The Ukraine Crisis: Overview
Genesis of the Crisis. The Ukrainian crisis is the collective narrative for the 2013–14 Ukrainian mass protests associated with emergent social movement of integration of Ukraine into the European Union, the February 2014 Maidan revolution (known as the Revolution of Dignity) and the ensuing pro-Russian unrest. The crisis began on 21 November 2013, when then-president Viktor Yanukovyhch suspended preparations for the implementation of an association agreement with the European Union. The decision sparked mass protests from proponents of the agreement, which resulted in precipitating a revolution in February 2014 between votaries for and against the merger. It sparked unrest in largely Russophone Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine, from where Yanukovych had drawn most of his support. Subsequently, the Russo-Ukranian war began.
Apart from the unrest, Russia troops without insignias took control of strategic positions and infrastructure within the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. On 01 March 2014, the Federation Council of the Russian Federation unanimously adopted a resolution on petition of President Putin to use military force on territory of Ukraine. Russia annexed Crimea by mainly capturing the Crimean Parliament by ‘little green men’, while concurrently in a referendum (widely criticised in the West) involving the population of Crimea, voted to join the Russian Federation. In April, demonstrations by pro-Russian groups in the Donbas area of Ukraine escalated a local conflict between the Ukrainian government and the Russian-backed separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. In August, Russian military intervened in Donetsk and are considered responsible for the defeat of Ukrainian forces in early September 2014.
The Gathering Storm: 2021-22 (Rapidly evolving as I write). In March and April 2021, Russia started to mass thousands of military personnel and equipment near its border with Ukraine, representing the highest force mobilization since the annexation of Crimea. This precipitated an international crisis and generated concerns over a potential invasion. Satellite imagery and widespread Western media coverage reported movements of armour, missiles, and heavy weaponry. While reports of partial withdrawal of troops in Jun 21 are available, the crisis deepened in Oct/Nov 21 with more troops being inducted including into Belarus in areas bordering Ukraine ostensibly for a large-scale military exercise. Reports vary between 100,000 to 130,000 troops along the border. As on date, Western media and Russian media have talked off some troops having withdrawn after the termination of the exercise, however, President Biden and Western interpretation again downplays the withdrawal saying that it does not reduce the possibility of invasion or eases the tensions in anyway till reports are fully verified.
Russia wants its legitimate Security Sensitivities to be ‘Guaranteed’. In December 2021, Russia advanced two draft treaties that contained requests of what it referred to as “security guarantees”, including a legally binding promise that Ukraine would not join the NATO as well as a reduction in NATO troops and military hardware stationed in Eastern Europe, and threatened unspecified military response if those demands were not met in full. NATO rejected these requests, and the United States warned Russia of “swift and severe” economic sanctions should it invade Ukraine. The West appears divided over the issue because of geo-political considerations mainly economic, and its overwhelming dependence on Russian oil and gas. France and Germany have been particularly cautious with their statements and visible military support on ground to assist NATO.
Reports having Western interpretation and Domination.
Realistically what all of us are hearing and reading about the Russia-Ukraine crisis is from the Western media. Ironically, even what the Russians think is based on what the Western media, think tanks and leaders perceive. During the joint press conference on 15 February 22 after meeting the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Putin stated “We are ready to work further together. We are ready to go down the negotiations track,” However, Putin maintained that Russia’s demands had not had constructive response. He also described situation in East Ukraine’s breakaway regions as ‘genocide’. He called for the conflict there to be resolved through the Minsk peace progress. Putin emphasised that NATO promised Russia it would not expand after the Cold War, and will interpret Article 10 of NATO’s founding treaty, which says “any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic” can apply for membership” accordingly. NATO denies making any such commitment. To a pointed question from one of the reporters on prospects of war, he immediately responded that entire Europe will be drawn into a conflict in the ‘blink of an eye’ including possibility of a nuclear confrontation which none may want, if NATO precipitates matters. French President Emmanuel Macron has been frantically carrying out diplomatic manoeuvres to de-escalate the crisis by talking over phone to President Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and meeting them personally on 09/10 February 22. He told reporters that Putin assured him that Russian forces would not ramp up the crisis near Ukraine’s borders. “I secured an assurance there would be no deterioration or escalation,” he said before meeting Ukraine’s leader. Russian media, however, has reported that any suggestion of a guarantee was “not right”. The Russian diplomats, foreign ministry spokesperson and media have repeatedly denied any plans to invade Ukraine.
Some Excerpts and Interpretations from Russian Media.
Obviously, this is not original but basically inputs after scouring the internet for Russian media inputs (TASS, Pravda, Moscow Times, The Bell, The Kommersant, and TV channels Rossia-1 and Channel One), including from the Russian government spokespersons only of one day, 16 February 2022.
- Russian diplomat slams US statements on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as disgraceful
- Russia doesn’t take statements by NATO chief seriously any longer — MFA. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a news conference that Moscow will no longer take seriously any statements by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg who has been named to head Norway’s central bank.
- Russia urges the West to end hysteria around Ukraine — Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.
- Pumping Kiev with weapons negatively affects both the settlement of the conflict in Donbass and the general situation on the track of security and stability in Europe, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pointed out.
- ‘Illogical and Unfair’: Russian Firms Hunker Down Under Sanctions Threat – Despite signs of de-escalation, the war scare has spooked Russia’s government and firms into action over their vulnerabilities to Western sanctions. The Kremlin has staged a series of stress tests to gauge how the country’s key industries would fare should the US impose some of its most potent economic weapons, such as cutting Russian banks out of the international financial system, or banning the sale of U.S.-made technology to Russian companies. The stress tests focused on the country’s finance sector and electronics industry, as well as key state-owned enterprises such as the postal service, railway network, energy grid and flagship-carrier Aeroflot, according to reports by Russian business outlets. None of the companies involved have publicly commented on the results of the exercises. The latest showdown with the West has only sharpened the Kremlin’s appetite for import substitution amid such mixed results over the last six years of the campaign.
- ‘Western media tried hard to trigger war in Ukraine’ – Russian Foreign Ministry – “For the first time ever in the history of humanity not only a suspect aggressor country, but also a potential victim country in the American media show both denied all plans, stubbornly dictated by the Anglo-Saxon mass media,”
- U.S. Troop Reinforcements Arrive Near Poland-Ukraine Border – further aggravating and precipitating the crisis situation
- Russia is ready for security talks with West if they don’t scuttle Russia’s demands – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters on Wednesday (16 February 22).
- Kyiv/Ukraine ready to unleash military attack on Donbass – Kremlin points to high probability of Kiev unleashing military attack on Donbass. It is highly probable that Kiev will embark on a combat operation in Donbass, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.
- Putin in his controversial essay titled “On the Historical Unity between the Russian and the Ukrainians” published on 12 Jul 22, has highlighted the bond between Russia and Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin after talks with visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on 09 February 22, stated to the international media that “Russia cannot turn a blind eye on how the United States and the North Atlantic Alliance are interpreting, quite freely and for their own benefit, the key principles of equal and indivisible security, which are committed to paper in many European documents,”. He recalled that this principle includes not only the right to choose ways of ensuring own security and join any military unions or alliances, but also the liability not to strengthen one’s security at the expense of the security of other countries. He noted that although under article 10 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty the alliance is free to invite other countries, it is not obliged to do it.
- China blasts inflated war hype by US, notes harm to Ukraine’s socio-economic stability – Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman expressed hope that the West “will cease to spread such false information, will do more to facilitate peace, mutual trust, and cooperation”. Washington’s exaggerated ‘war-is-imminent’ hype has dealt a blow to Ukraine’s economy and social stability, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a briefing on Wednesday.
- Bolsonaro’s Moscow Visit Win-Win Opportunity – Bolsonaro is visiting Russia despite Washington’s protests. Both Russia and Brazil believe they can capitalize on his visit. Brazil and Russia’s mutual interests are not based on a shared deep anti-American sentiment. However, In the case of Brazil, Bolsonaro would be able to advance his foreign policy agenda, only with Russia’s support. For Putin, it is an excellent chance to offer evidence to the Russian public that Moscow cannot be isolated from the rest of the world, despite American attempts. It also enables Putin to drive Moscow’s key Latin American narrative, further; maintain strong links to countries in the US’ backyard.
- On Rossia 1’s popular show “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,” host Solovyov said that the US warnings over an impending Russian invasion are linked to Biden’s effort to be re-elected. The participants commented that Biden is provoking Russia and tied it to the US midterm elections.
News from Ukraine Media. On 15 February, Ukraine reported that websites of the country’s defense ministry and armed forces as well as two banks had been hit by a cyberattacks from Russian side. Ukraine’s leader vowed on 16 Feb that his country would stand tall against any invasion, as NATO warned it could see no sign that Russia is withdrawing its forces. President Volodymyr Zelensky watched troops training with some of their new Western-supplied anti-tank weapons on a range near Rivne, west of the capital. The demonstration of Ukrainian firepower and rhetoric contrasted with images on Russian state media that were said to show Moscow’s forces bringing an end to a major exercise in occupied Crimea. In Rivne, missiles pounded targets and armored vehicles maneuvered and fired on the yellowing moorland, while in Kyiv hundreds of civilians marched in a stadium with an enormous national banner. The “Day of Unity” displays came as the Kremlin called for “serious negotiations” with Washington, and European leaders pushed hard for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
There are not just two sides, but multi-lateral sides to a geo-political situation or crisis in todays interconnected, multi-polar, multi-dimensional world. Verticals as wide ranging as historical enmity, boundary issues, different ideologies to economy, politics, trade, history, information and perception management, transfer of niche and disruptive technology, scarcity of resources, asymmetry of resources within and outside nations and people, impact the delicate global security balance. All nations are forced to continuously carry out strategic balancing and indulge in 24X7 activity of cooperation, competition, confrontation and even conflict if their national integrity is threatened, to maintain and enlarge their status in the comity of nations. The Ukraine crisis is one such element of global geo-politics playing out. As I conclude, the situation appears to be stabilising. However, this will not be the end of this or other geo-political stories, in a rapidly evolving, dynamic global order.
Lt Gen PR Kumar (Retd)