Ukrainian officials in December 2021 said that Russia could invade the country next month. Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russia-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, and warned that a “large-scale escalation” is possible in January. The world believes that there will be an invasion soon.
But what has led to the tensions?
Russia and Ukraine share a 1,974 km land border as well as deep cultural, linguistic, economic, and political bonds with each other. Russian President Putin has persisted in calling Ukraine "Little Russia." In July 2021, Putin wrote an article titled "On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians", in which he argued that both nations are "one people."
Current Situation - an overview
Russia has accumulated thousands of troops and military hardware including tanks, artillery, and armored troop carriers at the border with Ukraine over the last many weeks, fuelling fears of an imminent invasion. Estimates indicate that 100,000 soldiers in around 100 battalion tactical groups have been deployed by Russia. Russia has, however, been adamant in denying that it is planning to attack Ukraine.
Putin has made it clear that he will not allow Ukraine to become "anti-Russian." In July 2021, he penned an article explaining his views of the two countries shared history, describing Russians and Ukrainians as "one people" who effectively occupy "the same historical and spiritual space."
The current denouement appears to be the culmination of events that unfolded in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea by Russia. The Russian-speaking community in eastern Ukraine also established its own autonomous state called Donetsk People's Republic in 2014. Ukraine could not stop this as opposition from the US and its Western allies remained confined to mere protests. The West is determined that it will not allow anything similar to happen in 2022.
Russia-Ukraine stand-off history
Ukraine got its independence in 1991 after USSR broke up.
Mass protests broke out in Ukraine after a decision by Kremlin-leaning Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to reject an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia in 2014. Soon, the President was ousted. Russia responded by invading Crimea, which was a part of Ukraine.
More than 14,000 people have died in the fight. This led to a strengthened commitment by both the US and the EU to protect the integrity of Ukraine’s borders.
What does Russia want?
Russia wants to stop NATO's expansion further to the east. The country wants NATO to abandon military activity in Russia's side of Europe.
In a detailed report released by the BBC, Russia is already concerned by Ukraine's deployment of Turkish drones against Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine and Western military exercises in the Black Sea.
The report also suggests that Russia is also frustrated that the 2015 Minsk peace deal aimed at halting the conflict in eastern Ukraine is far from being fulfilled. There are still no arrangements for independently monitored elections in the separatist regions. Russia denies accusations that it is part of the lingering conflict.
Putin believes that Ukraine's presence in the Russian camp is essential for Russian and regional security. Russia massing of troops along Ukraine's border is a signal that Putin will consider an invasion unless Ukraine and the West back off.
The West's involvement, Joe Biden's warning
Face to face for over two hours, US President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin squared off in a secure video call on December 8 as the U.S. president put Moscow on notice that an invasion of Ukraine would bring sanctions and enormous harm to the Russian economy.
Biden “told President Putin directly that if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States and our European allies would respond with strong economic measures,” U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said after the call. He added that Biden said the U.S. would also “provide additional defensive material to the Ukrainians … and we would fortify our NATO allies on the eastern flank with additional capabilities in response to such an escalation.”
Putin requested the call, the second between the leaders this month, ahead of scheduled talks between senior U.S. and Russian officials on Jan. 9 and 10 in Geneva. The Geneva talks will be followed by a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council on Jan. 12 and negotiations at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in Vienna on Jan. 13.
For the US and EU, Ukraine is a crucial buffer between Russia and the West. Russia considers Ukraine's membership of NATO as a "red line" as this would expand the US-led military alliance right up to its doorstep. In the past, Putin has warned the West that Ukraine's membership of the alliance "would be a hostile act toward Russia." In August 2008, Russia went to war with Georgia, which was intended to demonstrate Putin's willingness to use force to secure Russia's interests.
What is next?
Russia and the U.S. are "one step closer to war" following a call between the two countries' leaders, a Ukrainian political analyst asserted. Kyiv-based political analyst Petro Burkovskiy said Russian President Vladimir Putin had shown he was ready to defy Western sanctions in the event of a further invasion of Ukraine.
His comments came after an almost hour-long call between the two presidents Thursday, held amid growing alarm over Russia's troop buildup near Ukraine. U.S. President Joe Biden told Putin the two powers now face two paths: diplomacy or American deterrence through sanctions, according to a senior U.S. administration official.
Putin said that new sanctions against Moscow could lead to a complete rupture of ties between the nations. Russia has made clear it wants a written commitment that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO and that the alliance's military equipment will not be positioned in former Soviet states.
The Biden administration has rejected these demands. Burkovskiy said he believed the West was "losing control" in talks with Moscow, and that Russia now had the "upper hand" in negotiations.
(with agencies inputs)