Opinion | Tensions in Eurasia: Will Ukraine become another battleground between US and Russia?

New Delhi Published: Dec 14, 2021, 03:39 PM(IST)

US President Joe Biden (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin Photograph:( WION Web Team )

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Recently, US President Joe Biden in his two-hour video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin categorically mentioned that “US and our allies would respond with strong economic and other measures” if Russia continues to escalate things militarily and creates a threat to Ukrainian democracy

The recent build up of Russian Forces along the borders of Ukraine and the reactions of United States for this were not a surprise and this incident may lead into another possibility of a situation like Cold War. Although Russian authorities categorically denied it, but the experience of the past wants us to take the Russian statement with a pinch of salt. While some of the international experts say it well that it may be another suicidal attempt for Uncle Sam, US is making aggressive statements.

Recently, US President Joe Biden in his two-hour video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin categorically mentioned that “US and our allies would respond with strong economic and other measures” if Russia continues to escalate things militarily and creates a threat to Ukrainian democracy. Recently, G-7 Nations also issued a joint statement issuing a stern warning to Russia against an invasion. Ukraine is geographically located in such a place that if Russia invades it, it will knock at the doors of European Union and if Ukraine joins NATO or any other western military alliance, American or NATO forces will be knocking at the doors of Russia. Both parties are visualising Ukraine as a challenge.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are not new. It started soon after the disintegration of erstwhile USSR and creation of Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine was a part of USSR, and it was socially, economically and culturally well connected to Russia. Both the countries have co-operated well in the past too till the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. Soon after Petro Poroshenko took over as president and forbade military co-operation with Russia, things started taking an ugly turn. Increasing proximity of Ukraine with western powers, European union and United States made things worse.

Russia has its own concerns. It had suffered immensely due to the post-cold war events, the economic crisis and does not want NATO to knock at its door now. With Ukraine inching closer to US both militarily and economically, the possibility of US forces being stationed in Ukraine can not be ruled out. There are high possibilities that Ukraine may be leading to become another battlefield between US and Russia after Afghanistan. We have strong reasons to understand the dynamics

1. Russia wants its borders to be secure

With Western forces especially NATO inching close to Russia, it is but natural for the Kremlin to be concerned about its own security. It wanted Ukraine to act as a wall between western forces and Russia, but things are happening just opposite. As Ukraine is trying for a NATO membership and Unites States providing all out help to president Volodymyr Zelensky, things ahave been taking an ugly turn since 2014. Further, as Ukraine is getting closer to European Union, it is a serious worry for President Putin too. He mentioned that Ukraine could become a springboard for a US sponsored military action against Russia in future. To secure his country and land borders, he may do something which can turn Ukraine into a battleground.

2. Declining trade relations between Russia and Ukraine

Trade relations between Russia and Ukraine are at lowest since 2014. Despite of the fact that both countries are well connected and been part of the same empire in the past, things are not moving smoothly. Within last seven years, European Union (EU) became the biggest trade partner of Ukraine outclassing Russia. Ukraine not only signed a free trade agreement with EU but also created trade barriers with Russia. As a result, Russia revoked free trade agreement with Ukraine and the result is visible in the figures. In 2013, Russia used to get 25.7% share in total Ukrainian exports which have fallen to 7.7% in 2020. In contrast, EU’s share has shot from 24.9% to 42.6% in the same time frame. For a country which is already facing severe economic crisis, such action by a trusted partner will certainly evoke reactions.

3. Social and Cultural ties

Ukraine has deep social and cultural ties with Russia, their languages are similar, their script is same, they have same form of Christianity and culturally both communities are much closer to each other than any of the western countries. Although post cold war events leading to disintegration of USSR led to separation of both countries but somewhere Russians want it to be part of their country. This wish is reflected in the statements of Russian leadership time and again. This year in July, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote an article on “The Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” which clearly brings out what is happening in the minds of Russian leadership. 

4. US-NATO military intervention in Ukraine

Over last 7 years, US has provided significant military hardware both new and used to Ukraine. Similarly, United Kingdom and Turkey too provided their war machines. Often Russian leaders have complained that Ukraine has been using Turkish armed drones in the disturbed eastern areas of Ukraine and close to their borders. In last seven years, US has provided Kiev with large number of armoured Vehicles, anti-tank Missiles, patrol crafts, and weapon locating radars. A big portion of this armory is deployed on the eastern borders with Russia where more than half of Ukrainian forces are deployed for last few months to counter the disturbances in Donbas.  

5. Anti-Russian approach of Ukrainian leaders

Earlier in June 2021, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced to the western media that his country is ready to join NATO and he openly asked for military and economic support from the US. Further, the events leading to annexation of Crimea and situation in eastern part of Donbas made it further difficult for the Ukrainian leadership to rely on Kremlin’s words. Proximity with Turkey, European Union and United States did the rest and as a result Ukrainian leaders today have a total anti-Russian approach which is making things worse.

In an atmosphere where leaders are not relying on each other and western powers are ready to intervene, the biggest question arises now is if Ukraine will be a battleground of two global powers who are flexing their muscles. Some of the international experts say that Russia will not require to intervene militarily in Ukraine to win over it.

It will just follow the approach it took in Crimea and what it is doing in Donbas. Create a local unrest and fuel it up. Then let the locals do the entire job with the indirect military support of Russia. While a military intervention by US or NATO cannot be ruled out, it will only make the lives of local Ukrainians miserable the way it did in Afghanistan, Vietnam, or Middle East. It may also lead to another polarisation in the world since China is already closer to Russia and it will not take much time for other countries to form an Anti-US alliance on the grounds of Ukraine. Current events are just an indicator and need to be observed carefully.

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)

Major Amit Bansal (Retd)

Major Amit Bansal is is a Defence Strategist with keen interests in International Relations and Internal Security. He is also an author, blogger and poet.

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