By Kola King
Events in the past week moved with so much dizzying speed and ferocity that everyone was caught napping and left with bated breath. The Russian invasion of Ukraine occurred in a lightning operation such that even the American and European powers were caught napping, despite the fact that the US had repeatedly provided intelligence, which indicated that Russia was massing its troops along the Ukrainian borders, and could invade Ukraine at short notice. US satellite images had captured and revealed the movement of Russian military hardware and personnel with accurate precision.
With the launch of the Russian offensive, the US and its allies arranged a cocktail of sanctions aimed at deterring President Vladimir Putin from going ahead with his planned invasion of Ukraine. The US and European powers were dazed by Russia’s audacity and left only to mouth vacuous platitudes about the consequences of a Russian invasion. Already, US president Joe Biden has said the US troops will not be sent to Ukraine, but troops are being sent to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member countries.
To justify his recognition of separatist forces in Donetsk and Luhansk, President Putin went on a long excursion into history, stating the shared culture, values, tradition, and language between Russia and Ukraine. Naturally, the Federal Assembly of Russia granted President Putin the right to recognize the separatists in eastern Ukraine and to also send peacekeeping forces to those regions. Shortly thereafter, on February 24, President Putin ordered his forces into Ukraine with the aim of toppling the Volodymyr Zelensky regime which he described as thugs, drug addicts, and neo-Nazis. He described the invasion as a special military operation.
Putin’s grouse against Ukraine borders on the fact that the Zelensky administration is pro-west and wants to join NATO. As far as President Putin is concerned, Ukraine’s romance with NATO will put Russia’s security in jeopardy. Thus this clear and present danger which Ukraine’s shift towards NATO poses for Russia has spurred President Putin to action against Ukraine. It is important to recall that in September 2014, Ukraine and Russia signed ceasefire agreements in Minsk, Belarus to end hostilities in eastern Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine is home to ethnic Russians who share a common language and ancestry with Russia. Despite the Minsk agreement, continuous battles have been waged between Ukrainian forces and Luhansk and Donetsk separatists over territory in the Donbas region in violation of the agreements. So far the Russian offensive has torpedoed the Minsk accord.
Significantly, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been described as the biggest threat to peace in Europe since the end of World War2. Apparently, President Putin’s move is an attempt to reorder and reset the international system underpinning relations between the West and Russia since the end of the Second World War, on his own terms and not in the template of the West. This marks a new Cold War. Putin had stated that the US and Europe had continually undermined Russian security in a planned encirclement of Russia through former Soviet Republics. For example, former Soviet Republics like Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have since joined NATO. He stated that NATO had continued to move forward towards Russia to destabilize the Russian Federation.
However, while reiterating their support for Ukraine, the Western powers have ruled out any plan to send troops to Ukraine because there was no extant military treaty between Ukraine and NATO. Ukrainian president on his part noted that sanctions alone would not deter Russia and that he needed ammunition and not a ride out of Ukraine. The US and European powers had urged him to leave Ukraine and form a government in exile. Zelenskey rebuffed that offer from the US and Europe. He vowed to stay put and resist the Russian invasion.
In his estimation, both the US and European powers had not done enough to support Ukraine against Russian aggression. He promised to fight as long as it takes. “We will not lay down our weapons. Our weapons are our truth and power. We will defend the nation for the sake of our children,” Zelensky stated. Zelensky in the face of Russian aggression has shown remarkable leadership and courage. Indeed war is a contest of national will and Ukraine has shown unprecedented resilience in the face of Russian aggression. Observers have noted that this is Europe’s largest ground war since Second World War
However, in apparent reaction to Zelenskey’s outcry against the West, the US has reacted with President Biden having ordered delivery of $350 million military aid to Ukraine. European powers have also ordered NATO rapid delivery forces in territories of the former USSR. They have also made some military supplies to Ukraine. For the first time since the end of the Second World War, Germany will send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 missiles to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia after overruling its own weapons transfer policy dating back to WW11.
Moreover, Ukraine has announced that Western countries have agreed to disconnect Russia from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) banking network, costing Russia billions of dollars. SWIFT is an international banking payment system that oils the wheels of financial transactions. Thus this disconnect will block Russian exports and imports. Some have described this move as a nuclear financial sanction.
As the world reeled in utter disbelief at Russia’s audacity, the United Nations effort to condemn Russia was rebuffed by China and India, and UAE as they abstained from voting in favour of the text to condemn Russian aggression. As the current chairman of the Security Council, Russia has blocked a UN Security Council resolution denouncing its invasion of Ukraine. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed that while the UN had not achieved its primary objective to end the war, “we must never give up.”
On its part, NATO has called on Russia to withdraw troops from Ukraine and stop the attack. NATO places full blame on Russia for this crisis, standing in support of Ukraine. “This long-planned attack on Ukraine, peaceful and democratic country, is brutal and wholly unprovoked and unjustified. We deplore the tragic loss of life, enormous human suffering, and destruction caused by Russia’s action,” read the statement by NATO.
As expected, the Russian-Ukraine war has led to a burgeoning refugee crisis. According to the UN, at least 100,000 Ukrainians have already left the country, nearly 25,000 refugees have reached Moldova, and 29,000 have fled to Poland. Thousands of Ukrainians are voting with their feet, leaving by road and rail to Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and other European nations. If the war becomes full-blown it is estimated that over five million refugees will stream to other parts of Europe to escape the carnage and war in Ukraine.
Without a doubt, Ukraine remains strategic to both Russia and Europe since it’s a gateway to Russian gas supply to Europe. Besides, it is the second-largest country by area in Europe and has a population of over 40 million. Still, it is home to strategic minerals and natural resources. What’s more, Ukraine is first in terms of arable land for agriculture and is regarded as a major food basket in Europe. According to French President Emmanuel Macron, the world should brace for a long war. “This war will last. This war will last and all the crises that come with it will have lasting consequences. We must be prepared,” Macron stated.