Image Courtesy of picryl.com
Megan Moutsatsos, Queen’s University
Edited by Sefanit Zeray
In what many are viewing as the greatest security crisis in Europe since the Cold War, evidence suggests that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine. According to estimates from Ukrainian and American officials, 150,000 Russian troops currently circle the nation; Vladmir Putin, the Russian president, could launch an invasion at any moment. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians would die, with up to five million made refugees. But what are the roots of this Russian-Ukrainian conflict—and what does Putin stand to gain, or lose, from a takeover?
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) pushed eastward, recruiting many Eastern European countries to its pro-democratic cause, such as Poland, Romania, and the Baltic republics. This push tightened the geographical gap between NATO and Moscow, which Putin did not like, as he wanted to maximize his control in Eastern Europe and have limited interference from the West. The conflict with Ukraine is rooted in this goal: Putin knows that if Ukraine continues to grow close with Western institutions, like the European Union and NATO, his hold on Eastern Europe will grow weaker. In fact, Putin has stated that he sees the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO as a “hostile act”, since the two of them are linked culturally and politically due to their history as USSR members.
Putin’s desire to keep Ukraine within his orbit resulted in 2014’s deep conflict with the nation, which began when Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Vanukovych, refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union, and instead chose to favor relations with Moscow. In response, violent protests broke out in Ukraine, and after Yanukovych fled his duties, the country fell into pro-European hands. Putin did not take this well: he responded by first annexing the peninsula of Crimea in southern Ukraine, and later supporting separtist groups that broke out in eastern Ukraine. This fighting has resulted in over 14,000 deaths and has forced at least two million people to flee their homes. Eventually, in 2015, a peace agreement was brokered between the two nations. However, Ukraine and Russia both view its terms differently. Russia, for instance, has insisted that it is not an actual party involved in the conflict (presumably because they are not the direct leaders of the separatist groups), and are thus not bound by the agreement’s terms. Moreover, Putin’s desire to keep Ukraine away from NATO, coupled with a “peace agreement” that he does not honor, has resulted in the mass accumulation of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border.
However, while it would ensure that Ukraine remains within Russia’s control, an invasion of the country would ultimately be detrimental to Russia. Firstly, while Ukraine is not entitled to direct military support from NATO members, the United States has sent anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine. They’ve also increased American military presence in NATO countries bordering Russia, and have 8,500 troops ready to be deployed to Eastern Europe. Further, while they would still be severely outmatched in a war against Russia, Ukraine has the support of many other nations, as expressed by the threats of other global powers aimed at Putin. American president Joe Biden, for instance, has threatened Putin with “economic consequences like none he’s ever seen” if he invades Ukraine. The United States could cut Russia from the international banking system, and they could freeze assets that Putin has in different countries. This would prevent him from continuing projects like the 11-billion-dollar Nord Stream 2—a pipeline that would more readily allow natural gas to be exported to Europe. The pipeline would greatly benefit Russia by giving them a huge amount of power over European gas supplies, which is why the United States and Germany have already opposed its construction. If Russia attacks Ukraine, the United States could impose sanctions that would drastically hinder its construction process, just like the time a major contractor stopped working on the project in 2019 after the United States imposed their sanctions.
In addition to drastic interference with Putin’s assets and projects, such as Nord Stream 2, a Ukrainian invasion would also potentially deprive Russia of phones, laptops, and other technology, as they would lose trading agreements with powerful countries like the United States. The United Kingdom’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, has also stated that “to the international community, to NATO allies in the West, we’re standing shoulder to shoulder [in] saying there will be very serious consequences if Russia takes this move to try and invade and also install a puppet regime.” This statement demonstrates the extent to which Putin will alienate Russia from other powerful countries if he proceeds with the invasion, which would only damage Russia’s economy. The statement also highlights NATO’s views on Russia: Putin’s intentions to invade Ukraine go beyond security reasons, as they involve underlying motives of spreading his own influence and ideologies, and this is as immoral as it is dangerous.
Ultimately, Russia should not invade Ukraine. Putin’s motivations lie in wanting to maintain his power in Eastern Europe, but invading Ukraine would only serve to take this power away in the long run through angering other global powers. In addition, a war would take thousands upon thousands of lives, while forcing millions more to uproot their lives and flee to safety. Finally, the world would be set off balance: once more, it would be NATO versus Russia in a silent battle, a brewing conflict with chilling similarities to the Cold War—an event no one wants to repeat.
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