By Julius Apostata
Привет, товарищ! Greetings, comrade! Welcome to the most free and open country in the world… RUSSIA! Here, we obey glorious Russian leader Vladimir Putin while aggressively—I mean righteously, of course!—reclaiming land that is owned by other countries. Да, maybe those from the West can claim that what we are doing is extremely aggressive foreign expansion, but trust us, this is legit! After all, that weakling—I mean, totally not a convenient target—Ukraine had it coming! That is why the glorious leader had decided to potentially escalate the current conflict in Eastern Ukraine by amassing troops near the border—I mean, running totally legit military exercises. What’s that, comrade? We aren’t in Mother Russia? Perfect, now I can drop this Russian accent! More importantly though, I can freely tell you about what is going on in Eastern Ukraine. According to both Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, and intelligence reports from Ukraine, there has been a massive buildup of 80,000 personnel along both the Eastern Ukrainian border, as well as in the annexed Crimean territory. Additionally, according to Al Jazeera, Russia has also begun to restrict foreign vessels from navigating around parts of the Black Sea, in direct violation of typical maritime norms. So, what exactly is happening between Russia and Ukraine, and how will this impact relations between Russia and the west?
To get into the details of the current situation going on in Ukraine, it’s important to keep in mind the broader foreign policy to which Russia operates. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the newly created Russian Federation proved to be far weaker than when it had been under communism: few accesses to warm-water ports, the loss of much of its population in various breakaway states from the USSR (such as Ukraine and Georgia), and NATO on its doorstep. This, in conjunction with economic recession and conflicts in areas such as Chechnya, led to a highly destabilized Russia going into the 21st century. Much of the foreign policy adopted by Russia at this time was fairly cooperative towards the West, epitomized by the foreign policy of Andrei Kozyrev under President Boris Yeltsin. Doing this was extremely unpopular with the nationalistic sentiments of many Russians, as this created an impression of weakness, and under President Vladimir Putin, these policies were reversed to reassert Russian dominance in the region over NATO and secure favorable geographic areas with large amounts of Russian people.
One of the first instances of this occurring was in 2008 when the neighboring state of Georgia petitioned to join NATO. Given this, and the fact that a sizable portion of Russian separatists were living in South Ossetia and Abkhazia (two territories controlled by Georgia), Russia began to back the rebels, leading to the first conventional European war of the 21st century. Needless to say, Georgia hasn’t sought re-admission into NATO since. A similar situation was later perpetrated in Ukraine; following the ousting of a pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovych, Russian-backed separatists in Crimea, a key strategic landmass with port access to the Black Sea, began engaging Ukrainian troops in the region. Ultimately, Russia would then annex the region in 2014, before asking the people living there if they approved of being annexed into the Russian federation…with Russian troops being there to watch the vote. Conveniently, they got a 96% turnout. A completely fair referendum that was absolutely not condemned by NGOs!
Now it seems like a similar situation could play out in Ukraine once again, this time with the Ukrainian region of Donbass. Here, a surprising scenario has occurred: pro-Russian separatists seek to form their own states apart from Ukraine, being the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic. Given the shocking history of Russia conveniently amassing troops at the slightest opportunity, having 10% of all of Russia’s forces practice “military drills” on the eastern Ukrainian border was a little hard to buy for the international community. Combining this with the hardball tactics by closing off access to the Black Sea for foreign vessels and initial denials to talk with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky led many to hold their breath, awaiting another Russian invasion. Luckily, it seems that this was not to be; Russia has just ordered troops back home from the border, allowing us to breathe a sigh of relief.
During all of this, the United States has been waiting idly by, having not yet made a move at the time of writing this piece. While previous administrations of Obama and, to a lesser extent, Trump have placed some pressure and sanctions on Russia, there is still much left in the air for what a Biden administration means for the country. While Biden has made some moves against Russia, including the expelling of 10 Russian diplomats for their role in hacking US agencies, his track record against Russia is still unknown. It could thus be speculated that perhaps these actions by Russia have likely been a test, to see what boundaries will be tolerated by the Biden administration. However, it should not be forgotten that this is simply another tool in Russia’s playbook. The question is: how will the US act?
Thumbnail Attribution: TUBS, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons