The ghosts of the past are set to plunge Europe into a time of uncertainty as the situation on the Russia-Ukraine border continues to deteriorate
Ukraine was one of countless new republics born out of the dying embers of the USSR, however, its future is set in limbo following reports of Russian troops gathering at the border. The reports coincide with fresh clashes between government forces and separatist groups in Donbas, a region where hostilities have been largely dormant in an otherwise tense atmosphere.
The situation began back in 2014; a revolution, a regime change from a pro-Russian to a pro-Western government, and the breakout of conflict in the majority ethnic Russian regions in the South and East of Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and government forces. Not to mention a Russian invasion and occupation of the disputed region of Crimea.
The conflict in the Donbas region has lasted since then and has seen 13,000 killed with over a million people displaced by the fighting, as well as eight failed ceasefires. One such ceasefire was the Minsk Protocol signed in 2015, which was seen as successful in ending the large scale clashes between the two sides which had caused such cataclysmic damage across Donbas. It created a “line of contact” which separated the separatists from government forces.
However, the long term ratifications of the newly created “line of contact” would lead the war into a tense stalemate, with frequent skirmishes and artillery strikes breaking out over a land divided by trenches and fortifications.
The tense situation would continue into the present day. In March 2021, however, fighting between opposing forces took on a heavier scale than simple skirmishes – a scenario that had not been seen since the very start of the fighting in 2014. And in a similar fashion to 2014, the beginning of clashes would quickly be followed by fresh concerns over Russia’s motivations; April time brought fresh reports of Russian troop build-up along the border. Russia claimed the 100,000 estimated strength force was there simply for standard exercises and quickly withdrew following weeks of heavy international criticism.
Fast forward to November and the same troops would return, raising new concerns over a possible invasion attempt by Putin with Western intelligence services estimating a possible invasion in early 2022. Washington have informed their EU allies over Russia’s motivations.
Russia’s motivation is a mixture of desire and fear. Putin’s regime has long been characterised by a goal to take Russia back to its Soviet glory, with the former KGB agent himself describing the USSR collapse as “the disintegration of historical Russia”. A desire to rekindle past flames is matched only by a familiar fear of Western intentions. Russia’s interest in a newly pro-Western nation on its doorstep matches its previous vocal concerns over the presence of NATO troops in areas close to Russia like the Baltic states. The presence of NATO forces in Ukraine, and the acceptance of the nation into the alliance, would undoubtedly spread panic throughout the corridors of the Kremlin. This is arguably why controlling the internal affairs of Ukraine would become top priority for Putin’s regime.
In response, the West has stepped up its funding of the Ukraine military. The U.S budget for aid towards the eastern European nation has already surpassed $1 billion with supplies intended for their failed experiment in Afghanistan being diverted towards the direction of Kiev. NATO have also continued their supplement of equipment which they claim follows the line of the defensive strategy of the alliance amidst Russian accusations of Western interference.
But in a time where cash reigns as king, the most useful weapon in one’s arsenal is not one of violence but of a financial nature. U.S president Joe Biden is threatening Russia with a series of economic sanctions that could potentially cripple its economy. The sanctions focus on cutting Russian banks off from the international swift payment system and simultaneously placing restrictions on the converting of roubles into foreign currency, effectively shutting off Russian companies from international trading. There are also threats to further cut Russia off from the wealth of the West, with both the U.S National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, and German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, suggesting that the proposed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline spanning from Germany to Russia, could be blocked from reaching its final destination.
Both parties are set to meet in early January to potentially settle the ongoing uncertainty with talks in Geneva from the 10th to the 13th. The U.S will lead the West in negotiations against their former iron curtain rivals.
And so coming into the new year, Europe finds itself in déjà vu as both the West and Russia enter into yet another game of cat and mouse that threatens to cloud over Ukraine’s future. Yet another unofficial proxy war that could turn hot any minute, sound familiar?