[Editorial] Russia-Ukraine Tensions

Russia - Ukraine Tensions

What can be the reasons behind the conflict between Russia and Ukraine?

Russia has amassed more than 100,000 Russian soldiers on the border with Ukraine and in annexed Crimea in recent weeks. Despite a series of talks involving Russia and the West, it remains unclear and the fear of Ukrainian invasion remains. Ukraine shares borders with both the EU and Russia, but as a former Soviet republic it has deep social and cultural ties with Russia, and Russian is widely spoken there.

Russia has long resisted Ukraine’s move towards European institutions and it is now demanding it never joins NATO, a demand rejected by the Western alliance. Russia seized part of southern Ukraine in 2014 and backed separatists who started a conflict in large areas of the east. Now Russia is warning of military measures if the West does not meet its demands, and the US fears it could create a pretext to invade.

Why was the Crimean Peninsula annexed?

It was when Ukrainians deposed their pro-Russian president in early 2014 that Russia moved in, seizing and annexing Ukraine’s southern Crimean Peninsula. Russian-backed separatists then captured large swathes of Ukraine’s two eastern regions collectively known as the Donbas.

Most probable and repeated topics of upsc prelims

How big is the risk of invasion?

According to NATO, the risk of a conflict is real. But it does not appear imminent. Though Russia’s insist that there are “no plans, no intentions to attack Ukraine”. However, President Vladimir Putin has spoken of “appropriate retaliatory military-technical measures” if what he calls the West’s aggressive approach continues. Russia has even compared the current situation to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the US and Soviet Union came close to nuclear conflict.

According to the US, Russia has offered no proof that it will not invade – or any explanation for the 100,000 troops it has deployed. So Western intelligence services as well as Ukraine’s have suggested a Russian incursion or invasion could happen sometime in early 2022.

Russia - Ukraine Tensions

The Pentagon has alleged that Russia has prepared a so-called false-flag operation, with operatives ready to carry out acts of sabotage against pro-Russian rebels, to provide a pretext for invasion. Russia has denied it.

Russia - Ukraine Tensions

What does Russia really want?

Russia is demanding a swift, point-by-point response to its demands. Its main demand is to stop NATO’s expansion any further to the east. For Russia it’s absolutely mandatory to ensure Ukraine never, ever becomes a member of NATO. Moscow accuses NATO countries of “pumping” Ukraine with weapons and the US of stoking tensions.

Russia also wants NATO to abandon military activity in Eastern Europe, which would mean pulling out its combat units from Poland and the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and not deploying missiles in countries such as Poland and Romania.

In short, it wants NATO to return to its pre-1997 borders. Russia has also proposed a treaty with the US barring nuclear weapons from being deployed beyond their national territories.

After the Second World War, Russia re-established its control over the rim land in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which it hoped would protect its heartland.

But the disintegration of the Soviet Union threw its security calculations into disarray, deepening its historical insecurity.

This insecurity is the source of what historian Stephen Kotkin calls the “defensive aggressiveness” of Russian President Putin.

Russia - Ukraine Tensions

Russia is also frustrated that the 2015 Minsk peace deal for eastern Ukraine is far from being fulfilled. There are still no arrangements for independently monitored elections in the separatist regions. Russia denies accusations that it is part of the lingering conflict.

How is the West responding?

NATO’s Western military alliance is defensive so Russia’s attempt to tie its hands for the future or persuade it to withdraw from the old Eastern Bloc states have fallen flat.

For West, Russia’s idea of a treaty also seems doomed as it would bar European NATO members from delivering US nuclear weapons. European leaders are adamant that Russia cannot just decide on the future with the US.

How far will the West go for Ukraine?

The US has made clear it is committed to helping Ukraine defend its “sovereign territory”. The biggest tools in the West’s armoury appear to be sanctions and supporting the Ukrainian military. The ultimate economic hit would be to disconnect Russia’s banking system from the international Swift payment system. Another key threat is to prevent the opening of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in Germany.

How is India responding?

India did not join the Western powers’ condemnation of Russia’s intervention in Crimea and kept a low profile on the issue.

In November 2020, India voted against a Ukraine-sponsored resolution in the United Nations (UN) that condemned alleged human rights violations in Crimea thereby backing old ally Russia on the issue.

What can be a way forward?

A practical solution for the situation is to revive the Minsk peace process. Therefore, the West (US and Other western Countries) should push both sides to resume talks and live up to their commitments as per the Minsk agreement to restore relative peace on the border.

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