Russia- Ukraine: Conflict and Related Issues
Context: Recently, Russia has amassed around 90,000 troops at the border of Ukraine which might be converted into a security crisis resulting in a border conflict. This act of aggression could spiral into the largest military conflict on European soil in decades.
- Ukraine is a country wedged between Russia and Europe. It was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and since then has been a less-than-perfect democracy with a very weak economy and foreign policy that wavers between pro-Russian and pro-European.
- This all began as an internal Ukrainian crisis in November 2013, when President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a deal for greater integration with the European Union sparking mass protests, which Yanukovych attempted to put down violently. Russia backed Yanukovych in the crisis, while the US and Europe supported the protesters.
- Since then, several big events have happened. In some time, anti-government protests toppled the government and ran Yanukovych out of the country. Russia, trying to have a grip over its lost influence in Ukraine, invaded and annexed Crimea the next month. Pro-Russia separatist rebels began seizing territory in eastern Ukraine.
The rebels shot down Malaysian Airlines flight 17 on July 17, killing 298 people, probably accidentally. Fighting between the rebels and the Ukrainian military intensified, the rebels started losing, and, in August, the Russian army overtly invaded eastern Ukraine to support the rebels. This has all brought the relationship between Russia and the West to its lowest point since the Cold War. Sanctions are pushing the Russian economy to the brink of recession, and more than 2,500 Ukrainians have been killed.
- The escalation of conflict continues to this day and reached a boiling point when Russian forces carried out a military exercise in the Azov Sea in April 2021, with a mass number of troops massing at the Russian-Ukrainian border. Although the troops were subsequently withdrawn, tensions between the two nations continue to this day.
What are the reasons behind the conflict?
There are several reasons which can be understood as following-
- Russia’s interest: Russia believes that Ukraine, a country of 44 million people that was previously part of the Soviet Union, should be subservient to Russia. The two countries share a 1,200-mile border as well as cultural and linguistic ties. But instead of aligning itself with Russia, Ukraine has shifted toward the West, including the toppling of a Putin-backed leader in 2014. Ukraine’s current president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has pushed back against Russia’s attempts to expand its influence. As part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was the second-most powerful Soviet republic after Russia, and was crucial strategically, economically and culturally. It also has a high population of Russian people.
- For many in Russia and in the ethnically Russian parts of Ukraine, the shared heritage of the countries is an emotional issue that has been exploited for electoral and military purposes.
- The President of Russia. Putin wants to stir up nationalism at home for political purposes.
- Ukraine’s move toward the Western bloc in the name of having a democratic state has made the Russian establishment feel betrayed because Kiev’s (capital of Ukraine) national identity and history is much more linked to Russia than Turkic states in Central Asia and Baltic states in eastern Europe, which were also part of the Soviets.
- Geopolitical reasons:
- Russia has already lost Baltic states to the European Union (EU) after the Soviet fall and its influence has also significantly decreased across the Balkans, where Moscow was once the leading power. As a result, Moscow feels that it can’t concede Ukraine to the West
- Feeling encircled by the West and pro-democracy movements from Ukraine to Georgia, Russia under Putin has countered with aggressive policymaking wherever it felt under pressure. Among others, Ukraine has a special importance due to its geography located between Eastern Europe and Russia.
- As a result, it appears to be that Russians even consider invading Ukraine to prevent further risks toward its national and global security interests.
- Further, the unique geography of the Black Sea region confers several geopolitical advantages to Russia.
- Balance of Power: Ever since Ukraine split from the Soviet Union, both Russia and the West have vied for greater influence in the country in order to keep the balance of power in the region in their favor. For the United States and the European Union, Ukraine is a crucial buffer between Russia and the West. As tensions with Russia rise, the US and the EU are increasingly determined to keep Ukraine away from Russian control.
- NATO membership to Ukraine: Efforts to induct Ukraine into The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have been ongoing for many years and seem to have picked up pace recently.
- Russia has declared such a move a “red line”, with Moscow worried about the consequences of the US-led military alliances expanding right up to its doorstep.
- Russia does not like to have too many EU-member neighbors with NATO sympathies along its western border. Lithuania and Estonia, the two Baltic states neighboring Russia, already joined the union much to the dismay of the Russian establishment.
- Euromaidan protests:
- "Euromaidan" is the name of the anti-government protests, beginning on November 21, 2013, in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev that kicked off the entire crisis. They're called the "Euromaidan" protests because they were about Europe and they happened in Kiev's Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square).
- The first, surface reason for the protests was that President Yanukovych had rejected a deal for greater integration with the European Union, taking a $15 billion bailout from Russia instead. Lots of Ukrainians had wanted the EU deal, partly because they thought it would help Ukraine's deeply troubled economy, and partly because they saw closer ties with Europe as culturally and politically desirable.
- The second, deeper reason for the protests was that many Ukrainians saw Yanukovych as corrupt and autocratic and as a stooge of Russia. So his decision to reject the EU deal felt, to many Ukrainians, like he had sold out their country to Moscow.
- Separatist Movement: The Donbass region (the Donetsk and Luhansk regions) of eastern Ukraine has been facing a pro-Russian separatist movement since 2014. According to the Ukrainian government, the movement is actively supported by the Russian government and Russian paramilitaries make up between 15% to 80% of the separatists fighting against the Ukraine government.
- Invasion of Crimea: Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in what was the first time a European country annexed territory from another country since World War-2. Soon after, amid fears of growing Western influence in Ukraine, Russia decided to take action by invading Crimea, which was a part of Ukraine. The annexation of Crimea from Ukraine followed a Russian military intervention in Crimea that took place in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and was part of wider unrest across southern and eastern Ukraine.
- The invasion and subsequent annexation of Crimea have given Russia a maritime upperhand in the region.It also gave President Vladimir Putin a significant boost in popularity ratings inside Russia.
- However, it was widely condemned by world powers, and resulted in the US and EU imposing sanctions on Moscow. It also resulted in a strengthened commitment by both the US and the EU to protect the integrity of Ukraine’s borders.
- MINSK I Agreement:
- MINSK I: Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists agreed a 12-point ceasefire deal in the capital of Belarus in September 2014. Its provisions included prisoner exchanges, deliveries of humanitarian aid and the withdrawal of heavy weapons.The agreement quickly broke down, with violations by both sides.
- MINSK II: Representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the leaders of two pro-Russian separatist regions signed a 13-point agreement in February 2015 in Minsk. The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine gathered there at the same time and issued a declaration of support for the deal.
- The deal set out a series of military and political steps that remain unimplemented. A major blockage has been Russia’s insistence that it is not a party to the conflict and therefore is not bound by its terms.
- Point 10, for example, calls for the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment from the two disputed regions, Donetsk and Luhansk: Ukraine says this refers to forces from Russia, but Moscow denies it has any there.
What are the current developments which have taken place recently?
Russia has gathered as many as 130,000 troops along parts of the Ukrainian border. The Kremlin appears to be making all the preparations for war: moving more military equipment, medical units, even blood, to the front lines. Against this backdrop, diplomatic talks between Russia and the United States and its allies have not yet yielded any solutions. The standoff is about the future of Ukraine. But Ukraine is now a larger stage for Russia which is trying to reassert its influence in Europe and the world. One more point is that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to cement his legacy.
What happens if Russia invades?
- In 2014, Putin deployed unconventional tactics against Ukraine that have come to be known as “hybrid” warfare, such as irregular militias, cyber hacks, and disinformation.
- These tactics surprised the West and allowed Russia to deny its direct involvement. In 2014, in the Donbas region, military units of “little green men” (soldiers in uniform but without official insignia) moved in with equipment.Russia has continued to destabilize and undermine Ukraine through cyberattacks on critical infrastructure and disinformation campaigns.
- It is possible that Moscow will take aggressive steps in all sorts of ways that don’t involve moving Russian troops across the border. It could escalate its proxy war, and launch sweeping disinformation campaigns and hacking operations.
- There are plenty of possible scenarios for a Russian invasion, including sending more troops into the breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, seizing strategic regions and blockading Ukraine’s access to waterways.
- Such an invasion would force Russia to move into areas that are bitterly hostile toward it. That increases the likelihood of a prolonged resistance (possibly even one backed by the US) and an invasion could turn into an occupation.
- Russia and the US will be stuck in this standoff for months longer, with Ukraine caught in the middle and under sustained threat from Russia.
What is Russia’s Response?
Moscow has denied that it is planning a military intervention, but it has presented NATO with a list of security demands including banning Ukraine and other former Soviet states from joining the organization.
- Additionally, Russia has asked NATO to abandon military activity in Eastern Europe, which would mean pulling out combat units from Poland and the Baltic states. To put it simply, Russia wants NATO to return to its pre-1997 borders.
- Further Russia wants Zelensky (Ukraine President) to implement the 2014 and ’15 Minsk agreements, deals that would bring the pro-Russian regions back into Ukraine.
- As no Ukrainian president could accept those terms, and so Zelensky, under continued Russian pressure, has turned to the West for help, talking openly about wanting to join NATO.
What has the West and NATO responded to?
- In response, NATO has said that Russia has “no right” to interfere while the EU, UK, and US have condemned Moscow for its aggressive posture.
- The U.S. has ruled out changing NATO’s “open-door policy” which means, NATO would continue to induct more members.
- Ukraine has derailed the grand plans of the Biden administration — China, climate change, the pandemic — and become a top-level priority for the US, at least for the near term.
- They don’t view Russia as a geopolitical event-shaper, but we see Russia again and again shaping geopolitical events
- The United States has deployed 3,000 troops to Europe in a show of solidarity for NATO, though the Biden administration has been firm that US soldiers will not fight in Ukraine if war breaks out.
- The so-called nuclear options such as an oil and gas embargo, or cutting Russia off from SWIFT, the electronic messaging service that makes global financial transactions possible — seem unlikely, in part because it could hurt the global economy.
- Russia isn’t an Iran or North Korea; it is a major economy that does a lot of trade, especially in raw materials and gas and oil.
- Nord Stream 2, the completed but not yet open gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, may also be killed if Russia escalates tensions.
- The US and Europe are also isolating Russia diplomatically, for example by booting Russia from the Group of Eight (G8), an annual conference of the world's leading industrialized, democratic nations. And NATO has suspended all practical cooperation with the Russian military.
How India responded to this crisis?
- For India, Russia remains a steady and reliable defense source; steady because all three defense services are heavily dependent on Russia for equipment and spares. However India remains dependent on Ukraine for gas turbines for its naval ships. Ukraine is also responsible for the engines of most of the medium-light helicopters in the Indian fleet, including the Mi-17 and the Mi-35.
- Therefore, the Indian government has taken a relatively balanced position on the situation in Ukraine. It sought for a peaceful resolution to Ukraine's internal issues, and stated that there are legitimate Russian as well as other interests involved.
- India has advocated political and diplomatic solutions that protect the legitimate interests of all countries in the region and ensure long term peace and stability in Europe and beyond.
- India voted against a Ukraine-sponsored resolution in the UN that condemned alleged human rights violations in Crimea thereby backing old ally Russia on the issue.This indicated India's position supporting Moscow on the Ukraine issue including Crimea.
- While India’s choices on Ukraine are symbolic of the distance between strategic issues of the Eurasian heartland and India’s core national interest. its growing role in Central Asia and increasing connection with Europe are adding compulsions against its non-committal foreign policy orientation to the region.
- India has to choose between “comprehensive global strategic partnership” with the US on one hand, and its “special and privileged partnership” with Russia on the other.
- China’s direct conflict with India and its growing influence in the Ukraine is also a matter of concern for India. However, China is likely to remain a less important factor until there is direct confrontation at the LAC ( Line of actual Control) along with its expansionist agendas in South Asia and the larger Indo-Pacific. India seeks to avoid an Asian future which is led by China.
- Depending on how the issue weighs on India’s own national interests, its navigation between the great powers could be in between the strategic spectrum connecting the US and Russia.
- Any kind of military action by the US or EU against Russia would precipitate a major crisis for the whole world, and has so far not been mooted by any of the parties involved.
- The path forward can only be through peaceful dialogue for a lasting solution acceptable to all concerned.
- What the US and Europe can do is make a big show of committing to the defense of other eastern European countries along Russia's borders. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are concerned that they could be next; they are members of NATO, and so Western European countries are publicly committed by treaty to defending them.
- Russia must sit for the talks to get strategic and diplomatic gains for all.
Written by Rashmi
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