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Tensions escalate along the Ukrainian-Russian border

Will Putin push for an incursion in Ukraine this year, and is Russia’s aim bred by chauvinistic objectives or security concerns?


analysis by: Eva Petrova

 

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Earlier this autumn, we observed how the Kremlin ordained the deployment of 70,000 troops along the border of Ukraine. The offensive has proliferated a state of alarm across Europe and the US over Russia’s mercurial plans in the region. Over the past year, Putin has sharpened an endeavour in bifurcating Ukraine. The country’s antagonistic attitude towards this buffer state occasions the formation of a wave of speculative conceptualisation that Moscow will soon rubber-stamp a novel military multi-front incursion in Ukraine. Putin holds that the casus belli boil down to security concerns over NATO’s ostensible impingement in Ukraine, however, is that really the case?


Hybrid War


This oppugnant policy towards Ukraine is not an anomalous phenomenon. In fact, since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian troops have engaged in a perennial heated confrontation in the Donbas region. The efforts of Russia to dismantle and engulf the territory of Ukraine through a ‘hybrid war’ have spawned unprecedented tectonic shifts in the regions, vis-à-vis the economic, political, and cultural landscape. The citizenry that comprises the region refuses to take sides. The common wish is for Russia to retreat their efforts in disjoining the state.


The Russian military protectorate of the Donbas region exhibits a form of dilatory tactical policy characterised by occupational objectives expounded by the Russian military. Moscow has divided the area into bilateral dichotomous communities comprising the separatists and nationalists. The border controls have been stiffened, preventing people from crossing the border. People have no free access to basic goods and services. For instance, the elderly have been prevented from travelling to government-controlled Ukraine to claim their state pensions.


Meanwhile, Russia has handed out Russian passports to more than 650,000 residents in the ‘oblast’. Moreover, they have been flooding streams of investment into the region, forging trading links, and proliferating propaganda directed at divorcing the nationalist community, which functions to resist schematic military efforts imposed by Putin’s government. Additionally, in 2017, it was recorded that the DNL/LNR army constitutes 40,000 extremists, 5000 of which are Russian troops.


Interestingly enough, Russia’s slow but diligent plan to refuse the two countries is already working in its favour. Staking a war with Ukraine, will not benefit the aggressor, but rather it will create additional conflict and occasion the diametrical deterioration of the already strained relations between the neighbouring states. Instead, this unofficial and slow encroachment is far more rewarding for Russia. Crucially, a heated feud would amplify the seizable dichotomy between separatists and nationalists concerning the governance of the nation. Verily, a war with Ukraine is not realistic; Ukraine’s military capacity and popular resistance would assuredly hinder such objectives.


Currently, In the de facto puppet government of Donbas, there are 20 different ministries, a new framework of media outlets and state-of-the-art institutions that commandeer the bureaucratic management of the region. Commentators observe that the Donbas has been Russified to reflect a “patriotic” extension of Russian methodology. However, popular opinion primarily oscillates whether to unionise the two states or allow them to remain atomic hegemonies.


Notably, this hostile onslaught in Ukraine has considerably destroyed the ‘patriotic’ unity between the citizenry. The incessant raid of skewed informational propaganda in both Ukraine and Russia has alienated the two states and constructed diabolical mistrust. Since its independence, Ukraine has mainly remained polarised and structurally feeble. Realists might contest that it is only natural that Ukraine should be Russified and unified. However, numerous polls and referendums over the decades indicate an unadulterated bicameral opinion. It is safe to assume that as long as the seizable majority fail to consolidate a shared objective regarding the future governance of the country, Ukraine will remain vulnerable to attacks and interference from centrifugal actors.


Security Dilemma


Putin proclaims that the relocation of military forces is inspired by a security threat to Russia, caused by the mushrooming of Western influence in the ‘buffer’ and a push for a Western alliance.


Photo courtesy of DimitroSevastopol via Pixabay



However, to understand the motives propelling Russia’s antagonistic policy, it cannot be wholeheartedly precluded, that Russia’s motives are inspired by its assiduous goal to re-unify the Eastern Belt and assert a “Ruskii Mir”, reflective of the theory of Eurasianism, whereby Russia and Europe form a unitary forum.


The realists, Charp and Colton, rationalise the desire of Russia to seize de facto control of its peripheral sphere of influence; they insist that the US and China are “no different in that respect”. Since 1991, when Ukraine assumed independence from Soviet supremacy, Russia has been clandestinely interfering in state policy and diligently operated to excavate the porous structure of Ukraine, rendering the circumspect hindrance on Ukraine’s efforts to build a robust state structure. Thus, even though Putin claims to have shepherded the deployment of the army as a reaction propelled by the subversion of the security of Russia, it is axiomatic to interpret Moscow’s actions as being indecent of security threats.


It cannot be ignored that Russia’s timing to assume this offence aligns with the proliferation of isolationist programmes across Europe and the US. Essentially, the evidential polarisation in relation to foreign interference was witnessed in the aftermath of US failure in Afghanistan, after decades of mutual conflagration confrontation. Geopolitical expert Gav Don remarks that Russia has recuperated its proclivities in enveloping its circumferential border states.


The Aftermath


Notwithstanding, Russia had recently retreated 10,000 troops from Ukraine, and the situation appears to have ‘de-escalated’. Alas, the hopes for the full retreat were abandoned after Putin moved thousands of troops closer to the Ukrainian border earlier this week. Putin warned Biden, over a long telephone call, that new sanctions imposed on Russia will mark the diametrical corrosion in the relations between the two powers.


To recapitulate, NATO’s overt impingement of Westphalian philosophy in Ukrainian politics has offset Russia’s radar. The prospect of a ‘Western Alliance’ has caused alarm over Russia’s national security. This has elicited a state of worry amongst Ukrainians about their livelihoods and raises the possibility of the second ‘Russification’ along the Eastern Belt.