It all began with satellite imagery showcasing a heavy Russian build up near the Ukrainian border in November 2021. Additional troops deployment and build up of Russian hardware, instilled a fear of an invasion in the hearts and minds of the Ukrainian government as the memory of the Russian annexation of Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine in 2014 are still fresh. Ukraine rang the bell off and alerted NATO and the US of the situation and from then started on a classic geopolitical bluffing game, with a lot at stake.
Southern Peninsula of Crimes was annexed by Russia in 2014, while Russia backed separatist groups control the western flank of Ukraine, which it likes to call the “temporarily occupied territories”
Russian and Ukraine – two former Soviet colonies are currently witnessing the most stressful period of diplomatic relationship between each other, amid growing distrust and disgruntle between Russia and the West. While Russia has recently bolstered its ties with China and has opposed the West in middle-east, Afghanistan and Indo – Pacific. The Russia – Ukraine crisis can lead upto a direct face off between Russia and the West. There is a major lack of compatibility among the two, while tensions for the West are rising with the unfolding of the Afghanistan situation and China taking advantage of the Ukraine – Russia crisis, once again challenging the sovereignty of Taiwan by sending its war planes in the Taiwanese airspace, the West has to keep a vigil eye almost everywhere. Russia on the other hand as nefarious as it has been, said that it’s military were conducting their drills in the Southern and Eastern regions of the country without challenging the territorial sovereignty of any nation. However, we are sure after the annexation of Crimea that Russia is not to be trusted. The growing ties between Ukraine and the NATO had irked Russia. NATO is considered by Russia to be a threat for itself and if a bordering nation as Ukraine becomes a member of it then it only worsens the situation. Therefore, Russia has been explicit in expressing of its annoyance over the developments in the NATO – Ukraine relationship. Ukrainian government too had made it clear, that they are a free nation to decide whom to partner with and whom to not. Currently, Russia has over 127,000 soldiers at the Ukrainian border and they can double at a very short notice. According to US intelligence a Russian invasion of Ukraine is very much possible in 2022. In late 2021, satellite photos revealed Russian hardware — including self-propelled guns, battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles — on the move at a training ground roughly 186 miles (300 km) from the border. There are about 21,000 air and sea personnel. Also, the western regions of Ukraine controlled by Russia backed separatist groups too are showing unwanted activities. There has been additional deployment of Russian armed forces in Crimea, it is clearly to big of a set up and at a much disappropriate location to be a military exercise.
Blast from the Past – In November 2013, the then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych backed off on a free trade deal with the EU, in order to please Russia and enhance ties with it. President Viktor Yanukovych was a pro-Russian President. The coming off of the deal lead to widespread public anger which further exacerbated in what would come to be known as the “Euromaiden” protests. By February 2014, the situation had much worsened with police firing live ammunition at the protestors. Ukrainian Parliament impeached President Yanukovych as he fled to Russia. In March 2014, in an unprecedented development Russian troops invade Crimea and took hold of the regional Parliament and other government buildings. Russia said it did it for the sake of the majority Russian speaking community in the region. In response, the West sacked Russia off the G8 group, which is now known as G7. Soon, in April 2014 Russia backed separatist groups took hold of Ukraine’s Donbas region in the east. From here on began the turbulent relationship between Ukraine and Russia and overtime it exacerbated with suspicion growing deeper of Russia with NATO, EU and the US.
In July 2019, Actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky was elected President of Ukraine in a landslide vote, ushering in a new era of Ukraine-Russia relations. While what happened in 2014 can be seen as Russia taking advantage of the civil unrest in Ukraine. But, the current tensions appear to be Moscow striving hard to send a message to the West, that it cannot be undermined. After President Biden took office in January last year, he has been constantly warning Russia of consequences, be it during the summit in Geneva, Afghanistan or any other geo-political concern. Biden even called Putin a “killer” during an interview, to which Putin responded by “wishing good health to President Biden” and now we see the impact of his wishes. Today China is by far the biggest challenger to the US and the two countries will have to wrestle it off for hegemony in the economic sphere. But China is already poking the West hard by its radical moves in the Indo-Pacific and by constantly posing a threat to the sovereignty of nations there. The West has assured of its absolute and through support to Taiwan and Hong Kong, in case of a Chinese attempt to invade. However, it is clear that China is testing the West’s resolves. Needless to say an enemy’s enemy is a friend, therefore Russia and China have come closer together than ever before. While the two countries are dominated by a single personality cult each, both President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping are further looking to solidify their power and influence both domestically and internationally.
During the times of the pandemic, the West and China had various standoffs on multiple fronts. Be it the origin of the pandemic itself, the Indo-Pacific region, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Afghanistan all of them had these two facing each other off. Now add Russia to that equation, China tested West’s resolves and the West did not completely succeed in the test. Therefore, the Ukraine – Russia tensions are a testimony of the fact that Biden’s warnings to Putin have not had an impact. Putin’s Russia out of no where came up with a full fledged preparation to invade a neighbouring country. Russia fears that Ukraine might join NATO, which would make NATO’s direct reach till Russian borders. Therefore, Russia had been trying to mount pressure on Ukraine to repent any closer affiliation with NATO and Ukraine challenged Russia by reasoning that it can very well decide whom to align with. That surely did not go that well with Russia and seeing the West struggle with China – Putin did not hesitate to make the most of this opportunity.
Kremlin has already declared victory in Kazakhstan where civil unrest in early January 2022, lead to the government calling for assistance from the CTSO or the Central Treaty Security Organisation compromising of Russia and other former Soviet colonies. Within hours planes flew in from Russia, the situation was taken care of by the Russian soldiers and they went back, all within a couple of days time. This sent a firm message to the West that the CTSO was a capable military alliance in handling geo-political concerns in the region and that Russia alone could secure regimes in the region. Putin has won the loyalty of the Kazakh leadership. EU faces stiff challenges from Russia apart from the ongoing tensions in Ukraine, Belarus too is a major difficulty. The Lukashenko regime in Belarus backed by Russia created a massive immigrants crisis in Europe last year. It is clear that both China and Russia are testing the West’s resolves and till now the results are not encouraging.
NATO and the US have warned Russia of severe consequences if it decides to invade Ukraine. The two are also providing Ukraine with all the assistance in terms of military and technological hardware. Talks were held in Vienna but were futile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said “there will be a high price to pay for Russia” if it once again invades Ukraine, a NATO partner. “We have a wide range of options: economic sanctions, financial sanctions, political restrictions,” said Stoltenberg, in a December 1 interview with CNN. President Joe Biden told Zelensky earlier this month in a phone call that the US and its allies “will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.” But the Biden administration has shown Putin signs of weakness by differentiating between a Russian ‘invasion’ and ‘incursion’ – stating that if Russia captures only some territories of the country then the consequences it will have to face will be less severe. This remark was strongly reprimanded by the Ukrainian foreign ministry.
The US, UK and other western nations have started evacuating their embassies in Ukraine, saying in case of a Russian invasion, they would not be in a position to protect them. Biden has played down the card of sending American forces to Ukraine. Increased arms and ammunitions supply are being provided to Ukraine and Russian foreign minster Sergey Lavrov recently said in a statement –“If it relies on Russia, there will be no war.” However, it is clear that both sides are preparing for a disastrous conflict as once again after WW2 – war and destruction loom over Europe.