‘A SLICE of intensified history.” The words of John Reed, the great American journalist and socialist activist used to describe his eyewitness account of the 1917 Russian October Revolution in his remarkable book Ten Days That Shook the World.

I couldn’t help thinking of Reed’s words again these past days at the end of a week when it’s probably fair to say that the war in Ukraine transitioned from one nation’s fight for survival to a much wider conflict and potentially years-long power struggle. If ever the world was ­witnessing a ­contemporary “slice of intensified ­history”, this is that moment.

For over two months now, Western ­powers and Nato allies have emphasised the need to keep the war for Ukraine ­inside Ukraine. In some quarters too, there was perhaps the hope that ­Russia’s Donbas offensive might signal the ­beginning of the end of the war, but now instead it only appears to be a prelude to broadening the conflict.

Almost daily last week there was that foreboding sense of earnest, historic events and decisions being made that will not just decide the outcome of the ­biggest land war in Europe since the Second World War but will shape the rest of the 21st century.

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At every turn the language of world leaders on both sides of the divide ­between Ukraine and the West on one hand and Russia on the other, reflected their doubling down of resolve to see the war through to a conclusion that best suits their interests and can be perceived as a “victory”.

“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” insisted US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin in Poland after returning from Ukraine.

His American diplomatic ­counterpart Secretary of State Antony Blinken ­meanwhile, was even more ­forthright, ­declaring that there would be an ­independent, sovereign Ukraine “a lot longer than there’s going to be a Vladimir Putin”.

If Blinken’s words were meant to rile the Russian leader, he could have saved himself the trouble given that Putin shows every sign of being up for an even bigger fight.

It was only a few weeks ago that the Kremlin leader made his dark threat that increased western engagement in Ukraine could result in “consequences you have never experienced in your history”.

Last week Putin was at it again, telling Russian officials in St Petersburg that “if someone intends to intervene in the ­ongoing events from the outside, and ­create strategic threats for Russia that are unacceptable to us, they should know that our retaliatory strikes will be lightning-fast.”

“We have all sorts of tools that the West cannot obtain, and we will not boast of our weapons, but we will use them if need be and I want everyone to know that,” ­Putin added.

Few among the ranks of western allies now see Putin’s threats as mere sabre ­rattling.

As the respected American ­political ­scientist Graham Allison writing in ­Foreign Affairs magazine recently ­pointed out, the war in Ukraine is now unambiguously Putin’s war.

“The Russian leader knows that he ­cannot lose – without risking his ­regime and even his life … if he is pushed to choose between making an ­ignominious retreat and escalating the level of ­violence, we should prepare for the worst. In the extreme, this could include nuclear weapons,” warned Allison, echoing the views of a growing number of Western diplomats, military and political leaders.

Which brings us to the question of just what exactly are the factors driving the escalation and expansion of the war in Ukraine?

The first and most obvious of these is the fact that Putin is becoming ­increasingly frustrated over Russia’s failure to achieve its strategic goals after its invasion. Ever since Russian forces crossed the border on February 24 they have been hampered at every turn and to date have captured just one big city, Kherson, along with most of Mariupol and parts of the ­Donbas, they partially occupied in 2014 and now hope to control in its entirety.

As The Economist magazine ­highlighted last week in a detailed ­assessment of the Russian military’s campaign in Ukraine these meagre gains have come at the ­enormous cost of 15,000 dead Russian soldiers according to a recent British ­estimate. To put this in some ­perspective this number in barely two months ­exceeds the Soviet losses in 10 years of war in ­Afghanistan during the 1980s.

SOME military analysts maintain that the Russian army’s failings have as much to do with Putin’s own delusions as anything else along with his insistence in taking control of the campaign to the extent of ignoring senior military officials.

But even this does not explain the full picture which some experts say has more to do with the age-old adage that any ­military is only a reflection of the qualities of the societies from which they emerge.

As professor Eliot Cohen at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, explained in The Economist, Russia’s state, “rests on ­corruption, lies, lawlessness and ­coercion,” and each of these has been laid bare by Russia’s army in the war in Ukraine.

Frustrated by such shortcomings not to mention Ukraine’s unanticipated stiff resistance, Putin has now only sought to double down on the invasion ­resulting in an escalation of the war. Off the ­physical battlefield too the Russian leader has ­begun to assert increasing pressure, ­notably on the economic front by cutting off Russian gas shipments to Poland and Bulgaria.

This is clearly a warning sign that ­Germany, which is hugely dependent on Russian gas could be next and again ­contributes to a ratcheting up in the ­impact of the war.

There are other territories too where Putin is exerting Russian muscle such as in Ukraine’s neighbouring country of Moldova. International observers point to what they see as alarming parallels there over the past week with what has ­happened already in eastern Ukraine.

Ever since the unrecognised region in Moldova known as Transnistria seceded in 1990, followed by a short war in 1992 with Russian forces fighting alongside ­separatists against Moldovan forces, ­Moscow has maintained its presence there.

In what until now has been a frozen conflict, Russia has deployed troops in Transnistria guarding a stockpile of some 20,000 tonnes of munitions. In recent days, this flashpoint has shown signs of heating up with Russian state media ­trumpeting several bombings and ­shootings aimed at key targets in the breakaway region.

Like eastern Ukraine’s Donbas, ­Moscow maintains that its presence in Transnistria is purportedly to “protect” ethnic Russians in this territorial sliver next to Ukraine.

While Russia says the recent ­“attacks” in Transnistria including the huge ­Soviet-era weapons depot just a mile and a half from the Ukrainian border are ­perpetrated by Ukrainian forces, analysts say it’s much more likely that Russia itself orchestrated them as a pretext for ­widening its war in the region.

But many of the latest drivers behind the intensification and expansion of the war in Ukraine are not of course all one sided and purely a result of Russia’s ­doing. Some observers argue that Westerns ­allies too and other factors risk broadening the conflict. Within weeks, Sweden and ­Finland are expected to seek entry into Nato expanding the alliance in reaction to Putin’s efforts to break it up.

Then there is the thorny issue of ­weapons supplies. Last week the US pressed its allies to move “heaven and earth” to keep Kyiv well supplied with weapons amid growing fears the war could spill over Ukraine’s borders.

With the potentially pivotal battle for the east of Ukraine underway, the US and its Nato allies are scrambling to deliver ­artillery and other heavy weapons in time to make a difference.

LAST week roughly 40 countries were convened by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin at Ramstein Air Force base in Germany under the rather tame name of the Ukraine Defence Consultative Group. But many believe this to be the beginning of what could ostensibly be a coalition to defeat Putin.

Brought together as a way of ­demonstrating visible support for Ukraine the meeting was also aimed at improving the coordination of countries that have been rushing huge quantities of military assistance, to help Kyiv in its fightback against Russian forces.

As the leading supplier of military aid to Ukraine, the US has earmarked over $1 billion in security assistance to Kyiv since the start of Russia’s invasion, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, Switchblade combat drones and howitzers.

Last week President Biden asked ­Congress for $33bn in military, economic and humanitarian assistance to support Ukraine while insisting that the US was not “attacking Russia”.

It goes without saying that the ­Kremlin doesn’t see it that way. Spokesman ­Dmitry Peskov made that clear at a press ­conference when he insisted that “the ­tendency to pump weapons, ­including heavy weapons into Ukraine, were ­“actions that threaten the security of the continent, and provoke instability”.

AND here lies the fine line Western allies need to walk, being committed on the one hand to pushing back against Russia while trying not to provoke Putin into escalating the violence to a whole new level.

The ultimate danger is the obvious ­capacity for the conflict to move into new realms spreading to neighbouring states, to cyberspace and to Nato countries ­suddenly facing a cut off of Russian gas.

It has led many also to increasingly ask whether the ultimate goal of the ­Western allies is to ensure the survival of a ­Ukrainian state or to defeat Russia?

Over the long term, such an expansion could evolve into a more direct conflict between the West and Russia as each seeks to sap the other’s power.

Compounding this strategic ­broadening of the war is the absence of any real ­diplomacy aimed at easing tensions or seeking a solution to the conflict. In ­another grave indication last week of where things might be heading, UN ­Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s ­visits to both Moscow and Kyiv ended with him admitting that “the war will not end with meetings, but instead will end when the Russian Federation decides to end it and when there is a serious political agreement”.

Even as Guterres visited Kyiv Russian cruise missiles rained down on the city in what mayor Vitali Klitschko described as Putin giving the “middle finger” to ­Guterres and the UN.

The Russian leader’s apparent ­indifference to diplomatic niceties and the bloody cost of his war has left many in Ukraine and Western capitals ­convinced that Putin is committed to grinding on until he has reasonable grounds to ­declare some kind of victory that is not yet in sight.

“Putin is not willing to back down, nor are the Ukrainians, so there is more blood to come,” Robin Niblett, the director of British think tank Chatham House told the New York Times last week summing up the views of many.

In the same article Seth G Jones, who directs the European Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, also warned that “the risk of a widening war is serious right now”.

The harsh reality then at the end of last week and what might prove to be a crucial moment in this conflict for the West and Russia is that peace in Ukraine may be further away than it has been at any time since the invasion.

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As it stands while US strategy is now unequivocal and public in its intention to weaken Russia and neuter it as a threat, Putin seems more determined than ever of upping the ante until he can claim ­“victory”.

Both make for a perilous position right now while all the time Ukrainian ­civilians continue to bear the brunt of this ­deepening conflict.

Back in 1919 when journalist John Reed described his book Ten Days That Shook the World about the Russian ­Revolution as “a slice of intensified history,” the world was set to enter an era defining struggle that eventually led to the Cold War. Today, with the War in Ukraine it’s hard to escape the feeling that this too is an era-defining moment.

One that is only just beginning to play itself out.