Somalilandsun: The incident occurred just before 12 o’clock local time in the north-western Black Sea not far from the Crimean Peninsula.Why is this conflict brewing? The answer can be found far back in history but also in the recent decades.
For many decades, strong forces in Ukraine had wanted to make the country less dependent on Russia. Immediately after the independence from the Soviet Union, the country’s leaders began to develop good relations with the West and primarily the EU, which the country long-term seeks to join.
As early as 1994, Ukraine began cooperating with both the EU and NATO. However,interest from the Western powers cooled due to the unwillingness, or inability, of Ukrainian leaders to overcome corruption,nepotism, pompous rule, and the influence of organized crime in politics. A murder of dissident journalist Georgy Gongadzein 2000 and irregularities in the 2004 and 2010 elections contributed to both scepticism and also criticism in the West.
The Orange Revolution and Beyond
After the orange revolution in 2004 where protesters rallied against election fraud and the caught-on tape planning of the kidnapping of a journalist by the sitting president Kuchma, theEU and NATO membership became the main goal.However, since Viktor Yanukovych won the 2010 presidential election, theinterest was once again directed towards Russia. Ukraine was increasingly isolated from the outside world and almost gained the status of an international pariah, heavily criticized for its undemocratic development and on some occasions boycotted by European leaders and threatened by the United States with economic sanctions.
Yanukovych, nevertheless, continued the negotiations with the EU that his predecessors had begun on an association agreement, including free-trade. Negotiations were completed in 2011. However, the EU postponed the signing due to political problems in Ukraine and doubts about whether the country lived up to the requirements of a state governed by the rule of law. The EU was still willing to sign the agreement in 2013. However, the Ukrainian government dropped out aftera strong pressure campaign from Russia, which threatened to punish the country with reduced trade if it went ahead on its road to closer relations with the EU. The EU condemned Russian interference and asignificant Ukrainian opinion called for the resignation of the government and the president because they “stole the Ukrainians’ dream of being incorporated into Europe”.
The outraged reactions, in western Ukrainein particular, to the government’s break with the EUtriggered large demonstrations which in February 2014 led to the pro-Western opposition taking power. This in turn caused anger in Russian-dominated Crimeaexploited by Russia which in practice occupied the peninsula and formally soon also annexed it after a coup-led referendum that was not recognized by Ukraine or the outside world. It was quickly followed by an insurgency among Russian-speakers in the eastern part of Ukraine where separatists received military support from Russia, which also drew large troops along the border.
Worst Crisis in Modern History
The crisis was the worst to hit Europe since the end of the Cold War. Not since World War II had a European state conquered territory from another country by force. The last time a country or territory was assimilated into another country was when East and West Germany merged together in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall. The new Ukrainian government hastened to side with the EU by signing the Association Agreement.
The intervention in Crimea meant that Russia unilaterally broke two agreements. One was the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, according to which three nuclear powers – Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom – guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty in connection with the abandonment of Soviet-era nuclear weapons. The second was a 1997 friendship agreement under which Russia and Ukraine recognized each other’s borders, in connection with Russia being given the right to lease part of the former Soviet naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea, until 2017 (under Yanukovych extended to 2042).
While Russian President Putin has denied that the country has soldiers in Ukraine, reviews of, among others, the Russian civic organization Gruz200 show that at least 167 regular Russian soldiers were killed in Ukraine by the summer of 2016 and that 187 are “missing in action”, and that over 1,000 Russian mercenaries were killed or missing.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have also reported on Russian soldiers. However, comments from the Russian government are that the soldiers have been in Ukraine voluntarily. At the same time, the British organization Bellingcat has documented that thousands of Russian soldiers were awarded for bravery in the field between July 2014 and February 2016 when the Ukrainian war for most of that time was the only conflict that in any way affected Russia.
From the Russian horizon, Ukraine’s political turn to the West has been perceived as a threat to the country’s own security. “Ukraine” roughly means “border country”; a name given to the area by its position for many hundreds of years as a buffer between Russia and Western Europe. When the former Baltic states and the former Soviet allies in Eastern Europe became members of EU and NATO and also forged close ties with the United States, the Russian leadership felt surrounded by potential enemies. Ukraine’s cooperation agreement with the EU, which entered into force in 2017, has also emerged as a threat to a significant share of Russian foreign trade since Ukraine now have a preferred trading partner other than Russia.
Military Skirmishes between Russia and the West
The conflict between Ukraine and Russia also led to skirmishes between not only Ukrainian and Russian forces but also between the West and Russia, both in terms of economic sanctions imposed on Russia and low level military conflicts.
Western ships and planes often conduct freedom of navigation exercises in the waters surrounding Crimea, something that has led to a number of encounters between Russian and western ships and planes. The latest occurred when the British destroyer HMS defender entered what the west sees at a legitimate shipping route through Ukrainian waters and Russia regards as part of their territory. Russian planes, according to Russia, fired warning shots at the ship, sparking yet another incident. The British Ministry of Defence,however,denied the Russian claims that the ship entered “Russian” waters and penetrated 3 kilometres into Russian territory.
Putin the Aggressor
Russian president Vladimir Putin is generally seen in the West as a dictator with an expansionist agenda and a violator of human rights. Under his presidency Russia has become an aggressor, not only on the international arena but also vis a vis its own people. Those who opposes President Putin not only risks imprisonment but also their own lives.
The question is, however, if the key to ending the hostilities between Russia and Ukraine lies not in the international arena but within Russia itself. President Putin has skilfully used Russian nationalism and the dream of greater Russia to fit his own agenda. Perhaps the only way to solve the conflict is to contain it until the day Putin is no longer in control and hope those who come after doesn’t share the views of Putin on democracy, peaceful coexistence with one’s neighbours and the rule of law. How can we make this happen? Increased pressure in the forms of sanctions is one way and hoping that the pressure regime will spark dissatisfaction from within.If this doesn’t work, the wait can be long and perhaps filled with more agony, not only for Russia’s neighbours but for its own population. The attempted murder and later imprisonment of opposition figure Alexey Navalny should serve as an example if anyone doubts the true nature of the Russian leadership.
Henrik G.S. Arvidsson
Award-winning Researcher in international business and marketing as well as CEO and business consultant
Researcher in political science and entrepreneurship as well as business owner and consultant