By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Russia has invaded Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin recognised the two eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk as ‘independent’ nations and then on their ‘request’ it sent a ‘Peace Keeping Force’ to maintain order. So we have two new ‘nations’ on the world map: Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) and the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LPR) as an independent.
Both these two states have a majority of Russian speaking people and have been in conflict with the Western region which dominates the East. Vladimir Putin’s speech was decisive when he blamed human rights violations in Eastern Ukraine.
Most of the Russian origin people in these Eastern provinces were getting Russian passports since 2014 and more than 800000 passports were issued by Russia to its ‘citizens’ in these two eastern provinces.
Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and got its independence in 1991 after many ‘republics’ broke away from it.
The Western world celebrated the collapse of the Soviet Union and felt it was the ‘end’ of the day for Communism the world over. It all happened because of the politics of ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’ initiated by Secretary-General Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1991, the three biggest ‘republics’ of the Soviet Union, named Russia, Belarus and Ukraine decided the end of the Soviet and became independent states. Eight more republics too declared themselves as independent and created a Commonwealth of Independent States ( CIS).
Demographics of Ukraine
Ukraine is the second-largest country in the area after Russia. Ukraine has a size of 6,036,28 square kilometres and a population of nearly 43.6 million and is the eighth-most populous country in Europe. Bordering with Belarus, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Romania. That apart, it has a coastal line with the Black Sea which link it to Turkey and the rest of Europe. 77% of the population is of Ukrainian origin while 17% of the Russian origin is mostly based in the Eastern Provinces.
Ukraine became an independent country on June 23rd, 1917 but became one of the founding members of the USSR in 1922. The country is rich in minerals and other natural resources particularly Uranium, coal, iron, ore, natural gas, manganese, salt, oil sulphur, timber and mercury.
NATO encircling Russia
It is true that after the Soviet Union was disintegrated, the western world rejoiced and Americans did everything under the sun without any protest. In 1991, the US intervened in Kuwait after Saddam Hussein’s forces occupied Kuwait. After the September 11th, 2001 attack on US financial institutions, the then President decided to avenge it with Afghanistan. Americans intervened in Iraq under the pretext of ‘weapons of mass destruction which could never be found. They targeted the leadership, arrested Saddam Hussein as well as Col Gaddafi and through their media manipulations converted them into the worst human being. No questions were asked as to why the top leadership of these countries were targeted and killed in such a brutal manner. Even when Russia invaded Ukraine, Israel continued violating airspaces of its neighbours like Syria and Lebanon, bombing innocent people and Saudi Arabs persisting with its bombing in Yemen.
History of NATO and Ukraine
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) came into existence on April 4th, 1949 after 12 founding members signed the treaty in Washington DC. These countries were: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States of America to create a counterforce Soviet Forces placed in different countries of Europe in the post-World War II. It was suggested that it was the result of a cold war pressure that compelled Western European countries to build up an alliance with the United States so that they remain ‘safe’ in Europe but was NATO necessary in the post cold war, especially after the ‘collapse’ of Soviet Union in 1991.
Unfortunately, after it, NATO aggressively pursued all the ‘independent’ countries that emerged from the former Soviet Union such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.
The other Eastern European countries who were part of the Soviet alliance such as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Slovenia became part of NATO.
Vladimir Putin had already mentioned in his speech that he would like to revive the Soviet Union if get a chance but the major factor behind his worry seems to be if the Western World and NATO continue to encircle Russia then there is a real and legitimate concern related to the security of that country which needed to be addressed.
The fact was, shouldn’t NATO be disbanded once the cold war was over and replaced with a global peacekeeping force under the United Nations but then these are part of the international mechanism to dominate.
Ukraine used by the western world against Russia
In all the international talks between Russia and United States, the issue of NATO expansion has been of real concern for Russia. Every country has a right to protect and promote its interests. While the Western world was rejoicing over the ‘death’ of the Soviet Union and they made Mikhail Gorbachev the ‘greatest’ intellectual inviting him to various universities and ultimately handing over the Nobel Peace Prize for the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Do you agree with Vladimir Putin?
You may disagree with Putin and may look down upon him but none can deny that under his leadership Russia is now confident and much more powerful. It is regaining its glory which the western world wants to deny it. Whether it was during the Covid period or in Syria, Russia has demonstrated more maturity and control than its contemporaries. Often Putin has been criticised for being ‘self-obsessed’ and using ‘media’ to promote his cult but the fact is in the former Communist regimes, we had leaders who were far better planners and communicators.
Every year Vladimir Putin address media and take questions from ordinary people too and anyone who has seen those programmes can vouch that he knows things and is far superior to many of his contemporaries elsewhere who pretend ‘democracy’ and ‘liberalism’ but can assault anyone under the pretext of ‘protecting’ ‘democracy’.
No country returned to Democracy and stability after US or NATO intervention be it Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or Syria.
The 2014 Crisis
The roots of the current crisis in Ukraine are the ‘protest’ against the then-President Viktor Yanukovych who had rejected Alliance with the EU or Europe. He was considered to be not merely ‘pro Russia’ but a ‘stooge’ of Moscow but these are the ‘narratives’ that western media plant to legitimise regime changes that have happened in various countries.
Victor was the fourth president of independent Ukraine and had to flee his country. He was prime minister of his country since 2002 to 2007 with a break in 2004. In 2010, he became President of his country but his pro-Russia policies were responsible for his ouster in 2014. The protests broke out against his policies at the Euromaidan Square for rejected EU deal and accepting 15 billion dollars bailout from Russia.
The Western World was encouraging ‘democratic’ protests and ignored the pro-Russia protests in Eastern Ukraine terming them as ‘insurgency’. None questioned that democratically elected government should be removed through democratic moves. It is here that the western world used the popular media narrative as per its convenience. In their over zeal to counter Russia, the western world actually ignored the human rights violation of the Russian origin people in the Eastern part of Ukraine.
There is no doubt that the two eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk had huge support for Russia apart from Crimea. There were no response in the Western World for the Russian concerns as in the name of ‘independence’ and ‘sovereignty’ they only spoke about Ukraine but not about the others who felt issues of violation with as Ukraine too was becoming a problem state for the Russian origin people. It gave a pretext to President Putin to intervene and annexe Crimea which was widely accepted. It was surprising that Russia did nothing in 1991 when Crimea became part of Ukraine but perhaps that was the time when in their obsession against communism, all the oligarchs were busy protecting their business interests and not interested in other states.
Though Russian was the official language after separation every effort was made to isolate the Russian language.
Western Ukraine continued to dominate the politics and identity of Ukraine while the issues and concerns of the eastern provinces were completely overlooked.
Russian President Vladimir Putin actually accused the Ukrainian government of committing genocide of the Russian origin people. This was a serious accusation and can not be ignored even if the western world might suggest it as overhyped but the fact is since 2014 Eastern Ukraine was dominated by the rebels accused of support from Moscow and virtually cut off from the rest of the country.
After the 2014 intervention in Crimea, the NATO and Western allies started arming Ukraine. Given by any standard, Ukraine has fairly big armed forces and NATO provided it all the big equipment yet it’s leadership rarely showed the strength of a matured nation while dealing with a country it belonged to once upon a time. It was clear that Ukraine was clearly divided between ethnicities on the issue of joining with EU as the Russian origin people were happier with Russia. It is not the issue of mere sovereignty of Ukraine but also the survival question for Russia which feels threatened if NATO expands towards Eastern Europe.
Underestimating Russian sentiments
Russia is the world’s biggest country with 36,000 long coasts and 17 million square kilometres of land area. It has 11 time zones, the highest in the world. Whatever may be the differences of governance, Russia is undoubtedly a great power where architecture and literature thrived. During the second world war, it is the Red Army of the Soviet Union who defeated Hitler’s fascist forces but it is also a fact that immediately after world war II, the western block decided to join hands against the mighty Communist Soviet Union.
The cold war started by then though ended by 1990 when the Soviet Union was disintegrated but the mighty empire doesn’t go away that easily. To underestimate Russia and its power was a miscalculation on part of a Ukrainian president who now feels that Europe and the United States have abandoned him and that he was ready for negotiation with Moscow but it looks the matter is over. Whatever be the outcome, the massive bombardment at Ukraine has destroyed his infrastructure as the war is basically inside Ukraine and Russia has significantly destroyed its defence infrastructure and captured the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant.
Ukraine’s crisis should not escalate but for that Western world must sit together with other nations.
Each big country has its share of problems and exploitation of the other countries. Europe’s colonial powers have their own track record of colonising the world while Americans have taken it to themselves as the sole spokesperson of the world. Russia, China are new power places and will definitely not like to get economically isolated. China has already challenged the Western monopoly on the economy but Russia was also building up in the last decade.
The new Russia under Vladimir Putin is assertive, economically strong and militarily stronger who have shown much better diplomacy than his western counterparts on various occasions. Now, the call for negotiations will not work as Russia will only stop once the regime change is done and a pro-Russian government is installed in Kyiv and Russians are not alone in doing so, for they have many examples in recent pasts when the western world followed the same pattern elsewhere. The things are clear that Russia will not allow NATO to move towards its border as it is a life and death for the powerful country as it knows well that Western World never wants a strong Russia but will ensure it is weakened or broken. By invading Ukraine, Putin has sent a strong message to all his neighbours in Europe and CIS countries to not cross the Red line of inviting the western world and NATO to its border as it will be a no-tolerance zone for Russia. Don’t look for big moral questions in the Ukraine crisis as every country has to work according to its territorial integrity and what Putin did was perhaps important to protect Russia from encircling by NATO. No self-respecting powerful nation would allow its border to be surrounded by adversaries.
Ukraine could have avoided the crisis by not becoming a pawn in the hands of adversaries of Russia but it looks it deliberately allowed itself to be used and now paying the price for the same.
It is time all the global power sits together, introspect and strengthen mechanism so that the rights of all countries whether small or big are protected but at the same point of time it is also essential that countries do not become pawns in the hands of powerful countries and their international chessboard.
The war is not between Moscow and Kyiv but between Russia and NATO whose tremors are being felt globally and must not escalate further as any miscalculation on any part might begin a chain of events that could be worst than World War III.
All efforts need to be made to stop this and look for long term solutions by not threatening economic sanctions or criticising without introspecting their own fault lines and strengthening the institutional mechanism of the United Nations but for that to happen, big powers will have to negotiate for many things leaving their own economic interests and sharing it with others. Anti-war efforts like that happened in post-world war II are needed but for that, we need leaders of stature and not manipulators who have long term strategies and not their own corporate nationalist interests. Till then, we can only hope that good sense will prevail the crisis will be over soon.