Russo-Ukraine Conflict: A Spiral of Insecurity
The storm of Russo-Ukraine war reaffirms the Russian expansionism under its policy of ‘Russification’. The Soviet Union’s expansionist policies are known to the world. Pakistan has also borne the brunt of the Soviet-Afghan war in 1979 and still faced with its unintended consequences in South Asian region. The current standoff between both neighbouring-states and heavy military buildup at the Russo-Ukrainian border are the outcomes of security dilemma, challenging the regional status-quo that may bring disturbing spill-over effects in Europe and its adjacent states. This conflict is buying more power to encounter the material and psychological regulators, resulting in much exacerbated or deep security dilemma in the region. The changing scenario is shifting the balance from defensive-benign states to offensive-malign states, causing expansionist and imperialist threats or mutual threat and deadlock ending on war or threat of war.
Historically, the Ukrainian/Crimean region belonged to Russia. Ukraine gained its independence in the aftermath of Soviet disintegration in 1991 and Crimea was pronounced as a legitimate part of Ukraine. The newly independent Ukraine maintained Crimea’s autonomous status that eventually was limited in 1995 by the Ukrainian authorities. However, the current conflict starts when Crimea was annexed to Russia in 2014, though, Russia opposes the Ukrainian claim of ‘annexation’, and supports the narrative of ‘right of self-determination’ to the Russian ethnic majority through referendum. The change in the geopolitical mapping of the region was resented by the Ukrainian authorities, leading to many applied complications between both states. Ukraine’s response threatened Russian sphere of influence by looking towards NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) alliance. Putin is concerned with NATO’s East policy and has demanded legal guarantee that preclude NATO from expanding its territory toward the Russian region and its neighbouring states. Clarifying that Russia will take every necessary action to ensure a strategic balance and to eliminate unacceptable threats to its security. Whereas, the U.S. response failed to address Moscow’s three key demands, 1) namely the non-expansion of the NATO Alliance, 2) refusal to deploy offensive weapon systems close to the Russian borders [Ukraine], and 3) bringing back the Alliance’s military infrastructure to the status quo of 1997.
Consequently, beside the Crimea’s 2014 annexation and its fallouts, the current conflict is based on multiple overlapping threatening dimensions, as the Russian extensive military build-up on Russo-Ukrainian border, support to the pro-Russian separatist groups and threat of invasion and war. Ukraine may take only seven days or less to fall under the control of muscular neighbour and lose its identity to Russia. On the other hand, Ukraine is also engaged in spiral of insecurities, as the blockage of the Northern Crimean Canal flow that subsequently depleted the water reservoirs in Crimea and considered as one of the possible objectives of an incursion by Russia. Secondly, Ukraine is not willingly abiding the Minsk Protocols of 2014-15 to end the conflict with the separatists in Donbas that caused deterioration in the eastern Ukraine. Lastly, the major threating concern for Russia is that Ukraine is being heavily pumped with military aid and lethal weapons under the US and NATO support, which is contrary to the Minsk Protocols, challenge for the Russian sphere of influence in its own region and presence of US hard power and conventional support to Ukraine. However, both states have failed to identify their challenges and how war consequences can lead to mass destruction, the aftershock may also lead to a shattered economy and blood bath on both sides of the borders. UNSC (United Nations Security Council), US and other stakeholders have failed to reach any diplomatic agreed resolution to defuse the situation. Thus, if the tension didn’t de-escalate, it will bring massive economic cost, damage, and severe humanitarian devastation.
The US intelligence made an assessment that the Russian invasion could be imminent and predicted that it might begin by end of February 2022 or later. In such circumstances and in an aggressive mode, Russia may face swift and severe sanctions, including a ‘game-over strategy’ of targeting Russian banks, bond markets and the assets of elites close to Putin by the United States and its Western allies. Resultantly, many states have evacuated their diplomatic staff and their families from Ukraine due the towering war threat and fearing grave consequences. The expected detrimental consequences may not be limited to Russia and Ukraine, ‘if Russia launches a new offensive against Ukraine, the ripple effects for European interests will travel far beyond the two countries, with the Middle East and North Africa likely to be particularly affected. Neither it will be only limited to the security dimension, it may also effect other sectors as the economy, energy and wheat exports.
What is needed is all about a balanced approach and deep realization of the possible caustic fallouts, which must be addressed rationally. There are many possible responses that may contribute constructively, if both states understand the need of peace and security in the backdrop of pandemic and sustained global economic constraints, as follows: a mutual pullback of Russian and Ukrainian forces from their shared border, Ukrainian neutrality and both states could revive the Minsk Protocols or revise according to the current need, the current stand-off could become the status quo, willingness to discuss the architecture of European security with Russia, NATO and Russia could opt for a new security deal, Europe and US may persuade Russia to withdraw its forces and engage in diplomatic resolution, and lastly, China may help as the accepted balancer between both states. China is responding with a pro-Russian stance and may prove very influential, especially for Putin. India has also shown a neutral attitude towards the ongoing crisis, and called for “for a peaceful resolution of the situation through sustained diplomatic efforts for long term peace and stability in the region and beyond”, because India doesn’t want to jeopardize its ties and push Russia more towards China. Whereas Pakistan strategically is in the Russo-China orbit, this may eventually affect its trade with the west and other financial liabilities with the US. Thus, war had always a mammoth cost, which takes years and generations to rebuild and harmonize, Russia should give it many thoughts before any single mighty step towards Ukraine.