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Fear Of Democracy, Intention To Annex Donbas Prompted War On Ukraine – OpEd


Russia’s highly unexpected and unwarranted invasion of Ukraine has drastically shattered the world’s perception of the Kremlin. The world will not return to the pre-Ukraine invasion. 


Europeans, especially those geographically closer to Russia, now feel threatened. The war on Ukraine is now Europeans’ biggest nightmare in the 21st century. All their views about a peaceful Europe have now crumbled. The war has reawakened the bitter stories of the Second World War, mostly in Europe.

However, Vladimir Putin made a terrible mistake by ordering such a war. The international community no longer trusts Russia as long as he is in power. Putin may have buried his political future by such an inconsiderate and dangerous adventure.

Putin had the illusion to get the necessary concessions through a lightning attack as he felt the post-World War II international order had collapsed. Though this order has been weakened, the reaction by Europe and the U.S. showed that Putin’s calculations were wrong, and that the order has not fully broken down. 

The Kremlin leader united the West and some other countries around the world against Russia. It has made Germany which had adopted a conciliatory foreign policy approach since World War II to reassess its defense doctrine and to take steps toward modernizing its military. This is happening despite the fact that Germany was the chief importer of the Russian gas and had close economic ties with the country.

The war also prompted Sweden and Finland to abandon their non-alignment policy and seek membership in NATO and send military aid to Ukraine. 


Through his miscalculation, Putin also energized security cooperation between Japan and the West. It is not inconceivable that Tokyo, which signed an agreement for strategic partnership with NATO in April 2013, to seek membership in the U.S.-led military bloc.  

The fact that Japan’s foreign minister attended a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on April 7 is a proof that Tokyo is moving closer to the military alliance. It was the first time that Japan was participating at NATO meeting. More importantly, Japan’s prime minister has been invited to participate in summit of NATO leaders in June.

Japan’s move in seeking closer relationship with NATO also comes as a dismay for China, Moscow’s close friend.

Also, Ukrainians will become more determined to seek joining NATO if the war persists. Likewise, if in the past certain heavyweight European countries were reluctant to admit Ukraine as a NATO member, this time they may welcome it.

There is a big question whether Putin does not understand the gravity of the situation. He disappointed French President Emmanuel Macron and new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz who met him at the Kremlin to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine. Even after initiation of the war, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer went to see Putin to convince him to stop the war. All these pleas fell on deaf ears. Although about 80 days have passed since the start of the war, Macron is still talking to him to end this immoral war.

So far, the invasion has cost Russia greatly. The war has turned this large country with 11 time zones into a pariah state. The UN General Assembly held a rare emergency special session on February 28 to discuss the war. A few days later, the assembly held a meeting in which 141 of the 193 member states voted for a resolution deploring the attack. Except those four countries that endorsed the war – Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria – the 35 others refused to condemn the invasion because they were wary of being caught in the escalating tension between great powers.  

Even China, whose foreign minister on March 7 described Beijing’s friendship with Russia as “rock solid”, is deep down unhappy about the war and its ramifications. If China refused to condemn the war, it was due to geopolitical and geostrategic reasons, especially because of the tension between the U.S. and China over Taiwan. A weakening of Russia is not also a good news for Beijing as China needs a powerful ally like the Russian Federation. If Russia’s power is weakened, it will be easier for the West to contain China.

Also, if India, another important Asian power, avoided to shun the war, it was due to historical ties between Delhi and Moscow which goes back to the Cold War era. Moreover, India is reluctant to antagonize Moscow for its own reasons.  

Russia said it launched “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine, purge the country from neo-Nazis, prevent it from possibly joining NATO and defend ethnic Russians living in two eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk from persecution.

But all these stated reasons were pretexts. The claim that Ukraine is being run by neo-Nazis is a disinformation campaign. It is simply untrue. Prior to the February 24 invasion, Russia also kept claiming that it had no intention to invade Ukraine while it had deployed about 200,000 forces along its border with the country. Kyiv is just seeking an independent policy. However, Russia dislikes this policy in the next door. 

Also, as a sovereign state, Ukraine has the right to seek or not to seek NATO membership. This assumption that Russian security will be threatened if Ukraine joins the military alliance is not convincing. Russia is already neighbor to Estonia and Latvia, and very close to Lithuania, three Baltic states member to NATO.  

On the contrary, if Kyiv is seeking a NATO membership it is mostly because it feels threatened by Russia which is dealing with the former Soviet republics as inferior. 

Also, if claims by the Kremlin are true that ethnic Russians are persecuted, it can receive international guarantees to protect them given its international status as a very important country and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. 

All these moves suggest that Russia intends to capture and annex the two eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, collectively known as the Donbas. The fact that it recognized these two breakaway regions as independent states on February 21 were a prelude for annexation. 

The Russian attack on Georgia in August 2008 in support of separatist self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was a telling story. 

By seeking to capture the eastern Donbas region and connecting it to the Crimean Peninsula, concurrent with the ongoing offensives to seize the country’s southern region, Putin also wants to undermine the geopolitical status of Ukraine in the Black Sea.   

Putin maybe unhappy with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it was the Russian Federation that announced independence in 1991 and wanted to get rid of 14 republics. 

Such argument by Professor Frank von Hippel from Princeton University that Putin is paranoid about NATO expansion does not tell the whole story. Even if this argument by University of Chicago scholar John Mearsheimer is correct that admitting former Warsaw Pact members into NATO created a deep and lasting resentment in Russia against the West, Putin made it worse by pushing the West and others to rethink their military policies.  

The miscalculation has already put Russia in disarray. It is paying militarily, economically and politically for this war of choice. 

The European Union which was importing more than 40 percent of its total gas consumption from Russia in 2021 is now seeking ways to find alternative sources of energy. The European Commission is also seeking to phase out supplies of Russian crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of 2022. 

Also, as of May 4, the Oryx open-source intelligence site reported that more than 1,800 Russian vehicles and 96 aircraft had been destroyed. The sinking of cruiser Moskva, flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, was also a blow to Russia.

Before ordering attack on Ukraine, the Russian leader could look at the experience of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, which Mikhail Gorbachev called a “bleeding wound”. However, it seems that Putin and his inner circle don’t not care about the lessons of history. They could at least take lessons from the chaotic and scandalous pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in August 2022 after 20 years of staying in the country. 

Before more horrific scenes such as those in Bucha emerge and hundreds more civilians are killed in cities like Mariupol, it is essential that Putin swallow his pride, stop fueling chauvinistic sentiments and end this irrational war. He must realize that we are living in the 21st century rather than the mid-20th century.

The Kremlin leader and his lieutenants’ fear of democracy in the periphery and intention to annex the Donbas must not leave so much scars on the people of Ukraine and make more Russian mothers to grieve for their sons killed in the war.

*M.A. Saki is a political analyst 

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