Melikian Center Director Says Russia’s Threat to Ukraine Is Concerned and Potential Risk to UN Credibility
As the world celebrates and ushers in the New Year in a few weeks, Ukraine may be bracing for an invasion in 2022.
Russian troops, landing ships and tanks have gathered at the border for a few weeks, awaiting the green light from Russian President Vladimir Putin on whether to invade his ex-Soviet neighbor.
Tensions between the two countries have often surfaced since Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991. Russia’s latest military incursions in 2014 have solidified Ukrainian public opinion in favor of closer ties. with the West, including a goal of NATO membership. Putin sees this as a threat to Russia and looks set to escalate again.
ASU News asked Keith brown, director of Arizona State University Melikian Center, to explain to readers the complicated past of the two countries and why it led to a confrontation three decades later.
Question: Can you share a brief history of the tensions between Russia and Ukraine?
Responnse: Ukraine declared its independence the day after the failed Russian coup attempt in August 1991. This decision was supported by a majority of the citizens of the republic, but it is important to note that most of Ukrainians planned to maintain good relations with Russia. Ukraine has voluntarily given up its nuclear arsenal, after receiving security guarantees from Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom And in the early years of independence, historical ties and transportation routes combined to make Russia a major destination for Ukraine’s grain exports. In addition to Russian and Ukrainian, a language that mixes the two, known as Surzhyk, is widely used.
The introduction of multi-party democracy gave Ukrainian citizens the opportunity to express their different visions for the future. As in other democracies, this polarization increased, especially between âpro-Westernâ and âpro-Russianâ politicians. Ukrainian voters have consistently mobilized against politicians’ corruption or broken promises. It was the outrage over the two charges against pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych that sparked the Euromaidan revolution in November 2013. This – and the Russian aggression in Crimea and the Donbass region which has follow-up – marked a decisive shift in Ukrainian public opinion, as citizens confronted what Ukrainian (Defense) Minister Oleksii Reznikov calls the “Staggering reality” of the attack on “Brother Russia”. The illegal Russian military occupation is now in its eighth year and has had the effect of strengthening Ukrainian nationalist sentiments.
Q: Obviously, there is a strong possibility that Russia will invade Ukraine in the New Year. What do you think are the reasons?
A: Ukrainian and American intelligence agencies certainly predict preparation, based on troop concentration patterns, as well as “framing changes” which reveal that Russia is already engaged in the intensification of a media offensive, like it did so before the invasion of Crimea in 2014. It’s harder to discern President Putin’s motivation to launch a conventional war – especially if we take seriously the assessments of Kremlin observers like Mark Galeotti, who sees Putin is not a strategic chess player, but an opportunistic judoka (the one who practices judo).
What could we gain for Russia? Geopolitics is complex and interconnected, but it is often based on economics. Russia depends for its income on gas exports to Europe. Currently, these gas exports pass either through Belarus, Ukraine, or Nord Stream 1, a pipeline crossing the Baltic Sea. A second pipeline, Nord Stream 2, will significantly increase Russia’s direct export capacity to Germany, bypassing Belarus and Ukraine. This will reduce the revenues of both countries from transit fees, as well as any possible leverage they have in negotiations with Russia. Nord Stream 2 is physically full, but financial and legal regulations still need to be addressed.
It is a game changer. Internal and international friction generated by Belarusian President Lukashenko; the deadlock between Ukraine and Russia on continuing negotiations to end the current âfrozen conflictâ, on the basis of the Minsk Agreement; and Ukrainian efforts to classify Nord Stream 2 as a dangerous political weapon, all serve to raise the stakes even further. And that leaves out the kind of apocalyptic interconnection envisioned in the novel “2034,âWhere the adversaries of the United States, China and Russia, take advantage of any shared attention to pursue their own interests. As Russian troops crowd the Ukrainian border, China’s preparations to attack Taiwan also continue.
Q: President Joe Biden has said he will impose economic sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine. Will this be enough?
A: During the Trump presidency, there was striking bipartisan support for escalating sanctions against Russia. the DASKA law (Defending American Security Against Kremlin Aggression), presented by Senator Lindsey Graham, … went through committee, but died with the change in the Senate. The act included specific and unequivocal language guaranteeing US support for the full restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty. Revived and revised, its very existence could serve as a deterrent against further assaults. Russia’s occupation of Crimea and its presence in the Donbass, however, is concrete evidence that sanctions alone have not forced Russia to retreat to its own border.
Q: What is the United States’ interest in Ukraine?
A: Across Central and Eastern Europe, the United States has consistently advocated for the positive impact of NATO membership for national security and EU membership for economic stability and Politics. This policy – supporting mutual support among sovereign democratic nations, as well as the best collective defense of individual human rights – has been maintained even when the White House sent mixed signals. In June 2021, the United States and its NATO allies reaffirmed their commitment to welcome Ukraine as a member.
Q: If the invasion happens and Russia is successful, what does it mean for the United States and the rest of the world?
A: If the criterion of “success” is a military victory over the Ukrainian armed forces, followed by the extension of the Kremlin’s control over the whole country, historians could anticipate an impact for the international community such as that of the Italian attack. against Abyssinia in the 1930s. The League of Nations – to which both countries belonged – imposed sanctions, but was effectively killed by this violation of the principles it stood for. The credibility and effectiveness of the UN have been under siege for some time, especially as the permanent members of the Security Council have militarized their veto to act like old-fashioned great powers. Russia’s threat to Ukraine is worrying in itself: considered in conjunction with China’s growing displays of force near Taiwan, it suggests that a radically transformed international order is closer than most Americans think.
Top photo: Russian soldiers carrying weapons and wearing military clothing camouflage. Photo by iStock / Getty Images