Russia wants to annex Novorossiya
War or Peace in Ukraine?
Carl Bildt maintains, Russia’s hostile rhetoric and showy display of troop movements on Ukraine’s borders under the pretext of holding military exercises, and protecting Russian speakers there, does not necessarily spell war. Yet as long as Putin does not abandon his revanchist ambitions in the former Soviet republics in Eastern Europe, the entire continent “will not know peace” until the Kremlin “learns to live with a genuinely sovereign, democratic Ukraine.” Russia still considers Ukraine’s fate its business and remains particularly opposed to Kyiv’s aspiration to join NATO.
Analysts believe Putin’s Ukraine gambit may well just be gaining attention rather than planning an offensive. According to the author, "even Kremlin decision-makers" are unsure themselves "whether this brinkmanship leads to open conflict in the coming weeks or months." If Russia does not de-escalate, “the situation will remain dangerous,” especially after Moscow warned NATO against deploying troops to Ukraine. Any miscalculation or misstep could spark a military conflict.
According to the author, there are reasons why Ukraine means a lot to Russia - reasons that have much to do with history, religion, economics and culture. Apart from speaking the same language, many Russians see Ukraine as the birthplace of the region's Orthodox Christianity. It then became part of the Russian empire, and later part of the Soviet Union. Ukrainian soldiers were pivotal in the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II. In fact, Ukraine was perhaps the most important Soviet republic after Russia itself.
Following the end of communism, “the departure of other Soviet republics would not necessarily have been an existential threat. But Ukraine’s “declaration of independence absolutely was. It sealed the Soviet Union’s fate. " Later Putin recalled its collapse as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the twentieth century. While Russia was preoccupied with nation-building, Ukraine “had developed a strong preference for alignment with its Central European neighbors.”
The author says there is no reason to believe that “closer ties” with the EU should “weaken Ukraine’s historical and cultural links with Russia. In this context, the EU’s Eastern Partnership, which resulted in its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with Ukraine, was part of a broader attempt to meet Ukraine halfway. None of the EU-Ukraine trade agreements were incompatible with the trade agreement that Ukraine had with Russia. But the Kremlin saw things differently. "
Since Putin became president again in 2012, he “embarked on a revisionist course to create a so-called Eurasian Union,” in which Ukraine would play a central role in a trade and political bloc stretching from the borders of China to the edge of the EU. In 2013, Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign a trade pact with the EU, drawing it closer to Brussels - it was a victory for Putin. However this "prompted a popular uprising that ousted Yanukovych (who fled to Moscow) and set the stage for the war that began in 2014."
Throughout history Russia “saw Ukraine as a weak and fractured state that would fold under sustained pressure…. Committed to the idea that Ukraine isn’t a real country, the Kremlin seems to have convinced itself that snatching Crimea in early 2014 would precipitate Ukraine’s collapse. The hope was that Russia could then carve out a so-called New Russia (Novorossiya) in Ukraine’s east and south, while leaving a rump ‘Western Galicia’ in what remained outside its control. "
The Western part of Ukraine was once part of Poland and Austro-Hungary. It became part of Ukraine only when World War II began. Protests against Yanukovych were the loudest here. Not to forget are historical grievances: Ukraine was the victim of the 1932-33 famine induced by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, killing millions. Later, it was among the Soviet republics that bore the brunt of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, leaving scars that still remain raw.
The 2014 land grab in Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine, had “managed to unite the Ukrainian population like never before,” despite Russian disinformation and efforts to pit Ukrainians against each other. The "ongoing low-level conflict" has killed some 14,000 people, displacing millions. So far “efforts to achieve a political settlement (through the two Minsk agreements) have failed,” because nationalist supporters of Putin refuse to swallow a “defeat” and “give up its enclaves in Ukraine.” Meanwhile, "the Ukrainian public has had difficulties accepting some of the compromises that any settlement would entail."
What happens on the border between Russia and Ukraine would not "stop with the" reconquest of Kyiv, "because there is a risk that Putin's" revisionist agenda "could succeed in unraveling Europe’s" entire post-Cold War security order. " Most of all it will deprive ordinary Russians of a “prosperous” future they “deserve,” if the Kremlin does not seek to de-escalate and focus on democratising their country. We in Europe must not remain indifferent, because our fate is “tied to that of Ukraine.” Many believe it is time we get our act together and not rely too much on the US to defend ourselves.
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