International

Understanding Russia-Ukraine Tensions (Part 1)

Hello defence lovers! Russia-Ukraine tensions are at their all-time high. On one hand, Russia has deployed more than one lakh soldiers and thousands of tanks, on the other hand, Ukraine has started preparing itself for a full-scale invasion. In this article, we are going to understand the entire conflict in detail. We will discuss how this conflict started and what would be its conclusion.

The Problem of Black Sea Fleet

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia had inherited almost the complete ex-soviet Black sea fleet. However, Russia lost the entire access to the black sea and Sevastapol, the home port of the Black Sea fleet. Along with that Russia also lost a major shipbuilding capability as some of the finest shipbuilders of the Soviet Union were located in the Ukraine SSR. The Russian Navy is still plagued by this loss, as the Russian Navy is unable to induct any new Aircraft Carrier after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Black Sea Fleet fleet is strategically very important for Russia, as it helps it to establish its influence over the Mediterranean region through the Turkish strait. After the fall of the Soviet Union, both Russia and Ukraine had very friendly relations due to their deep cultural ties. As a result, Russia was granted permission to use Sevastapol and other Naval infrastructure in Crimea up to 2017.

Changing Political Atmosphere in Ukraine

Now let us understand Ukraine’s domestic politics in order to understand the beginning of Russia-Ukraine tensions. Let us analyse the situation from 2010 onwards. By this time there were two ethnic groups in Ukraine. One group identified themselves with the Ukrainian identity, whereas the other group felt more connected with the Russian culture. The Donbas region comprising of Donetsk and Luhansk along with Crimea had a pro-Russian majority, whereas the western part of the country had pro-Ukrainian/European people.

Victor Yanukovych won the presidential election in 2010. He was considered to be a pro-Russian leader. After becoming president, he leased out the naval facilities in Crimea to Russia for another 25 years (that is up to 2042) in return for very cheap natural gas. The Ukrainian people saw that as selling their sovereignty just for cheap gas! Yanukovych was also allegedly involved in large-scale corruption and tried to introduced autocratic reforms inspired by Russia. Due to all these reasons his approval rating and popularity fell rapidly. Before the 2014 election, he went in a damage control mode. In 2013, his government heavily publicized the European Union Association Agreement and the people liked it. But in 2014, his government refused to sign the deal. This was the last nail in his coffin.

The EU association agreement triggered widespread protests across Ukraine. These protests soon turned into civil disobedience and then into riots. Brutal clashes took place between the police and civilians which took the lives of hundreds of civilians. Soon, the movement became a revolution. As a result, Yanukovych and other officials of the government had to flee the country. A new pro-European government was formed and Petro Poroshenko became the new president.

The Annexation of Crimea

When all these political turmoils were going on in Ukraine, Russia opportunistically invaded and annexed Crimea. As discussed earlier, Crimea was extremely important strategically and geopolitically for Russia. Russia also conducted a referendum in Crimea in which an overwhelming majority were supporters of Russia. However, NATO, the EU, United Nations, and Ukraine never accepted these results. Since then America and its allies became highly interested in Ukraine as America got another excuse for imposing sanctions on Russia.

The Donbas War and Russia-Ukraine Tensions

As Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and a pro-European government was formed in Kyiv, fresh protests started in the Donbas region where pro-Russian people were in Majority. Soon these protests turned into armed rebellion. Allegedly Russia supplied small arms and heavy equipment such as Surface Air missiles to these Rebels with which they shot down the Malaysian flight MH 17. The western counties also have allegations that Russian forces are fighting in the Donbas disguised as the rebels.

For the past 8 years, this Russia-Ukraine conflict has been going on. There were several attempts of negotiating a cease-fire but none achieved long-lasting peace in the region.

In the next part of this article, we will understand how the internal conflict of Russia-Ukraine became the Great Powers’ game. We will understand how Ukraine became the battleground between Russia and the west. We will also understand why experts are saying that Russia will certainly invade Ukraine.

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Sheershoo Deb

I am a defense aspirant preparing to be an officer in the prestigious Indian armed forces. Earning the prestigious blue uniform is my dream.

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