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Russia/Ukraine Conflict: A threat to European Security?

By Katie Cocker

The current situation in the Russia/Ukraine conflict represents a major security crisis for Europe. Russia has assembled more than 100,000 soldiers on the border with Ukraine, stoking widespread concerns that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine – a sovereign and independent state. [1] This article seeks to understand the tensions between Ukraine and Russia and assess whether a new conflict in Ukraine can be prevented.


What is the history of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine?

Russia and Ukraine, both former Soviet States, share hundreds of years of cultural, linguistic and familial links. Putin has repeatedly asserted that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people”. In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea on the pretext it was defending its interests and those of Russian-speaking citizens. Within days Russia completed its annexation in a referendum that was slammed by Ukraine and most of the world as illegitimate. The annexation of Crimea gave President Putin a significant boost in popularity ratings in Russia. However, it was widely condemned by world powers, and resulted in the US and EU imposing sanctions on Moscow and renewing their commitment to protect the integrity of Ukraine’s borders. [2]


What is happening now?

As tensions with Russia rise, the US and EU are increasingly determined to keep Ukraine away from Russian control because the Ukraine acts as a crucial buffer between Russia and West. Efforts to induct Ukraine into NATO have been ongoing for many years. Putin is particularly enraged by the prospect of NATO bases next to his borders and says Ukraine joining the US-led transatlantic alliance would mark the crossing of a red line. As it moves 100,000 troops towards the border of Ukraine, Russia seeks assurances that the Ukraine will not be inducted into NATO. However, US President Biden has made it clear that he not prepared to make such assurances. Therefore the current situation is that there is stand-off between the West and Russia with 100,000 Russian troops ready to invade Ukraine and the West not budging on Russia’s demands. [3]


Can conflict in Ukraine be prevented?

The big question is whether Russia will invade Ukraine. Russia repeatedly denies that it will invade Ukraine and that the country moving troops across its own territory should not be cause for alarm. However, it must be noted that Putin has dwindling approval ratings in Russia and seeks to restore dialogue with the West, especially the US. [4] Furthermore, Russia sees the growing support for Ukraine from NATO – in terms of weaponry, training and personnel – as a threat to its own security. [5] Therefore, Putin is using the prospect of military aggression as a bargaining tool to try to bolster his own legitimacy and stop the Ukraine from joining NATO. It is striking that on this occasion, Russia is asserting its military aggression in a more covert way than previous troop build ups. This suggests a potential Russia-Ukraine war is likely.

Although Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of NATO has said “there will be a high price to pay for Russia” if it once again invades Ukraine. [6] It is looking increasingly difficult for the West to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine. US officials, including Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, have admitted that they are not sure what Putin’s intentions are. If the diplomatic efforts to stop the invasion fail, US and EU officials have said they may impose hard-hitting sanctions on Russia in the event of military action on the Ukraine border. However, depending on what Putin’s intentions are, experts say sanctions may not be enough to deter him. Any kind of military action by the US or EU against Russia would precipitate a major crisis for the whole world. [7] For the moment, the issues driving this standoff remain unresolved and the world is on edge watching and waiting to see what Putin’s next move is. War is a realistic possibility which will wreak havoc and devastation on Ukraine and have far-reaching, troubling, and unpredictable consequences on the rest of Europe and the West. In other words, watch this space.



NB: This is an ongoing situation. This article was on 29th January 2022 and thus prior to the most recent developments in this conflict.


 

[1] Matthew Chance and Laura Smith-Spark, ‘Tensions are high on Ukraine’s border with Russia. Here’s what you need to know’ (CNN 28 January 2022) < https://edition.cnn.com/2021/12/03/europe/ukraine-russia-2021-tensions-explainer-cmd-intl/index.html > accessed 29 Jan 2022

[2] ibid.

[3] Kabir ER, ‘Explained: Why Russian troops are on Ukraine border, and why West is concerned’ (The Indian Express 11 Dec 2021) <https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/why-russia-ukraine-border-tension-may-lead-to-broader-conflict-7659613/ > accessed 29 Jan 2022

[4] Ben Hall and Roman Olearchyk, ‘Ukraine to the world: keep calm and stop spreading panic’ (Financial Times 28 January 2022) < https://www.ft.com/content/97d15970-3c36-439d-aa38-7402f732efbc > accessed 29 Jan 2022

[5] Matthew Chance and Laura Smith-Spark, ‘Tensions are high on Ukraine’s border with Russia. Here’s what you need to know’ (CNN 28 January 2022) < https://edition.cnn.com/2021/12/03/europe/ukraine-russia-2021-tensions-explainer-cmd-intl/index.html > accessed 29 Jan 2022

[6] Atlantic Council, ‘Transcipt: NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg on Russian aggression, Ukraine’s capabilities, and expanding the Alliance’ (Atlantic Council 18 Jan 2022) < https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/news/transcripts/transcript-nato-head-jens-stoltenberg-on-russian-aggression-ukraines-capabilities-and-expanding-the-alliance/ > accessed 29 Jan 2022

[7] Kabir ER, ‘Explained: Why Russian troops are on Ukraine border, and why West is concerned’ (The Indian Express 11 Dec 2021) <https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/why-russia-ukraine-border-tension-may-lead-to-broader-conflict-7659613/ > accessed 29 Jan 2022

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