The situation in Ukraine is dire and opaque. Nothing is apparent so far. But the prevailing situation is unfolding in favour of Russia as the US and Europe have been caught unaware.
On 21 Feb 2022, Russia officially recognised the two dissenting regions in eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), as independent states and positioned its armed forces in Donbas. This move was interpreted as Russia’s actual withdrawal from the Minsk Protocol- an instrument of establishing peace and security in the Donbas region of Ukraine. On 24 Feb 2022, Russian troops marched toward other parts of Ukraine.
The campaign started after a prolonged military build-up and the Russian recognition of DPR & LPR. “Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he had decided to hold a special military operation in response to the address of leaders of Donbas republics.” (TASS, 24 Feb 2022). The Russian leader said that Moscow would pursue the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine and asked the Ukrainian army to lay down arms.
As the Russian threat grows, the Ukrainian president pleads to the world, especially the West, for peace. In an address to the nation late Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejected Moscow’s claims that his country posed a threat to Russia and further added that a Russian invasion would cost tens of thousands of lives. President Joe Biden of the US said he condemned this unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces. “We are taking measures to get world support and speak out clearly against President Putin’s flagrant aggression and stand with the people of Ukraine.” (The White House, 24 Feb 2022)
The Ukraine conflict has its deep domestic roots controlled by many factors. Both internal and external actors are pursuing their agendas. Indeed, there is a tragic vision of the politics in Ukraine. Deep-seated social anxieties are prevailing in the region. Ukraine is a country wedged between Ukrainian speaking West and Russian speaking East.
After Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the cracking relations between the two primary Ukrainian political, cultural, linguistic, and religious identities were successfully managed by alternating political power between East and West. This method served as gridlock to prevent the situation from getting worse. But many observers believed it would erupt if either side gained total political control and turned its version of Ukrainian identity into a test of loyalty.
The removal of President Yanukovich from power-on 22 Feb 2014 disturbed this intricate political balance and was at once discerned as a direct threat by Russophone Ukrainians. The tragedy of Ukraine started after the illegitimate coup in 2014, when the new Government brought guns and planes upon the Russian-speaking citizens in the country’s Eastern region, rather than engaging in dialogue with them. Women, children and the elderly have hidden from Ukrainian shelling for eight years. The root of the crisis lies in Kyiv’s provocations against Donbas, which prompted the leaders of the two republics to turn to Moscow for military support following bilateral cooperation agreements. He described this as a logical step, as well as a consequence, of Kyiv’s actions. Many believed the West engineered this.
Ironically, both Russia and the West say they want a politically and socially stable Ukraine, yet they disagree about the ways and means of achieving that stability. Many Western decision-makers presume that if corruption is reduced, the economy will grow. A new political consensus will develop out of this growth, and cultural divisions will eventually become a thing of the past. On the other hand, most Russian decision-makers view Ukraine as a culturally fragmented society. Stability, they say, can be achieved only if political authorities in Kyiv acknowledge the bi-cultural nature of Ukraine and create a constitutional framework that grants the country’s foremost cultural constituencies equal rights.
Impact of Russo-Ukraine conflict.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine ends several months of doubt and debate over the purpose of Moscow’s military build-up at the two countries’ border. War and conflict have seldom been absent from the European continent, even during the past 30 years of apparent peace and prosperity. But a war of choice and aggression by one nation against its neighbor, especially one of this evident magnitude, sends shockwaves across Europe and beyond. So if the start of military operations closes a period of uncertainty as to what will come, it opens another one with even more profound and broader implications. Nothing can be said about how far this crisis lingers as conflicting statements emerge in the media.
- The US has announced new economic sanctions against Russian financial institutions and five oligarchs and declared heavy penalties for the western countries which violate these sanctions. How far these sanctions would impact Russia is not known, but it is apparent that previous sanctions did not deter Russia from entering Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014.
- This will undoubtedly impact the diplomatic initiatives undertaken at various levels to diffuse the Russo-Ukraine stand-off.
- The Ukraine crisis has put an end to the era of post–the Cold War scenario, which was unsuccessful in concluding in integration between the West and Russia. In a striking setback, the crisis has opened up a period of solid geopolitical competition, rivalry, and even confrontation between Moscow and the US.
- Shifting of NATO focus to Europe again. An escalating Ukraine crisis would threaten to refocus the recent efforts of the US-led NATO forces to Europe again from countering the security challenges posed by China.
- Energy crisis. The growing threat of Russia invading Ukraine has rattled global commodity markets—and underscored how the continued problem could prolong Europe’s energy woes as the West rolls out, punishing new sanctions on Moscow.
- Threat to global peace. The heightened tension between Russia and the US would undoubtedly complicate the prospects for cooperation elsewhere, including terrorism, arms control, political solution in Syria, etc.
The way to peace inside Ukraine and between Ukraine and Russia is thus the same—dialogue and reconciliation. Indeed, for millions of people in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, reconciliation with Russia is essential for their fellow Ukrainians. This reconciliation would send an unambiguous signal that they will be embraced as Ukrainians and not treated as a fifth column within their own country irrespective of their religion, language, and cultural heritage. Ukraine’s ability to break the cycle of tragedy ultimately depends on this.