Imagine if Narendra Modi writes an article, on the common history of India and Pakistan one day and pushes for a need to re-integrate both the countries?
Ok, so I made up that one but imagine if that were to happen for real, then you can have two thoughts on this; First, Narendra Modi is changing his approach towards Pakistan and is opting for peace; or Second, He’s not opting for a peaceful option. Instead, he is going to do something dangerous, for instance, the complete invasion of Pakistan.
Now back to reality, its not a story but something like this is actually happening between Russia and Ukraine.
In July 2021, Vladimir Putin wrote an article. In that article, he wrote, “Russians and Ukrainians were one people – a single whole.” Yes- he did write an article about Russia and Ukraine And this wasn’t just a short article, but a really long article which you can find on the website of the Russian President even today. And if you take a look at the recent developments, you will realize that Vladimir Putin was not joking; he was actually was serious about it.
As I write this article, Russia has already gathered as many as 130,000 troops along parts of the Ukrainian border. Vladimir Putin has threatened that if the West (US and European countries) crosses their red line, then Vladimir Putin and Russia would invade Ukraine. Just a few days back, US National Security advisor said that Russia can actually invade Ukraine anytime now. Quoting his words, “As we’ve said before, we are in the window when an invasion could begin at anytime; Should Vladimir Putin decide to order it.”
In this situation, the Government of India has reached out Indian Nationals in Ukraine.
Now, many of you might wonder how did Russia and Ukraine land up in such a situation? This is what we will discuss in this article.
First of all, let us try and understand the history of Ukraine. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, the large communist block of 15 countries that stood against United States and western Europe during cold war. Cold war was at that time a war Soviet Union and US were fighting against each other almost in every field – military, economy, even chess, and space. Since Ukraine was situated closer to US aligned European countries, large number of nuclear weapons were installed in Ukraine by the Soviet Union. But an event took place in 1991 that changed the geopolitical trajectory of the world. Soviet Union collapsed, that led to the creation of nearly 15 independent countries. When the Soviet Union broke up, a new country of Ukraine was formed. Ukraine, had the third-largest number of Nuclear weapons in the world.
What did Ukraine do with these nuclear weapons?
Russia came up with an idea: Russia negotiated to transfer all the nuclear weapons from Ukraine, in exchange for providing them economic aid and security against any foreign invasion. This arrangement worked for 10-15 years.
But Russia used this arrangement to increase its influence over Ukraine. It started promoting pro-Russian leaders in Ukraine, like the then Prime Minister of Ukraine, who would promoted many pro-Russian policies in Ukraine like making Russian, a state language. Many Ukrainians also protested against this rising Russian influence. These protests took place mainly in the western and central Ukraine where the Ukrainians believe that their identity is very different from that of Russians. But that wasn’t the case in Eastern Ukraine, where people thought that they were like Russians.
Like in this map, you can see that in the eastern part of Ukraine, a large chunk of the population speak the Russian language.
One of such a region was Crimea, which Russia invaded and took from Ukraine in 2014.
As the tabloid said, “This is a Russian Invasion- the US says- It has no doubt that these are Russian forces and has demanded their immediate withdrawal.
Putin told Obama that Russia has the right to defend its interests and people in Ukraine.”
Now it’s not to say that that Crimea was overtaken only by force by Russia. Mark Galeotti, a professor at University College London, and an expert on Russian security affairs, said that most Crimeans actually genuinely wanted to become part of Russia. This is when the western Ukrainians who despised Russia, realized that the promise of giving away their nuclear weapons to Russia in exchange for security and economic aid from them may have been a bad decision. The Russian invasion of Crimea made the western Ukrainians realize that it needs external help from other countries to protect itself.
This is where NATO comes in and NATO is what is creating tensions currently between Ukraine and Russia. These tensions have obviously impacted financial markets, including cryptocurrency markets. Coming back to NATO, NATO was formed in 1949 by US and European countries. Its aim was to collectively counter the aggressive actions of Soviet Union. Even 70 years later, NATO has the same objective. 30 countries are currently members of NATO.
Ukraine has expressed its desire to join NATO for long now. And this is what Russia doesn’t want to let happen. Because letting Ukraine join NATO would be like letting your enemy become your neighbor for Russia. Now let me tell you why Ukraine joining NATO would be such a big deal. The core of the NATO treaty is Article 5, a commitment that an attack on any NATO country is treated as an attack on the entire alliance .
So, if Ukraine becomes a member of NATO and Russia attacks Ukraine, then almost 30 countries would have to fight against Russia to save Ukraine. This is a signed commitment. The 30 countries of NATO are not just some small countries. I mean to say that US, UK, France; countries like these are members of NATO. And Russia fears that Ukraine becoming a part of NATO would mean that US troops would reach the Russian border.
The Ukrainians, especially Western Ukrainians want relations to get better with US and European countries. In fact in 2013, public started protesting for Ukrainian government to join the EU. It became so bad that the then President who was pro-Russia and who did not want Ukraine to become a member of the EU, had to flee Ukraine and take refuge in Russia. Now, while the Ukrainians might want Ukraine to become a part of EU and NATO, there’s one man wants to stop Ukraine from doing that- “Vladimir Putin”. There are two reasons. First, Putin’s personal history. As we discussed in the introduction, Putin is obsessed with the history of Soviet Union and wants to bring Russia to the glory that Soviet Union once enjoyed. Mark Galeotti, the professor about whom we were talking about earlier said that this issue between Russia and Ukraine is not because of Russia, but because of Putin. The Russians cared about Crimea but not as much about Ukraine. The Ukraine issue is about Putin and the people around him. Mark Galeotti says that this issue is for Putin and the people who grew up during the time of the Soviet Union and cannot digest the fact that he Soviet Union is no more. Galeotti says that Putin still thinks that Ukraine was lost by the Soviet Union and needs to be gained back. All of this should not be very surprising, considering he was a spy for the Russian Intelligence when he was young.
Second, Galeotti says that Putin is also obsessed with his own historical legacy. When he meets historians, he asks them, “How are they going to be writing about me in 100 years time?” Just imagine- the Russian President is asking historians what would be written about him 100 years later! If you think about it, the reason is logical. Putin is 69 years old. He is thinking that 10 years later, he might not be the Russian President. He does not want to be the President about whom it is written 100 years later, that he is the President during whose tenure Ukraine forged good relations with the US and European Nations. Basically, Putin does not want any kind of blot on his personal history.
Why does Putin think now is the best opportunity to invade Ukraine? The NATO demand of Ukrainians is nothing new. There are two reasons behind this- First, the current Ukrainian President. Ukrainian President elected in 2019 has been visibly anti-Russian. For example, he has attacked pro-Russia businessmen and political leaders during his term. Second, Putin believes that the current situation of US and the European Nations is so deplorable that they might not irk Russia as much. Putin believes that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan due to the current domestic situation, coupled with COVID, shows that US would not engage much with Russia. A similar situation plagues the European Nations Germany has just got a new chancellor, who is not Angela Merkel. The UK is reeling from the effects of Brexit. And France has its presidential elections next year.
Would any country want to engage with Russia right now? And if not, then does that mean that Putin would invade Ukraine? There is no guarantee to that as well. Let’s be sure that Putin isn’t a stupid person either. Any full scale invasion of Ukraine would cost a lot of money to Russia. Plus, entering into Eastern Ukraine might be easy for Russia since it has many pro-Russian people there. But what happens when it reaches the cities and regions of Ukraine that are anti-Russia? Moreover, Ukraine is not a small country and their army is not small or ineffective. It is quite effective and strong and has been getting arms and ammunition from the US.
But what can US and other countries do to dissuade Putin? Sanctions aren’t really an option. Russia isn’t Iran or North Korea; it does a lot of trade with several nations. Any sanction on Russia would impact the other countries as well. Before sanctioning Russia’s gas and oil, we should keep in mind that around 35 percent of the European Union’s natural gas comes from Russia.
Bascailly, we are in a situation where if US and EU decide to let Putin have his way, it would be letting Putin decide as to where NATO should expand instead of it being decided by the US and the European countries. And if the US and EU choose an aggressive option, this would mean that Putin would lose face and perhaps his legacy.
The ideal situation would be a diplomatic agreement between both parties, which would make both feel like they won.
But is that possible? We will find out.