UKRAINE CRISIS – STRATEGY FOLLOWED BY RUSSIA AND US ALONG WITH THEIR ALLIES AND LESSONS FOR INDIA
Ukraine was a cornerstone of the Soviet Union, the archrival of the United States during the Cold War. Behind only Russia, it was the second–most populous and powerful of the fifteen Soviet republics, home to much of the union’s agricultural production, defence industries, and military, including the Black Sea Fleet and some of the Nuclear arsenal. Ukraine was so vital to the union that its decision to sever ties in 1991 proved to be a coup de grâce for the ailing superpower.
Ukraine has long played an important, yet sometimes overlooked, role in the global security order. Today, the country is on the front lines of a renewed great - power rivalry that many analysts say will dominate international relations in the decades ahead. In recent elections, Ukrainians have clearly indicated that they see their future in Europe, but the country continues to grapple with extreme corruption and deep regional rifts that could impede its path. Meanwhile, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has triggered the greatest security crisis in Europe since the Cold War. Though the US and its allies have taken significant punitive actions against Russia during the seven-year-old conflict, they have made little headway in helping to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Ukraine and Russia share hundreds of years of cultural, linguistic and familial links. For many in Russia and in the ethnically Russian parts of Ukraine, the shared heritage of the countries is an emotional issue. As part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was the second-most powerful Soviet republic after Russia, and was crucial strategically, economically and culturally.
A timeline of major events in the Russia-Ukraine History is given below:
Annexation by Imperial Russia. Mostly non violent.
Soviet-Ukrainian War. Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was established.
Soviet Union was founded with Russia and Ukraine as founding members.
Crimea handed over to Ukraine SSR by Soviet leader.
Independence of Ukraine from Soviet Union.
Ukraine joined the Non Proliferation of Nuclear weapons and
carried out nuclear disarmament.
Orange Revolution in Ukraine against election of pro-Russian President.
Euromaidan protests against Ukrainian government resulting in ousting of the president and overthrowing of the government.
In 2013, Ukraine's then-President Viktor Yanukovich, decided against signing an association agreement (AA) with the European Union (EU), sparking major pro- European protests in Ukraine. In Feb 2014, the Ukrainian parliament voted to impeach Yanukovich, who fled Kyiv. Subsequently, in Mar 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, an autonomous peninsula in southern Ukraine with strong Russian loyalties, on the pretext that it was defending its interests and those of Russian-speaking citizens. Shortly afterwards, pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions declared their independence from Kiev, prompting months of fighting. The EU, the US and other countries imposed sanctions on Russia. In 2014 & 2015, a peace plan for Eastern Ukraine (the Minsk Protocol I & II) was signed, named after the Belarusian capital Minsk where the talks were held.
However, efforts to reach a diplomatic settlement and satisfactory resolution have been unsuccessful. A major blockade has been Russia’s insistence that it is not a party to the conflict and therefore is not bound by its terms. Since 2014, Ukraine has been witnessing shelling and skirmishes between the rebels and Ukrainian forces leading to the loss of over 14,000 lives by most estimates, creating around 1.5 million registered Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and destruction of the local economy. In 2021, Russia started a large military buildup on the border with Ukraine. The buildup continued despite warnings from other western countries. On February 24, 2022, the Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine.
CAUSE OF CONFLICT
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 favour.
- Buffer Zone for Western Countries
For the US and the EU, 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 Russia.
- Russian Interest in Black Sea
The unique geography of the Black Sea region confers several geopolitical advantages to Russia. Firstly, it is an important crossroad and strategic intersection for the entire region. Access to the Black Sea is vital for all littoral and neighboring states, and greatly enhances the projection of power into several adjacent regions. Secondly, the region is an important transit corridor for goods and energy.
Two major protests in Ukraine which were pro-European were widely disagreeable to Russia, namely the Orange revolution of 2004 and the Euromaidan Movement of 2013.
- Orange Revolution In 2004 a series of political protests took place in Ukraine in response to the elections of Viktor Yanukovych, who also had the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The protesters claimed that the result of elections were rigged by the authorities in favour of Yanukovych. Results were annulled and a revote ordered. In the re-election, Viktor Yushchenko won by securing 52% of the votes.
- Euromaidan Protests On 21 November, 2013, Viktor Yanukovych suspended signing the EU Association Agreement and instead chose closer ties with Russia. The decision to not sign the agreement sparked Euromaidan protests. The protests were aimed at widespread government corruption, abuse of power, and violation of human rights in Ukraine. Elected President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted and the Ukrainian government was overthrown.
- Separatist Movement The Donbas 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 paramilitary forces 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-ll. 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 upper hand in the region.
- Ukraine’s NATO Membership Ukraine has urged the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to speed up their membership process in the alliance. Russia has declared such a move a “red line”, and is worried about the consequences of the US-led military alliances expanding right up to its doorstep. Due to this faceoff between NATO countries and Russia, the Black sea is a region of strategic importance and a potential maritime flashpoint.
UKRAINE - A GEOPOLITICAL FLASH POINT
In its nearly three decades of independence, Ukraine has sought to forge its own path as a sovereign state while looking to align more closely with Western institutions, including the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, Kyiv has struggled to balance its foreign relations and to bridge deep internal divisions. A more nationalist, Ukrainian-speaking population in Western parts of the country has generally supported greater integration with Europe, while a mostly Russian-speaking community in the East has favored closer ties with Russia.
Ukraine became a battleground in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and began arming and abetting separatists in the Donbas region in the country’s southeast. Russia’s seizure of Crimea was the first time since World War II that a European state had annexed the territory of another. More than fourteen thousand people have died in the conflict, the bloodiest in Europe since the Balkan Wars of the 1990s..
RUSSIAN INTERESTS IN UKRAINE
- Lineage Russia and Ukraine have strong familial bonds that go back centuries. Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, is sometimes referred to as “the mother of Russian cities,” on par in terms of cultural influence with Moscow and St. Petersburg. It was in Kyiv in the eighth and ninth centuries that Christianity was brought from Byzantium to the Slavic people and served as the anchor for Kievan Rus, the early Slavic state from which modern Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians draw their lineage.
Russia has deep cultural, economic, and political bonds with Ukraine, and in many ways Ukraine is central to Russia’s identity and vision for itself in the world.
Among Russia’s top concerns is the welfare of the approximately eight million ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, according to a 2001 census, mostly in the South and East. Moscow claimed a duty to protect these people as a pretext for its actions in Ukraine.
- Crimea Connundrum Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 to strengthen the “brotherly ties between the Ukrainian and Russian peoples.” However, since the fall of the union, many Russian nationalists in both Russia and Crimea have longed for a return of the peninsula. The city of Sevastopol is home port for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the dominant maritime force in the region.
- Trade Russia was, for a long time, Ukraine’s largest trading partner, although this link has withered dramatically in recent years. China now tops Russia in its trade with Ukraine. Prior to its invasion of Crimea, Russia had hoped to pull Ukraine into its single market, the Eurasian Economic Union, which today includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.
- Energy Russia has relied on Ukrainian pipelines to pump its gas to customers in Central and Eastern Europe for decades, and it continues to pay billions of dollars per year in transit fees to Kyiv. However, in mid-2021, Russia completed construction of its Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which runs under the Baltic Sea to Germany. Although Russia is contracted to keep moving gas through Ukraine for several more years, some critics in the United States and Europe warn that Nord Stream 2 will allow Russia to bypass Ukrainian pipelines if it wants and gain greater geopolitical leverage in the region.
- Political Influence Russia has been intent on preserving its political influence in Ukraine and throughout the former Soviet Union, particularly after its preferred candidate for Ukrainian president in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, lost to a reformist competitor due to the Orange Revolution movement. The shock in Ukraine came after a similar electoral defeat for the Pro Russian candidate in Georgia in 2003,known as the Rose Revolution, and was followed by another, the Tulip Revolution, in Kyrgyzstan in 2005.
- Superpower image After the Soviet collapse, many Russian politicians viewed the divorce with Ukraine as a mistake of history and a threat to Russia’s standing as a great power. Losing a permanent hold on Ukraine, and letting it fall into the Western orbit, was seen by many as a major blow to Russia’s international prestige. Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014 proved to be immensely popular at home, pushing Putin’s approval ratings above 80 percent following a steady decline.
- NATO Calling Ukraine Russia is unhappy with efforts by the US and EU to induct Ukraine into the US-led military alliance of NATO. Ukraine acts a crucial buffer between Russia and NATO countries of Europe. Russia views the growing presence in Ukraine from NATO - in terms of weaponry, training and personnel - as a threat to its own security.
INTERESTS OF USA
United States of America has been one of the important catalysts of the Russia- Ukraine crisis since the beginning. It has been trying to get Ukraine towards the Western sphere of influence so as to have leverage on Russia, one of its major rivals. The United States provided political assurances to Ukraine with the signing of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. Twenty years later, after Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials came to express more emphatically and frequently U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
- Security U.S. has maintained that U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering. This applies to both Crimea and Russia-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine. In July 2018, USA issued the “Crimea Declaration,” which reaffirmed the United States’ refusal to recognize Russia’s claims of sovereignty over Crimea until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored. Through the Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act of 2017 (CRIEEA), United States has declared never to recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia. It has also prohibited foreign assistance to countries that support Russia’s annexation of Crimea. U.S. also criticizes Russia for failing to fulfill its commitments under the Minsk agreements and condemns Russia’s aggressive actions in and around Ukraine. In April 2021, US voiced it’s concerns to Russia over the sudden military build-up in Crimea and on Ukraine’s borders, and called on Russia to de-escalate tensions.
- Energy security to EU The United States opposes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as it assesses that it would have detrimental impacts on the EU’s energy security, gas market development in Central and Eastern Europe, and energy reforms in Ukraine it also issued joint statement with Germany in July 2021 that pledges to bolster Ukraine’s energy security and to support sanctions in response to further acts of Russian aggression towards Ukraine.
- Foreign and Military Aid Ukraine has been a leading recipient of U.S. foreign and military aid in Europe and Eurasia. In the 1990s, the U.S. government provided almost $2.6 billion in total aid to Ukraine. In the 2000s, total aid to Ukraine amounted to almost $1.8 billion. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States began to provide higher levels of annual assistance to Ukraine across multiple accounts. In all, the United States has allocated more than $2.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s 2014 invasion. In addition, the U.S. government has also provided more than $351 million in humanitarian assistance since 2014 to assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) and other victims of conflict. The United States has also provided three $1 billion loan guarantees to Ukraine.
- Lethal and Nonlethal Security Assistance US has provided nonlethal security assistance to Ukraine, such as body armor, helmets, vehicles, night and thermal vision devices, heavy engineering equipment, advanced radios, patrol boats, rations, tents, counter-mortar radars, uniforms, first aid equipment and supplies, and other related items upto 2017. From 2017 to 2021, security assistance has included capabilities to enhance the lethality, command and control, and situational awareness of Ukraine’s forces through the provision of counter-artillery radars, counter-unmanned aerial systems, secure communications gear, electronic warfare and military medical evacuation equipment, and training and equipment to improve the operational safety and capacity of Ukrainian Air Force bases. Since 2015, U.S. forces from the U.S. Army and National Guard, together with military trainers from U.S. allied states, have provided training and mentoring to members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces as part of a Joint Multinational Training Group- Ukraine. The United States and Ukraine host regular joint military exercises in Ukraine with the participation of NATO allies and partners such as Ex. Sea Breeze, a maritime exercise. Ukraine has also been a part Ex Rapid Trident which is historically a NATO exercise. The United States also provides cyber security assistance to Ukraine.
- Bilateral Trade The United States granted Ukraine permanent normal trade relations status in 2006. From 2014 to 2016, bilateral trade declined in line with an overall decline in Ukraine’s trade after Russia’s invasion. U.S.-Ukraine trade began to recover in 2017. In 2020, the United States was Ukraine’s 5th-largest source of merchandise imports and 14th-largest destination for exports. The value of U.S. merchandise exports to Ukraine—mostly motor vehicles, coal, and industrial machinery—was $1.9 billion in 2020. The value of U.S. merchandise imports from Ukraine—primarily iron and steel—was $1.3 billion in 2020.
- Other Legislative Initiatives US has also passed many legislations since 2017 which favour Ukraine and target Russia such as Ukraine Cyber security Cooperation Act 2017, Crimea Annexation Non-recognition Act 2019, Ukraine Security Partnership Act 2021, Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act etc.
- Economic Sanctions on Russia The US imposed sanctions on Russia after the seizure of Crimea. Subsequently, it has imposed Ukraine-related sanctions on about 735 individuals and entities, such as preventing Russia from pumping Russian gas through the newly built Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany. Nord Stream 2 is one of two pipelines that Russia has laid underwater in the Baltic Sea.
ROLE OF MEDIA IN THE CRISIS
Media has played a key role in terms of perception management in the ongoing crisis. In Western and Ukrainian media, the armed build-up at the border is a sign of Russian imperialist aggression, of Moscow trying to bully its smaller neighbour. In Russia, however, the situation is viewed rather differently. It has been painted as Russia’s efforts to nullify ts security concerns rather than invasion.
- Effect of Social Media Since Russian President Vladimir Putin officially declared what he calls a “special military operation" in Ukraine, most social media feeds have been filled with posts about the conflict between the two countries. Ukraine is utilising social media to mobilise support, with new content being produced on sites namely Twitter and TikTok regularly. On the other hand, Russia has been successful in driving out or closing down some of the most popular internet services like Facebook.
Ukraine has dominated social media in the days following the Russian invasion, in an expanding information war with Moscow that Kyiv appears to be winning so far. Even, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s daily video speeches, which are normally provided with English subtitles, have become viral sensations. But social media’s role also includes some challenges. Many online posts may have some truth, but they should be viewed with caution, as false claims and misinformation about the two countries have proliferated on social media.
What is the Stand of Different Nations on the Issue
- The United States has already announced sanctions prohibiting “new investment, trade, and financing by US persons to, from, or in” the two breakaway regions.
- Japan is likely to join the US-led sanctions while French officials have been quoted as saying in reports that the European Union (EU) is also in discussions for punitive actions against Russia.
- The EU has condemned Russia over “a blatant violation of international law as well as of the Minsk agreements.”
- The United Kingdom has also warned of further sanctions.
- Australia also called Russia’s actions unacceptable, it's unprovoked, and it’s unwarranted.
What is Russia's Stand
- It blamed the NATO for the current crisis and called the US-led alliance an existential threat to Russia.
- Charged that Ukraine had inherited Russia’s historic lands and after the Soviet collapse was used by the West to contain Russia.
- It wants Western Countries to guarantee that NATO won’t allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members.
- It has also demanded the alliance halt weapons deployments to Ukraine and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe. The Western countries have rejected the demand.
WHAT IS INDIA’S STAND ON THE ISSUE AND THE IMPACT ON INDIA
India did not join the Western powers’ condemnation of Russia’s intervention in Crimea and kept a low profile on the issue. In Nov 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. In Feb 22, India also suggested at the UN Security Council that quiet and constructive diplomacy is the need of the hour and any step that could escalate the tension should be avoided. India’s stand has been welcomed by Russia.
- To maintain balance between Russia and US. India has good relations with both Russia and the US and siding with one of these countries could cost India its relationship with the other. However, India has maintained its neutrality in this conflict. India has abstained from the procedure vote on Ukraine at the UNSC. India’s position on the ongoing Ukraine crisis undergirded by the desire to keep clear of the crosshairs of big power rivalry is reminiscent of its quintessential ‘strategic autonomy’.
- S-400 delivery and US waiver. The crisis comes precisely as India’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system is under way- and India hopes for a waiver of U.S. sanctions on this. This conflict will complicate both the delivery of the system, and the possibility of a presidential waiver.
- Brings Russia China closer. The Crisis will make Moscow more dependent on friends like China and build a regional bloc of sorts that India is not a part of. Russia is already averse to the Indo-Pacific concept and the Quad as a revival of Cold War bloc politics and views them as being against its Asia-Pacific interests. Any Ukraine conflict and a resulting breakdown of Russia-West ties will strengthen Russian opposition to these concepts and forums which are binding us to the US.
- India’s Investment in Russia. India’s plans in Russia’s energy sector and in the development of its Far East, in general, would become problematic, especially by the reluctance of the private sector to fall afoul of the complex US sanctions. The new sanctions excludes Russia from the Swift payments system.
THE 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.
While the Minsk agreement is far from ideal, it could be a baseline from which a diplomatic solution to the current crisis could be found and reviving it could be the ‘only path on which peace can be built’ as French President Emmanuel Macron has said.
For Ukraine, it could help it gain control over its borders and end the threat of a Russian invasion for the time being, while for Russia it could be a way to ensure that Ukraine never becomes a part of NATO and ensure that Russian language and culture are protected under a new federal Constitution in Ukraine
For many analysts, the conflict marked a clear shift in the global security environment from a unipolar period of U.S dominance to one defined by renewed competition between great powers. However, a solution to the conflict is at hand, in the form of the Minsk II agreement of 2015 calling for autonomy for a demilitarized Donbas within Ukraine, under international guarantees.