba’s tyrannical leader was sufficiently frightened to seek the protection of the Union of Soviets Socialist Republics (USSR) against future invasion by the U.S.

Nikita Khrushchev, general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party agreed to install five medium range SS-4 and SS-5 nuclear missiles in Cuba to forestall U.S. invasion of the Island. Pictures from an American U2-spy plane showed glowing scenes of the missile site. U.S. President John F. Kennedy responded by ordering the Soviet Union to remove the missiles or face grave consequences.

Even as the missiles lacked pin-point accuracy in terms of precision, they could hit targets in the U.S. within a few hours of leaving their silos. The U.S. was gravely worried that the missiles in Cuba would seriously reduce its reaction time against incoming Soviet missiles.

The confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers lasted for one month and four days and saw the whole globe sailing perilously close to nuclear war. Robert S. McNamara, Kennedy’s defence secretary (minister of defence) once admitted that the crisis escalated to a point that on one frenzied day, a U.S. Airforce B-52 strategic bomber fully loaded with nuclear weapons, was ordered into the sky. Humanity was stoking a war that could incinerate the globe. 

The Cuban Missile crisis ended on November 20, 1962 with the Soviet Union humiliated into withdrawing the offending missiles. That humiliation was seen as one of the reasons why Khrushchev was removed from office in 1964 in a palace coup spearheaded by Alexie Kosygin. Khrushchev, a Ukrainian, was replaced with Leonid Brezhnev, another Ukrainian.

Now in what is being branded as the Hypersonic Missile Crisis, Russia, an offshoot of the defunct Soviet Union is the complainant.  

The Soviet Union imploded in 1991 with 15 pocket-size economies rising from its ruins. Russia is the largest economy emerging from the ruins of the Soviet Union. 

Though still a military superpower, Russia’s economy is a distant 11th in global gross domestic products (GDP) ranking. Russia is a lone ranger in the defunct Warsaw Pact. 

Warsaw Pact disintegrated with the implosion of the Soviet Union. 

No one in eastern Europe, the former home of Warsaw Pact, wants to touch Russia even with a 10-foot pole. Even tiny Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, the three Baltic states north-west of Russia have sufficiently distanced themselves from Russia.

Russia is alone and has its back to the sea. The only country from the ruins of the defunct Soviet Union that has strong alliance with Russia is Belarus where Alexander Lukashenko runs the shop in the tyrannical mold of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s dictatorial president. Lukashenko is alone in his alliance with Moscow. That explains why the people of Belarus are persistently protesting against him.

Consequently, Russia needs Ukraine more than the U.S. and the western alliance. But Ukrainians loathe Russia’s leprous hands.

That is precisely why Russia is intimidating the world with a military build-up around Ukraine which has an eye not only in the EU but in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Russia has warned that it cannot watch Ukraine join NATO. Russia’s main worry about Ukraine joining NATO is the likelihood of NATO installing hypersonic missiles in Ukraine targeted at Russia.
Hypersonic missiles fly at five times the speed of sound. Fired from Ukraine, it can hit targets in Russia within five minutes.
That leaves Russia with only five minutes to prepare to fend off an incoming NATO nuclear missile. That was just the fears of the U.S. in 1962 when it humiliated the Soviet Union into withdrawing its imprecise SS-4 and SS-5 medium range missiles from Cuba.
Russia has warned that NATO must ensure Ukraine’s neutrality like that of Finland or Russia would move into Ukraine to keep it neutral.
Russia’s threat of invading Ukraine is a reality. No one in NATO can save Ukraine from Russia’s military invasion. The U.S. would not deploy ground troops in defence of Ukraine after wasting 20 years, $4 trillion and 4, 000 lives in Afghanistan. U.S. President Joe Biden has only promised economic sanctions in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
That cannot stop Russia from invading Ukraine and making it another Belarus run by a tyrant.
It is in the interest of NATO and the EU to avoid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That is why the west must play its diplomatic card with dexterity.
Everyone knows that Russia has no legal right to stop Ukraine from joining NATO. However, Russia’s worries about the installation of hypersonic missiles in Ukraine when it joins NATO are genuine.
Though Ukraine has the right to join any military block, Russia’s security has to be considered too.
The EU, NATO and Ukrainians will be the losers if Russia invades Ukraine. It would simply install a tyrannical dictator like Lukashenko and keep it safely in its fold.
Ukrainians stridently defended their democracy by driving away Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian dictator. Those gains would simply be frittered away if the west allows Russia to invade Ukraine.
If the U.S. could not allow the Soviet Union to install crude missiles that took five hours to refuel before launching, Russia has every reason to complain about NATO installing hypersonic missiles that could hit targets in Russia within five minutes of leaving their silos.
While the west should make Russia know that it lacks the legal right to stop Ukraine from exercising its right of assembly with the military block of its choice, it has to address Russia’s fear over the installation of hypersonic missiles when Ukraine becomes a member of NATO.
The military standoff in eastern Ukraine can only be resolved diplomatically just like the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962. The western alliance has indicated that it can only arm Ukraine to defend itself against Russian invasion.
It is obvious that no one in the west would fight for Ukraine. Russia cannot be deterred with economic sanctions. The gains of putting Ukraine in its camp through military invasion is greater than the pains of economic sanctions that would follow the invasion. Russia would simply invade Ukraine if the west fails to apply the necessary diplomatic dexterity.