‘Understanding the Ukraine war’
Ukraine is not just a neighbouring country. It is a part of our history, culture and spiritual continuum. – Vladimir Putin
As the ‘Great Bear’ runs afoul with its international calculations, media columns around the globe have started to question and investigate Putin’s intent behind such a disastrous foreign policy measure. One seemingly crucial question making rounds is - ‘Why is Putin willing to jeopardise Russia’s foreign relations and its economy over a modest country like Ukraine?’. Comprehending this question, in the midst of a ‘live’ war, one where the US and the EU are hurriedly applying stringent economic sanctions on a rampaging Russia is a tough task. To decipher Putin’s coercive strategy an ‘episodic-cum-identity’ nexus requires to be understood.
Ukraine, one of Soviet Union’s largest republics, voted itself to independence and self-rule on 1 December 1991. Up until 2004, Russia and Ukraine enjoyed cordial affiliations as the Ukrainian government was largely run by Pro-Kremlin leaders. However, with the 2004 ‘Orange Revolution’ that led to the pro-west Viktor Yushchenko’s installation as the Prime minister and the subsequent 2008 NATO invitation to Ukraine, the relationship between the two nations turned sour, reaching the climax in the year 2013. In 2013, with the re-installation of Yanukovych (Pro-Kremlin leader) as the Prime Minister, a civil war ensued between the pro-west population of Western Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists of the east and south-east Ukraine. Thenceforth, Ukraine has been divided into two blocs with the more powerful pro-western populace steering the government.
Amidst all this trailing chaos, the conspicuity of the recent chain of events holds utmost importance in shaping the current scenario. For instance, the succumbing of the Belarusian regime to popular pressure and the pro-democracy Kazakh crisis vilifying Russian interference, are two popular recent developments that have compounded Putin’s harsh and anxious measures towards Ukraine. This fear of losing the sphere of Russianness, especially in Ukraine holds a superior salience for the Russian power politics that identifies and traces the modern Russian state from the Kievan Rus Clan of Kyiv. Further, this identity also feeds into Russia’s strategic sphere as Ukraine holds immense importance for Russia’s energy interests and naval capabilities.
It comes as no surprise that the global hegemon - the United States of America, is one of the agent provocateurs of this whole conflict. The expansion of NATO and its dialogue diplomacy assuring support to Ukraine against Russia in critical times, has foregrounded a deep-seated cynicism in Putin, whom Leonid Bershidsky called “an imperialist of the old Soviet school”. Surely, Putin will exhaust all possible means to prevent losing Ukraine to Western institutions and influence, and to uphold the ‘Great Power’ identity of the modern Russian state. Indeed, as predicted by Ryan C Maness in 2015, “The future of Ukraine is at the mercy of the dynamics of the US-Russian rivalry. This 2014 crisis will not end with two more powerful adversaries coming to military blows directly, but Ukraine will suffer as a pawn in the global conflict.” Ukraine is yet again fighting for its survival and no other power has jumped to its rescue, neither the US nor NATO.
The Current crisis has raised apprehensions regarding commitments by the US. The exit of the US from Afghanistan and President Biden mentioning “US did not come for nation-building” casts doubt over ambitious initiatives by the US like the Democracy summit. The Ukrainian crisis reinforces the belief how in a realist world, countries should be aligned to no one but to their national interest. While the residents of Russia’s soft belly(Ukraine) try to resist Putin’s objectives however the crisis has brought to surface the prevailing fault lines in NATO and EU.
Anmol Rattan Singh is pursuing a Master's in Public Policy and Governance at Centre for Federal Studies, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi.
Sehaj Singh is International news editor at The Brief Bulletin
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Brief Bulletin.