Escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine with the massing of Troops at the Border.
The result is an increased fear of a military conflict.
Since mid-March this year there have been warnings from Ukraine and many Western governments that Russia is continuously increasing its strength in Russian annexed Crimea and around Eastern Ukraine. Till now the Russian intentions are not clear. Is it preparation for war or just plain saber-rattling? Russia has said that the movement of troops in the Russian territory is just an exercise, it was an internal affair, and has accused Ukraine of the resulting provocations.
Ukraine meanwhile has said that the extra soldiers would be around 14,000 and Russia already has around 40,000 troops on its eastern borders and another 40,000 in Crimea.
NATO has called the Russian build-up deeply concerning and termed it the largest congregation of Russian troops since the annexation of Crimea. The Western governments and NATO have accused Russia of deploying heavy weapons in separatist eastern Ukraine, but the Russian government calls them volunteers. Many analysts however feel that there would be no big war and Russia would try to carry out its tried and tested process of infiltration.
The background of this conflict
Since the collapse of communism in 1991, Russian troops have intervened in many areas of conflict of the former Soviet Union; most notable being Chechnya and other parts of the Caucasus.
The roots of the present conflict go back to March 2014 when Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea. The Pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv after huge street demonstrations and clashes in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, which together are called the ‘Donbas’.
These were part of pro-Russian protests in the Southern and Eastern Ukraine which escalated into an armed conflict between the Russian-backed separatist forces and the Ukrainian government. These demonstrations were followed by the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation.
The sequence of events that happened was that the Federation Council of the Russian Federation adopted a resolution on the recommendation of President Vladimir Putin to use military force in the territory of Ukraine. Russia annexed Crimea after a referendum which was widely criticized and organized by the capturing of the Ukrainian parliament by the Russian men. According to Russian official results, 95.5% of the participating voters in Crimea (turnout was 83%) were in favor of seceding from Ukraine to Russia.
Russia all the while was supporting the rebels but when their area of influence reduced in August, Russian military vehicles crossed the border in several locations of Donetsk.
The Security services of Ukraine(SBU) claimed that the key commanders of the rebel movement were Russian agents. The prime minister of Donetsk People’s Republic from May to August 2014 was a Russian citizen. But since August 2014, the top positions at Donetsk and Lugansk have been held by Ukrainian citizens.
Recruitment of Donbas insurgents was done in Russia and Russian volunteers formed the majority of the combatants. The incursion by the Russian military was responsible for the defeat of Ukrainian forces in early September.
Ukraine said that militants were trained in a military facility in Rostov-on-Don where there was a big military base and terrorists were trained for being deployed in the territory of Ukraine. Thousands of militants were trained by their Russian instructors and then they found their way in small armed groups in the Ukrainian territory.
US and NATO response
Russia’s actions increased tensions in nearby countries, the Baltic and Moldova. They have large Russian-speaking populations with Russian troops being stationed in Moldova. Some of these countries increased their defensive capabilities and others requested increased support from the U.S. and NATO. The conflict rejuvenated NATO which had been created to face the Soviet Union and had now deployed much of its resources elsewhere. The United States pledged $1 billion in aid to Ukraine.
In July 2014, the United States and the EU imposed economic sanctions against Russia. They wanted to convince Putin to stop supporting the rebels in eastern Ukraine who wanted to break up the country. The sanctions restricted five major Russian bank's ability to obtain long-term financing from Europe. The United States further restricted technology exports to Russia’s deep-water Arctic offshore or shale oil production.
In the former Soviet Union, Ukraine was an important contributor to the economy and supplied heavy industrial equipment and raw materials to the industrial sites. Now Ukraine wanted to open its markets to the EU and collaborate with US companies to develop its gas reserves which were seen by Russia as a huge threat to its economy, so it invaded and occupied Crimea.
After this, the United States and Russian relations have been going downhill and all the efforts to reach a diplomatic settlement have failed. In April 2016, NATO announced the deployment of its troops in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland to deter further Russian aggression in the Baltic region. If Russia invades the Baltic States, the United States and NATO would be forced to retaliate according to Article 5 of the NATO treaty.
As of today, Russia continues to illegally occupy Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea (26 081 km²), the city of Sevastopol (864 km²), certain areas of Donetsk, and Luhansk regions (16799 km²) — in total 43744 km² or 7,2% of the territory of Ukraine.
More than 10,000 people were killed in the period 2014–2018, in military conflicts between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists.
Allegations by Ukraine
Ukraine has made the following allegations against Russia:
1) Russia illegally occupies the autonomous Crimea as this was the first step towards undermining the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine. A democratic and prosperous Ukraine is a threat to the present authoritarian rule of Russia and it is convinced that it will never become a world leader without control over Ukraine. So it tries to destabilize the situation in Ukraine.
2) Russia continues to supply weapons and ammunition to the occupied territory to strengthen units of its regular troops deployed in Donbas, and also the illegal forces that it supports.
3) Military aggression is just one part of the Russian hybrid warfare against Ukraine. Other things that it carries out are; propaganda based on lies, trade and economic pressure, energy blockade, cyber-attacks, and blaming the other side for its own crimes.
Why the conflict resumed again?
In February 2021, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky imposed sanctions on Viktor Medvedchuk a Ukrainian oligarch and a friend of President Vladimir Putin. Taking further steps Ukraine banned broadcasts by three pro-Russian TV stations. The Minsk peace deal reached in 2015 too has not been complied with. As an example, there has been no arrangement for independently monitored elections in the separatist regions.
Many people speculate that President Putin wants to test the resolve of US President Joe Biden who wants to take a tougher stance on Russia than his predecessor Donald Trump. There is a parliamentary election in September, with the continuing mass movement of people supporting his jailed critic Alexai Navalny. With Putin vowing to defend Russians in Ukraine, it could go down well with many voters and he hopes to marginalize Navalny by whipping up a patriotic fervor over Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently visited the tense frontlines, right through the trenches and tunnels in the east of his country. This according to him would convey to his troops deployed on the frontline that they have complete political support.
Zelensky considers the US to be a good friend but wants President Biden to do more to deter Russia and bring the conflict to an end. He wants more weapons and more money to fight and wants support to join NATO; the Western military alliance, where an attack on one member brings everyone together and commits them to respond.
It was reported by CNN last Friday that the US is considering sending warships into the Black Sea in the next few weeks to show support for Ukraine. On Tuesday, President Biden called on Russian President Putin in a bid to deescalate the tensions in the region and emphasized the United States' commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.