Currently, world media is occupied with news regarding the Ukrainian crisis. Questions are being raised on the widening gap between Ukraine and Russia, and the United States of America, and what does Ukraine want from Russia and the West and vice versa. In addition to what Russia is insistent on in the recent negotiations to resolve the crisis?
Before going into the answers of these big questions about Russia and its conditions, Ukraine and what it wants, and the West and what it wants, we take a quick look at the country around which the crisis is taking place, Ukraine, which was a founding member in Russia’s former Soviet Union, and was the seat of a third of Soviet nuclear weapons and a major force in the Warsaw Pact.
Did Ukraine’s attempt to join NATO provoke Russia?
Rather, it should be noted that the Ukrainian Government’s desire to join NATO – a security alliance created in 1949 to counter and include the Soviet Union, comprising 30 states – is perhaps the most frightening prospect for Russia. This is due to the fact that Ukraine’s accession to NATO is tied to the text of Article V of the NATO Charter: “An attack on any member State of the Alliance shall be considered an attack on the entire constituent State and shall be dealt with”. Considering that this article, together with certain data, relates to the geographical association of both States within a range exceeding 2.000 square kilometers, and that its accession means allowing NATO forces to be present along the border between Ukraine and Russia, which the Russian leadership considers a red line. Additionally, Ukraine is one of the most important countries for Russia at several levels, economic, historical, and strategic, and there is a possibility that troops could approach the Russo-Ukrainian border, which Russia categorically rejects. Thus, Russia also considers Ukraine as an intrinsic part of its history. This is often attributed to the fact that in the 9th century, the two states were united as one country, “Kiev Rus, which lasted for hundreds of years and spawned across three States; Russia – Belarus – Ukraine.
It should be noted that this crisis concerning Ukraine’s accession to NATO is not recent rather an aspiration for Ukraine for more than 14 years, but there have been some developments impeding Ukraine’s accession to NATO at the present time. The most important of these as follows:
-Russia’s increased role and capacity to influence international decisions:
The nature of Russia – West relations based on competition is a part of Russia’s refusal to join the alliance. The current political leadership is pro-West, led by the United States. This means that Russia is in a weak position and its border security is in a great defiance of them.
-The dissolution of the Soviet Union and negotiations from memory:
After the end of the Second World and the start of the East German-West German unification negotiations, the United States promised Russia that in the event of a successful unification of the two German camps, the NATO Alliance would not advance to the East, that is, no more states would be included in the Alliance towards the East. (Eastern and Central Europe), which means there will be no countries between Russia and Germany. The Russian leadership had been convinced of these promises, but the West quickly defaulted on its promise and began to include many countries in the area between Germany and Russia, including countries that were controlled by the Soviet Union.
-NATO’s eastward expansion and the Five-Day Revolution 2008:
Certainly, Ukraine’s accession to the Alliance is not new. The call started in 2004 under the President of the United States. George H.W. Bush Jr., and before him, the call was not limited to joining. “Only Ukraine” but also Georgia, but in 2004, Russia did not have the strength to address such calls and at this time only expressed its refusal to join. However, in 2008 and with the renewed calls to join “Georgia and Ukraine,” Russia was one of the world’s greatest powers, especially in the military sphere, which enabled it to stand up to this call and launched a war against Georgia known as “The Five-Day War” in August 2008, which served as the basis for cutting off the two countries from joining the NATO alliance.
-Ukrainian economic crisis and the renewed attempt for accession:
In 2013, Ukraine experienced an economic crisis, which the Ukrainian President then, Viktor Yanukovych had asked for an assistance package from both Russia and the European Union. Each camp had then presented their own packages; however, Yanukovych chose the Russian side, which angered the pro-Western Ukrainian opposition that supported Ukraine’s accession to the NATO Alliance. This in turn, had fueled protests and calls to demonstrations which ousted president Yanukovych and another pro-Western government took over, which the Russian government labeled as an agent of the United States aimed at curbing Russian interests. This in turn had contributed to the “2014 Crimean crisis,” and the situation remained in a state of conflict between various regions in Ukraine and Russia, while hostile separatist movements grew and calls emerged for the signing of a convention “Minsk I” in late 2014 between the Ukrainian government and the Moscow-backed separatists in the eastern territories close to the Russian border.
-Renewed conflict in 2020-2021:
One of the most important factors contributing to the reopening of the accession process is the efforts of the Ukrainian President Zalinski, who, through the media, sought to launch a public relations campaign in the West to support the idea of rejoining the Alliance. Under his leadership, he launched another campaign aimed at rejoining the Alliance, and to bring “Crimea” back under Ukrainian control, and began to take some actions that Russia considered as hostile. This includes Ukraine delaying the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, and developing its military strategies and increasing its armament, both which Russia considers threatening to its national security.
-Divergence of positions and the difficulty of reaching an agreement
Several intelligence services of NATO members, the Ukrainian government and US President Joe Biden revealed data showing the size of the Russian military deployment on Ukrainian lands along the border. Estimates ranged from 120,000 to 127,000 soldiers. They also expected that Russia would launch a military attack on Ukraine in the beginning of the current year 2022, which Russia denied and accused the West of provoking it by placing offensive weapons near its borders, which contradicts what was agreed upon three decades ago.
-Efforts to find solutions to the conflict: Thus, the crisis began to escalate significantly and is proceeding in two tracks. The first is political and diplomatic, which included direct contacts between Putin and Biden on several occasions, including the Geneva Agreement between Russia and the United States in January 10, 2022. It is one of the first steps taken by the parties recently in order to find a solution to the crisis, in which the vision about their aspirations became clear as follows; In short, Russia wants Ukraine to cease any cooperation agreements with NATO and completely eliminate any manifestation of its willingness to become a member of the alliance in the future. What Russia wants from the West, is written legal guarantees provided by the United States that Ukraine will never join NATO, in addition to the NATO’s removing its offensive weapons from Eastern European countries such as Poland and Hungary (countries that were former members of the Warsaw Pact), on the grounds that The presence of these weapons represents a threat that Russia cannot accept.
Putin’s position stems from the fact that the Americans and the West made a promise more than thirty years ago that NATO would not expand in Eastern Europe, which was abandoned by the West.
-As for the Ukrainian side: the eastern regions bordering Russia are experiencing armed movements that want to secede from Ukraine (such as Crimea, Donetsk and others) and prefer to join Russia, while the western regions want to join the European Union and NATO.
-Diplomatic meetings: the most important of which is a meeting in Moscow between Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, and another meeting with the German Chancellor Olaf Schulz, in Moscow on February 14, where he called on Russia to seize the “offers of dialogue” aimed at reaching a reduction in tension, in the midst of an unprecedented crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.
All of these moves were aimed at Russia to achieve what the West wants, which is essentially to withdraw its military buildup from the Ukrainian border and to stop what the West claim are threats to Ukraine’s stability.
-The Security Council meeting on February 21, 2022: This meeting is considered an unprecedented move regarding the management of the Ukrainian crisis, as it included several decisions, among which was Russia’s adoption of a proposal to declare the recognition of the independence of the separatist regions (Lugansk and Donetsk) in eastern Ukraine. Russia also stressed that this step was taken to protect global security and the security of the European continent in particular. Then, officials took turns presenting their views on the importance of recognizing them, but the issue is still in the process of being proposed until the Russian president accepts it, and perhaps this represents another door that Russia touched upon to put pressure on Ukraine to withdraw from joining the EU and NATO. Since Russia’s recognition of the separatist regions certainly weakens the strength of the state and opens the way for other regions in the eastern region that have a desire to secede, hindering Ukraine from meeting the conditions for joining the NATO alliance.
In a speech, Putin’s confirmed his intention not to give up any of his security demands that the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization should be reconsidered, and that Ukraine’s membership in the alliance is a red line.
-The Future of the Ukrainian Conflict:
When talking about the future of the Ukrainian conflict, can the United States or Russia resolve the conflict in their favour once and for all? In this context, we can reach this vision:
-Acceptance means giving Russia the right of veto: It is certain that the West will not accept the conditions offered by Russia, because its acceptance of such conditions gives Russia the power to object to the accession of countries to the alliance, and its acquiescence to Russian demands violates the alliance charter, which states that “the door to the alliance is open to any European country that meets the conditions to join the alliance.
-Violating the goals of establishing the alliance: as the primary goal of establishing the alliance is to confront the Soviet influence and therefore the goal of its establishment conflicts with giving in to its demands, in addition to the fact that the alliance’s approval of its demands allows Russia to establish a buffer zone for it in the eastern part of the European continent, most of which were countries affiliated with the Soviet Union, and brings us back to 1990, the period of negotiation for the annexation of the two Germans, which means the abolition of the conditions that occurred in the framework of these moves, which entailed new security and strategic arrangements for the Soviet Union, which entailed the imposition of economic sanctions and political isolation.
-Acceptance of Russian demands is a prelude to China’s support: Despite Ukraine’s failure to meet the actual conditions for joining the alliance, which has been proven over the past few days. Some members of the alliance, headed by the US- and the French and German presidents, stated that Ukraine did not meet the actual conditions for joining the alliance, but the request to join will not be reversed until the West does not allow China to expand in the South China Sea and annex the island of “Taiwan”, which means changing the world order, or contributing to strengthening the thorns of both Russia and China against the United States of America.
On the Russian side, it refused the demands that were presented in the Geneva negotiations on January 10, 2022, and indicated that its demands are one package that must be agreed upon and not selected from. It also promised that it could transfer arms to countries within the American sphere of influence represented in (Cuba and Venezuela), which threatens American interests and security. The United States responded that it would support the separatist movements hostile to them and would take any security measures necessary.
As for the American side, it will not allow a recurrence of the Cuban crisis to confront Putin, thus taking the crisis into an open conflict, a situation that the current US administration rejects. On the Ukrainian side, the principle of respecting the right of neighboring countries to take security measures to preserve their security and stability is emphasized.
In conclusion, all of the above puts us in front of two possibilities, the first is that Ukraine will follow a policy of neutrality and retreat from joining the alliance because Russia will not allow it to expand to the east. Yet, in the event that the crisis develops, it will be the biggest loser, since by virtue of being a neighboring country to a major country like Russia, it must maintain a minimum of warm relations with it, as Mexico does with the United States of America; where many of its decisions adhere to the United States and work not to provoke it, in order to preserve its security and stability. The second option is to turn a blind eye and allow Russia to expand, which is also out of the question, because this supports the Chinese influence to expand in the South China Sea and the potential annexation of “Taiwan”.