The Ukrainian crisis can be summed up in William Shakespeare’s phrase “much ado about nothing”. The whole Ukrainian crisis has nothing to do with the possible Russian attack on Ukraine.
It is a by-product of the American-Russian struggle more obviously in Europe and less obviously in Central Asia. After the phone conversation between Biden and Putin, the former warned “if Russia undertakes another invasion of Ukraine, the United States together with our allies and partners will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia” .
At the time of writing, diplomatic efforts are continuing with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin a day after his visit to Ukraine and there are reports that Russia has withdrawn some of its troops, which had alarmed the United States and its allies.
This was welcomed by Germany and France. Putin reportedly hinted that there was still a possibility of dialogue. However, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov warned against endless negotiations.
A look at the six dimensions of the question is relevant for an objective assessment of the situation. The most important dimension is whether or not efforts to include Ukraine in NATO would violate previous agreements. The answer to this must be found in the agreements reached in Istanbul in 1999 and in Astana in 2010. The United States and 56 other countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have signed documents containing interdependent principles “the indivisibility of security. This meant that the parties to the agreement had to refrain from doing anything that might affect the security interests of others. This obviously means that the establishment of military bases and the deployment of missiles should be avoided in new areas which could threaten the security of other members. By admitting Ukraine into NATO, the United States and its allies would be able to deploy missiles and troops that would threaten Russian security. The essence of the agreements was that nothing should be done by NATO to enhance its security at the expense of the security of others, including Russia. Obviously, from the Russian point of view, the admission of Ukraine into NATO would harm Russian security interests.
The second dimension concerns President Biden’s creation of war hysteria. Does Russia really plan to attack Ukraine? The Russian deployment of 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border is given as evidence. Russia is actually trying to prevent any possible deployment of troops to Ukraine by NATO. The telephone conversation was not working added to the possibility of a war. Biden reportedly said a Russian invasion was imminent. Ukrainian President Zelensky also said the situation was dangerous, while downplaying the certainty of war. However, the current withdrawal of some Russian troops indicates that the war hysteria was unwarranted. It seems to be more the product of media and US officers and NATO officials.
The third dimension concerns the Minsk agreement of 2015. Putin has declared countless times that it has not been implemented in letter and spirit. The signing of the Minsk agreement was preceded by an agreement of the Ukrainian, Russian, German and French leaders on a set of measures aimed at ending the war in Donbass. In a nutshell, this meant a “special status” provision granting de facto autonomy to the Russian-speaking people of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba ruled out a special arrangement for them. Who is responsible for going against the agreement? Is Ukraine saying this on its own or at someone else’s request?
The fourth dimension concerns Russia’s genuine concern for security. Russia wants to drag Washington into negotiations over missile sites in Romania and Poland. Russia is more concerned about these sites than anything else. Putin reportedly said about six years ago that “once the missile defense system is in place, it will automatically work with the entire nuclear capability of the United States.” This deserves the immediate attention of NATO and the United States.
The fifth dimension concerns the Russian vision of Ukraine. In an article, Putin last year highlighted the close ties between Russia and Ukraine since the 16th century. He writes that “the anti-Russia project” was created by Polish-Austrian ideologues and that “Ukraine has been drawn into a dangerous geopolitical game aimed at making Ukraine a barrier between Europe and Russia, a springboard against Russia”.
The sixth dimension concerns the American vision of Ukraine. The United States is certainly wary of Russia’s growing economic ties with European countries. The United States viewed Ukraine as the main link between Russia and Europe. Putin’s transformative effect on the Russian economy stood in the way of US trade expansion. American companies have started investing in Ukraine so they can influence decision-making there. This has had the effect of weakening economic ties between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine is seen as a barrier between Europe and Russia. According to Hillary Clinton, Putin’s attempt to create a free trade area spanning the continents was actually an effort to “re-Sovietize the region”, explains the American perception. Biden said Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that connects Germany to Russia, would be placed under the sanction indicating the true goal of the United States. The American establishment does not want Germany to be dependent on the Russian economy. Some experts believe that US policymakers want to “incentivize Russia into a military response” in order to sabotage Nord Stream.
The impact of the Ukrainian crisis must be considered globally. Russia is being pushed to forge closer ties with China, although they have differences. Under current pressure, Russia appears to have allowed China to develop closer economic ties with Central Asia, while maintaining political ties with them. In the Far East and the Arctic, China and Russia are cooperating. China’s coercive activities in the South China Sea and East China Sea continue. The only power that wins in the current turmoil is China. Russia’s support for the free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific is highly desirable. If the United States is to maintain a global strategic balance, the separation of China and Russia is essential. US policymakers need to focus on the larger issue rather than viewing the crisis solely through the lens of NATO. Putin and Biden must rekindle the spirit of their June 2021 Geneva summit to raise the level of bilateral relations for stability and peace. Biden must focus on domestic growth, Covid challenges, internal differences, managing China and ensuring international stability. Taiwan deserves far more attention in the current situation. Russia and the United States have an interest in addressing not only traditional security issues such as nuclear and conventional deterrence, but also newer issues, particularly cyber. Pragmatism demands that diplomatic efforts focus on these issues.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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