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Russia-Ukraine Border Conflict: Causes and Implications

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    1st Dec, 2021

Context

Recently, the massive mobilisation of Russian troops on the Ukraine border and occasional outbreak of violence along the line of contact between the Russia-backed rebels in the contested Donbass region and Ukrainian troops have pushed both countries to the brink of an open conflict. 

Background

  • The Ukrainian Crisis refers to the series of events such as the Euromaidan and the Ukrainian Revolution in 2014 that ultimately led to a confrontation between Ukraine and Russia.
  • The escalation of conflict continues to this day and reached a boiling point when Russian forces carried out a military exercise in the Azov Sea in April 2021, with a mass number of troops massing at the Russian-Ukrainain border.
  • Although the troops were subsequently withdrawn, tensions between the two nations continue to this day.

Analysis

What is the issue?

  • The recent stand-off between Russia and Ukraine has again captured headlines in the international news media.
  • The current geopolitical situation appears to be complex due to the indirect involvement of multiple stakeholders, including the US, Turkey and the NATO.

What is the origin of Ukrainian crisis?

  • The Ukrainian crisis is a power struggle between the various political factions in the Ukraine.
    • Chief among these factions are the ones who seek to cultivate closer ties with the European Union while the other seeks better relations with Russia.
  • Ukraine was one of the founding states of the Soviet Union, its farmlands contributing immensely to the Union’s economic output from 1920 to 1991.
  • The crisis reached a boiling point when on November 21, 2013, Victor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian President, suspended an agreement with the European Union. It led to a series of protests from those who supported the agreement with the European Union.
  • This in turn led to a series of unrest in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, whose denizens were more supportive of Yanukovych and his pro-Russian policies.
  • Soon a political crisis plunged Ukraine into chaos, with the Pro-European Union and Pro-Russian factions fighting it out against each other for control of Ukraine.
  • It was against this backdrop that Russia sent its army to annex the Crimean region of Ukraine in March 2014. Russia’s casus belli (an act or situation that provokes or justifies a war) was that it was protecting its port access on the Black Sea in case the political crisis in Ukraine caused disruption in its trade in the region.
  • Russia’s invasion further bolstered the pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, turning the simmering unrest into a full-blown war against the post-revolutionary Ukrainian government.
  • Between 2014–2020, the military conflict between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists continued in eastern Ukraine. More than 10,000 people were killed.

Why Russia invaded Ukraine?

To understand the reason for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is crucial to look back to the time of the Cold War.

  • During the reign of Josef Stalin, the Soviet Union sent ethnic Russians to the eastern portion of Ukraine. This was to solidify Soviet control in Ukraine and seriously undermine any prospects of an indigenous freedom movement if they ever took place.
  • As a consequence, Russia’s President got the reason he needed to send his army to the Ukraine, because he was sure he would find support for his actions in the country. The pro-Russian faction was bolstered by this incursion, which also allowed Yanukovych to return to Kiev.
  • Ukraine’s desire to open its markets to the EU and to collude with U.S. companies to develop its natural gas reserves were perceived by Russia as huge threats to its economy.
  • Since then, relations between the United States and Russia have continued to deteriorate with the ongoing Ukraine conflict. Efforts to reach a diplomatic settlement have failed.

The conflict is still ongoing with regular clashes between the two Ukrainian factions as well as Russian armed forces.

What are the current tensions?

  • Increased tensions between Ukraine and Russia can be viewed as a continuation of the unresolved conflict of 2014.
  • Since then, the ‘illegal annexation of Crimea’ has been an issue.
  • Russia has been criticised for its involvement in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine.
  • There, Russian-backed separatists have been fighting with Ukrainian troops.
  • Recently, Moscow has allegedly deployed thousands of troops as well as tanks and artillery near Ukraine’s eastern border.
  • It has also mobilised troops in the annexed Black Sea region of Crimea.
  • This has sent shock waves in Ukraine, forcing it to appeal to the U.S. and NATO for an intervention, if needed.

What are the effects of Ukrainian Crisis?

  • The events in Ukraine had both domestic and international consequences. As per the estimate by the World Bankin October 2014, the economy of Ukraine contracted by 8% the same year.
  • In turn, a slew of sanctions imposed by the United States and the EU crippled the Russian Rouble, resulting in the Russian financial crisis.
  • The war in the region had caused a shortage in coal for Ukrainian power stations, leading to blackouts in many parts of the country in December 2014.
  • Before the Euromaidan protest and the subsequent crisis, corruption had plagued the Ukrainian government from time to time. Post-revolution, however, the pace of reforms are slow.
  • Internationally, the relations between the United States and Russia have continued on a downward spiral ever since the beginning of the crisis.
  • Geopolitical experts believe that the ever-increasing rivalry between the two nations is the foundation of a new Cold War.
  • Recently, the 2020 Ukrainian local elections took place on Sunday 25 October 2020. In the election deputies of oblast and municipality councils were elected and elections for city and town mayors were held.
  • However, no elections were held in the currently occupied territories of Ukraine.

Why is the current conflict more aggressive than the earlier ones?

  • There were similar scenes earlier this year but after U.S. diplomatic intervention, Moscow pulled back.
  • This time, the Russian moves appear to be part of a larger strategy of force-projection across Russia’s western perimeter, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.
  • Russia views Ukraine as a Western aircraft carrier parked just across southern Russia because of the U.S. influence on Ukraine.
  • Russia’s aggressiveness could have partly been driven by the assessment that the U.S. has strategically weakened after its Afghan withdrawal and its preoccupation with China’s rise.
  • Ukraine says an estimated 90,000 Russian troops have massed near the border which could be a prelude to another Russian invasion.

Minsk Agreements

  • The Minsk Protocol (Minsk-1) with the Minsk Memorandum was signed in 2014 to prevent war in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas.
  • The representatives of the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine (TCG – Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE) and the representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR, LNR) signed the agreement.
  • The Protocol was followed by an additional Memorandum, which detailed the conditions of a ceasefire.
  • The agreement failed to stop fighting, however, it significantly reduced fighting in the conflict zone for months.
  • The Minsk-2 (Package of measures for the Implementation of the Minsk agreements) was signed in 2015 under the mediation of France and Germany to prevent an open conflict.
  • It was designed to end the fighting in the rebel regions and hand over the border to Ukraine’s national troops.
  • Ukraine was required to delegate more power to the breakaway regions and introduce constitutional reforms, codifying their special status.

What is Russia’s possible rationale?

  • From the Russian perspective, the current ‘military build-up’ can be viewed as another round of display of a powerful and capable Russia.
  • Russian President Vladmir Putin possesses enough diplomatic (and pragmatic) skills not to indulge in yet another geopolitical endeavour.
  • Thus, this might entail serious repercussions from the international community.

Way forward

Both countries do need support from the global community, but not in a military form.

The only way forward is to seek a peaceful resolution to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. All the stakeholders in the ongoing crisis should focus on establishing a constructive dialogue among themselves.

There is thus a need for a platform (similarly to the Minsk Agreements).This should facilitate negotiation, mutual consensus and possible compromises, as well as engagement with mediators.

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