Russia-Ukraine war ignites Europe’s marshal spirit -Abu Tahir Mustakim
It felt like a scene from the Cold War. An unpredictable Russian leader was amassing troops and tanks on a neighbour’s border. Then the cold war turned hot: Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces to invade Ukraine. The repercussions were immediate and far-reaching.
A devastating attack on Ukraine, a European country of 44 million people, bombarding its cities and closing in on the capital, Kyiv, prompting a mass exodus of refugees. But why did Russia’s leader tear up a peace deal with its neighbour and unleash attack, which shattered peace in Europe and threw the continent’s entire security structure into jeopardy.
On 24 February, President Putin declared Russia could not feel “safe, develop and exist” because of a constant threat from Ukraine. He claimed his goal was to protect people subjected to bullying and genocide and aimed at the “demilitarisation and de-Nazification” of Ukraine.
Immediately, airports and military headquarters were attacked, then tanks and troops rolled in from Russia, Russian-annexed Crimea and its ally Belarus. Big cities have been shelled, neighbourhoods were razed to the ground and millions of Ukrainians fled their homes.
What’s behind the Ukraine crisis?
Although Ukraine emerged as an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine came to the fore in 2013. That year, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych decided to suspend the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement and establish closer economic ties with Russia. Protests against the decision, dubbed “Euromaidan”, erupted. After the fall of Yanukovych in 2014, Volodymyr Zelensky came to power. Russia was uneasy about Zelensky’s closeness to the United States. In particular, he angered Russian President Vladimir Putin in his bid to become a member of NATO.
Despite coming to power, Zelensky faced challenges in cracking down on rebels, especially in the western Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Russia was supporting them. In the midst of the ongoing conflict, Russia declared Donetsk and Luhansk territories independent and Putin instructed Russian forces to ?stay there as part of the peace talks. Earlier, in 2014, Russia claimed Crimea as its own.
Ukraine and geopolitics
The port of Sevastopol in Crimea is very important for Russia’s entry into the Baltic Sea and a source of warm water all year round. Crimea has been part of Russia for almost 200 years, but before Russian occupation of the peninsula had been under Ottoman rule. When Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed over Crimea to the then-Soviet republic of Ukraine in 1954, certainly he did not think such a situation would arise in future.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO expanded eastward, eventually taking in most of the European nations that had been in the Communist sphere. The Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, once parts of the Soviet Union, joined NATO, as did Poland, Romania and others. As a result, NATO moved hundreds of miles closer to Russia which once led WARSAW Pact— a military and political alliance against NATO.
The Russian president termed NATO’s expansion menacing and the prospect of Ukraine joining it a major threat to his country. As Russia has grown more assertive and stronger militarily, his complaints about NATO have grown more strident. He has repeatedly invoked the specter of American ballistic missiles and combat forces in Ukraine, though US, Ukrainian and NATO officials insist there are none.
Putin also insisted that Ukraine and Belarus are fundamentally parts of Russia. He holds considerable sway over Belarus and talks about some form of reunification with Russia have gone on for years.
Every time in history Russia has been attacked by a foreign country, Most of them were from northern Europe. So, Russia attaches great importance to ensuring that Ukraine does not become a member of NATO. Russia said in a statement that NATO’s presence in the region violates a 1990 US commitment. The USA denies violating the agreement, saying NATO is a self-defense military alliance.
Role of the USA
However, Moscow has been increasing its military presence on the border for months in preparation for an attack on Ukraine. The United States, however, has repeatedly warned against doing so, but has done little to calm the situation. Ukraine has always been assured of its support. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelinski has realised that such assurances do not work when they are in danger.
In early December, President Biden made clear that his administration was not considering sending troops to fight for Ukraine since, among other reasons, Ukraine is not a member of the NATO alliance and does not come under its commitment to collective defence.
Instead, the United States sent anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons to Ukraine, increased the American military presence in NATO countries that border Russia and ordered an additional 7,000 troops to Europe. The Pentagon also ordered the deployment of an armored brigade combat team to Germany to reassure skittish NATO allies in Eastern Europe. Administration officials also warned that the United States could throw its weight behind an Ukrainian insurgency.
President Zelensky is angry with NATO over its refusal to establish a “no-fly zone” in Ukraine. In his address to the nation on the evening of March 4, he said, “You are the cause of death of those who will be killed from today.” Zelensky said that if Ukraine did not survive, the whole of Europe would not survive. If Ukraine collapses, so will the whole of Europe. In the face of a sharp Russian attack, President Biden announced plans to send a special plane to evacuate him. But Zelensky denied it, saying “I don’t need a free ride. Rather send arms to maintain Ukraine’s independence.”
Mr. Biden has said the United States and allies were freezing trillions of dollars in Russian assets, including the funds controlled by Russian elites and their families, making them pay for what the American president called “a premeditated attack” against a free nation in Europe. Western governments have also vowed to freeze assets belonging to Putin, but very little is known about what he owns and where it might be.
Will US sanctions be effective?
The response to the Washington’s sanctions was not similar to that of EU’s move. In particular, the announcement by German Chancellor Olaf Schulz to suspend approval of Russia’s controversial gas pipeline “Nord Stream-2” in response to Ukraine’s recognition of the two breakaway regions as independent countries has sparked further discussion. Because Nord Stream-2 is important for Moscow. The politics surrounding Russia’s economic and military influence in Europe have led to the use of the Nord Stream gas pipeline as a chess piece.
However, the impact of this crisis is increasing the price of oil and gas in the world market. The global stock market index has also fallen. In other cases, the effects are beginning to show. Bangladesh and other countries of the world are feeling the heat.
Russia says it has been advancing through various sanctions of the Western world for many years. Moscow will not be harmed by the sanctions. Rather, the rise in commodity prices around the world will hamper economic development in the post-corona world. The United States and its allies will be responsible for that. They will be forced to lift sanctions in the global interest.
What’s at stake for Europe?
At stake for Europe is the security structure that has helped keep the peace on the continent since World War II. Europeans were initially divided over how to respond to various forms of Russian aggression and the conflict laid bare the fractures within the European Union and NATO. But outrage over Putin’s aggression has helped foster a unified front and the EU unveiled penalties that they described as unprecedented for the bloc in terms of scale and reach.
However, Europe has important trade ties with Russia and stands to lose far more than the United States from sanctions. It is also dependent on Russian gas supplies, a weakness that Putin has exploited in past disputes.
Why did Russia invade Ukraine?
President Putin has frequently accused Ukraine of being taken over by extremists, ever since its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in 2014 after months of protests against his rule.
But Ukraine has not lurched to the right, it has turned to the West and Russia’s leader aims to reverse that. Those protests broke out when Moscow pressed Ukraine’s president not to sign a 2013 association treaty with the EU.
Russia retaliated in 2014 by seizing the southern region of Crimea and triggering a rebellion in the east, backing separatists who have fought Ukrainian forces in an eight-year war that has claimed 14,000 lives.
Is this invasion dangerous for Europe?
These are terrifying times for Ukrainians as shells and bombs have rained down on their cities and more than two million have fled to neighboring countries. Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and Slovakia are dealing with a dramatic influx of refugees and the EU has warned that at least five million more could be displaced.
But it is also a decisive moment that threatens to tear up Europe’s post World War Two security structure. Russia’s leader has put his nuclear forces on high alert, days after threatening the West with “consequences the like of which you have never seen” if it stands in his way.
For Europe’s leaders, this invasion has brought some of the darkest hours since World War Two. France’s Emmanuel Macron has spoken of a turning point in Europe’s history. For the families of both armed forces, these are anxious days. Ukrainians have already suffered a gruelling eight-year war with Russian proxies. The military has called up all reservists aged 18 to 60 years old.
What’s the West doing?
Nato’s defensive alliance has made clear there are no plans to send combat troops to Ukraine itself. But member countries have provided weapons and field hospitals and the EU, for the first time in its history, is to buy and send arms and other equipment.
Nato has deployed several thousand troops in the Baltic states and Poland and for the first time is activating part of its much larger rapid reaction force. NATO will not say where but some are going to Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia.
At the same time, the West is targeting Russia’s economy, financial institutions and individuals.
Is there a diplomatic way forward?
There seems very little chance for the moment, even if the two sides have held several rounds of talks. Russia insists Kyiv lays down its arms and demilitarises and that will not happen. Beyond the war, any eventual deal would have to cover the status of eastern Ukraine and Crimea as wells as arms control with the West.
The US had offered to start talks on limiting short- and medium-range missiles, as well as on a new treaty on intercontinental missiles. Russia wanted all US nuclear arms.