Ukraine: the starting point

Image: Kostiantyn Stupak


Ukraine is highly dependent on the West, but the West does not plan to systematically support it forever.

Why do Russian-Ukrainian relations concern all Russians and Ukrainians? To some extent, what is happening is a postponed civil war, which could have happened in the early 1990s with the collapse of the USSR, when the first generation of Russian and Ukrainian leaders boasted that they had avoided a bloody divorce like the one in Yugoslavia. .

In Russia, many people have relatives in the neighboring country, and what is happening there is more a question of internal politics. For example, if the Ukrainian government closes Russian Orthodox churches or bans a pro-Russian opposition political party, the story gets immediate coverage on state TV and Russian politicians issue statements.

All post-Soviet countries gained independence on the same day, and each of these states is in some way an experiment in state-building; in the establishment of external and internal political strategies.

The peculiarity of the Ukrainian state experiment is highlighted by the following dilemma: how is it possible to reconcile the two pillars of the Ukrainian state organization – the Ukrainian Galicia and the East Russian community? At one point, the people representing the western regions had a club in their hands, and they started using it in their dialogue with the eastern representatives – that's why the last Maidan won. The path along which the Ukrainian experiment developed reflects a gradual limitation of the presence and interests of Russian identity.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in trying to gain support in the east of the country during the elections, promised that he would never ban the teaching of Russian in schools, that he would ensure Russian's status as a language in communicating with government agencies, and that he would protect the memory of Great Patriotic War. Once he came to power, it was clear that his intentions were to do exactly the opposite.

Now, looking at what is happening in the western media, we can see everything portrayed as if big strong Russia had attacked little Ukraine. From the point of view of the strategic balance of power, however, the situation is not so obvious. Ukraine is the second largest nation in Europe in terms of territorial size, after Russia. Ukraine's population is around 40 million people – large by European standards.

Ukraine's army is the third largest in Europe after those of Russia and Turkey – between 220.000 and 240.000 troops. Ukraine's military expenditure as a percentage of GDP was almost 6% (at the level of Israel), the armed forces were modernized, and Kiev acquired modern armed systems from the West. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg directly pointed out that Western trainers had trained tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers. By pumping weapons into Ukraine, the West sought to create a counterweight to Russia by confronting it in a way that completely absorbed its attention and resources – similar to Pakistan's confrontation with India.

A few weeks ago, Russian extroverts called the UK Secretary of Defense and, on behalf of Ukraine's Prime Minister, asked how Britain would react if they planned to build nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The secretary replied that the UK would always support its Ukrainian friends.

It seems to many that the West would never allow Ukraine to obtain its nuclear weapons, but it is quite likely that the West would react in the same way as in the case of Israel: formally, the country does not have weapons of mass destruction, but, as one Israeli leader, “if necessary, we will use them”. Metaphorically speaking, we can say that the Americans put a bulletproof vest on the Ukrainians, giving them a helmet and pushing them towards Russia: “Success, my friend”. Ultimately, all of this led to a one-sided dependency relationship. Ukraine is highly dependent on the West, but the West does not plan to systematically support it forever.

How would Americans behave if Russia responded with a comparable threat? In one of auditions in the US Senate, Admiral Kurt W. Tidd declared that "Russia is expanding its presence in the region, competing directly with the US for influence in our hemisphere." Imagine if Russia began to interact with Mexico in the same way as the West is now behaving with Ukraine: unexpectedly for the Americans, Mexico begins to rapidly militarize, thinks about its own missile program, about nuclear weapons . Mexicans remember the controversies of the XNUMXth century, when Texas was not yet part of the United States. What would the United States do, given the recent information leaks about former President Donald Trump's desire to invade Venezuela "due to a threat to regional security"?

We are probably at the starting point of a developing crisis, not close to its end. The first diplomatic proposal that Russia made at the beginning of the crisis was that Ukraine remain neutral, that Crimea be recognized as Russian territory, and that the republics of Donbass be recognized as independent. In response to these demands, Ukraine has come up with its own proposal: the complete repatriation of its pre-2014 territory and no steps towards Russia. The maximization of Ukrainian demands means that a balance point has yet to be found in the ongoing military campaign. However, it has its own unfolding options.

In the first scenario, the current Ukrainian government and Russia enter into a pact that takes Russian demands into account, and these commitments are recognized by the West as part of an agreed European security package. The Russian-Ukrainian crisis would give way to a Russian-Western political-military confrontation, similar to the Cold War.

The second scenario assumes the development of events under the influence of the military situation on the ground. As a result, either a balance is inevitably found, or one of the parties prevails. In this case, there are risks that the West will not recognize the results of the agreement, and a new Ukrainian government will emerge, which the government-in-exile will oppose. From the West, there will be a support system for Ukrainian underground, similar to what existed in Western Ukraine in the 1950s.

The third scenario involves a sharp escalation of tension between Russia and the West. It is possible that the crisis will spread to the NATO countries or that the escalation of sanctions on Russia due to the war will continue in the hope of shaking the foundations of the Russian state. In this case, the risks of a nuclear collision will increase. However, so far, we see Western leaders distancing themselves from such plans and saying they will not send NATO forces into this conflict. However, we have repeatedly seen the West cross its own “red lines” – this could indeed happen again.

*Andrey Sushentsov is a professor at the Moscow Institute of International Relations (MGIMO).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Originally published on the portal RT.


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