Ukraine was a cornerstone of the Soviet Union, the archrival of the United States during the Cold War. Behind only Russia, it was the second–most populous and powerful of the fifteen Soviet republics, home to much of the union’s agricultural production, defence industries, and military, including the Black Sea Fleet and some of the Nuclear arsenal. Ukraine was so vital to the union that its decision to sever ties in 1991 proved to be a coup de grâce for the ailing superpower.
Ukraine has long played an important, yet sometimes overlooked, role in the global security order. Today, the country is on the front lines of a renewed great – power rivalry that many analysts say will dominate international relations in the decades ahead. In recent elections, Ukrainians have clearly indicated that they see their future in Europe, but the country continues to grapple with extreme corruption and deep regional rifts that could impede its path. Meanwhile, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has triggered the greatest security crisis in Europe since the Cold War. Though the US and its allies have taken significant punitive actions against Russia during the seven-year-old conflict, they have made little headway in helping to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Ukraine and Russia share hundreds of years of cultural, linguistic and familial links. For many in Russia and in the ethnically Russian parts of Ukraine, the shared heritage of the countries is an emotional issue. As part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was the second-most powerful Soviet republic after Russia, and was crucial strategically, economically and culturally.
A timeline of major events in the Russia-Ukraine History is given below:
|1783||Annexation by Imperial Russia. Mostly non violent.|
|1917-1921||Soviet-Ukrainian War. Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was established.|
|1922||Soviet Union was founded with Russia and Ukraine as founding members.|
|1954||Crimea handed over to Ukraine SSR by Soviet leader.|
|1991||Independence of Ukraine from Soviet Union.|
|1994||Ukraine joined the Non Proliferation of Nuclear weapons and carried out nuclear disarmament.|
|2004||Orange Revolution in Ukraine against election of pro-Russian President.|
|2013||Euromaidan protests against Ukrainian government resulting in ousting of the president and overthrowing of the government.|
In 2013, Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovich, decided against signing an association agreement (AA) with the European Union (EU), sparking major pro- European protests in Ukraine. In Feb 2014, the Ukrainian parliament voted to impeach Yanukovich, who fled Kyiv. Subsequently, in Mar 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, an autonomous peninsula in southern Ukraine with strong Russian loyalties, on the pretext that it was defending its interests and those of Russian-speaking citizens. Shortly afterwards, pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions declared their independence from Kiev, prompting months of fighting. The EU, the US and other countries imposed sanctions on Russia. In 2014 & 2015, a peace plan for Eastern Ukraine (the Minsk Protocol I & II) was signed, named after the Belarusian capital Minsk where the talks were held.
However, efforts to reach a diplomatic settlement and satisfactory resolution have been unsuccessful. A major blockade has been Russia’s insistence that it is not a party to the conflict and therefore is not bound by its terms. Since 2014, Ukraine has been witnessing shelling and skirmishes between the rebels and Ukrainian forces leading to the loss of over 14,000 lives by most estimates, creating around 1.5 million registered Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and destruction of the local economy. In 2021, Russia started a large military buildup on the border with Ukraine. The buildup continued despite warnings from other western countries. On February 24, 2022, the Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine.
In its nearly three decades of independence, Ukraine has sought to forge its own path as a sovereign state while looking to align more closely with Western institutions, including the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, Kyiv has struggled to balance its foreign relations and to bridge deep internal divisions. A more nationalist, Ukrainian-speaking population in Western parts of the country has generally supported greater integration with Europe, while a mostly Russian-speaking community in the East has favored closer ties with Russia.
Ukraine became a battleground in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and began arming and abetting separatists in the Donbas region in the country’s southeast. Russia’s seizure of Crimea was the first time since World War II that a European state had annexed the territory of another. More than fourteen thousand people have died in the conflict, the bloodiest in Europe since the Balkan Wars of the 1990s..
Russia has deep cultural, economic, and political bonds with Ukraine, and in many ways Ukraine is central to Russia’s identity and vision for itself in the world.
Among Russia’s top concerns is the welfare of the approximately eight million ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, according to a 2001 census, mostly in the South and East. Moscow claimed a duty to protect these people as a pretext for its actions in Ukraine.
United States of America has been one of the important catalysts of the Russia- Ukraine crisis since the beginning. It has been trying to get Ukraine towards the Western sphere of influence so as to have leverage on Russia, one of its major rivals. The United States provided political assurances to Ukraine with the signing of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. Twenty years later, after Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials came to express more emphatically and frequently U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
Media has played a key role in terms of perception management in the ongoing crisis. In Western and Ukrainian media, the armed build-up at the border is a sign of Russian imperialist aggression, of Moscow trying to bully its smaller neighbour. In Russia, however, the situation is viewed rather differently. It has been painted as Russia’s efforts to nullify ts security concerns rather than invasion.
Ukraine has dominated social media in the days following the Russian invasion, in an expanding information war with Moscow that Kyiv appears to be winning so far. Even, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s daily video speeches, which are normally provided with English subtitles, have become viral sensations. But social media’s role also includes some challenges. Many online posts may have some truth, but they should be viewed with caution, as false claims and misinformation about the two countries have proliferated on social media.
India did not join the Western powers’ condemnation of Russia’s intervention in Crimea and kept a low profile on the issue. In Nov 2020, India voted against a Ukraine-sponsored resolution in the United Nations (UN) that condemned alleged human rights violations in Crimea thereby backing old ally Russia on the issue. In Feb 22, India also suggested at the UN Security Council that quiet and constructive diplomacy is the need of the hour and any step that could escalate the tension should be avoided. India’s stand has been welcomed by Russia.
A practical solution for the situation is to revive the Minsk peace process. Therefore, the West (US and Other western Countries) should push both sides to resume talks and live up to their commitments as per the Minsk agreement to restore relative peace on the border.
While the Minsk agreement is far from ideal, it could be a baseline from which a diplomatic solution to the current crisis could be found and reviving it could be the ‘only path on which peace can be built’ as French President Emmanuel Macron has said.
For Ukraine, it could help it gain control over its borders and end the threat of a Russian invasion for the time being, while for Russia it could be a way to ensure that Ukraine never becomes a part of NATO and ensure that Russian language and culture are protected under a new federal Constitution in Ukraine.
For many analysts, the conflict marked a clear shift in the global security environment from a unipolar period of U.S dominance to one defined by renewed competition between great powers. However, a solution to the conflict is at hand, in the form of the Minsk II agreement of 2015 calling for autonomy for a demilitarized Donbas within Ukraine, under international guarantees.