Ever since the end of the Cold War, a major war between great powers in Europe seemed like a distant, if not impossible prospect.
As recent developments of the crisis in Ukraine unfold before our eyes though, there has been a general sense of fear amongst international leaders and the general public alike that war might not actually be that far away. How did it all begin?
A key turning point was the 2014 Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. This move was heavily sanctioned by Western powers such as the USA, which to this day refuse to recognise Russian sovereignty over the territory. Since then, Ukraine has had to endure a brutal civil war against ethnic Russian separatists in the Donbass region (mainly centred around Donetsk and Luhansk). For a myriad of reasons, these insurgents believe that independence and union with Russia are the best course of actions for the region. Allegedly backed by none other than the Russian Federation itself, this insurrection was also an important catalyst in increasing the tensions.
In between March and April of last year, the deployment of several Russian troops along the Ukrainian border resulted in tensions reaching a peak. Luckily, the situation de-escalated and the crisis was averted. This point came earlier than expected, as a new, recent, buildup of Russian troops, much greater than the previous one, raised further concerns over a Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Guardian reported on Wednesday that “30,000 troops, two battalions of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems and numerous fighter jets [were deployed] into Belarus for joint training exercises with the Belarusian army.” Further units were spotted from Crimea to the North Eastern Ukrainian border, for a grand total of well over 100,000 being deployed.
The President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, told the French President Emanuel Macron that these troops will be removed once the military exercises will be over on 20th February, something which Diplomat Vladimir Chizhov also confirmed in an interview with the BBC. Russia has also repeatedly attempted to reassure NATO and its members that it has no intentions of invading Ukraine, but leaders in the West listened to the announcement with suspicion.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine there has been an unsurprising wave of fears amongst the general public over a potential Russian attack. A resident in Odessa claimed in a submission to The Guardian that the current climate of tensions has had “a huge impact on my mental health … but I can’t stop and I can’t think of anything else. I am very scared for my family – my four-year-old daughter and husband.”
Despite deep anxiety over the situation, diplomatic channels have been kept open between Russia and Europe. The “Normandy quarter”, a group of nations tasked with resolving the aforementioned conflict in the Dombass composed by Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France, are expected to hold talks in the coming days to put an end to the tensions. Chizhov has been quoted saying that “there is still room for diplomacy.” Macron himself has invested a lot in trying to find a diplomatic solution, having been to Moscow and Kiev to lead the talks. He has also gone to Berlin, where it was agreed with the leaders of Poland and France that the 2015 Minsk agreement must be respected and Ukrainian sovereignty must be maintained. This last point comes after a repeated series of demands from Russia to guarantee to them that Ukraine will never join NATO, out of fear for a further NATO encroachment on Russia’s doorstep. This demand has so far been rejected by Western nations, claiming that Ukraine should decide on the matter by itself.
The situation still has to be resolved, but there is hope on all sides that a diplomatic solution can be the way out of this crisis and to prevent something like this from ever happening again.
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