Russia Ukraine tensions reach a new high


Arun Kohli examines the situation developing on the border between Russia and Ukraine.

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Image by Sefa Karacan

By Arun Kohli

Tensions between Russia and the West continue to rise as an invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces is considered ‘imminent’. In recent months an estimated 100,000 Russian troops have been moved to the borders of Ukraine in Russia and Belarus as well as Russian warships making their way to the Black Sea. British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, stated that whilst an invasion of Ukraine is not inevitable, it is possible and that should a conflict take place it would be painful and violent.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been steadily increasing for decades culminating in the annexation of Crimea in 2014 after the Ukrainian President at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted. Yanukovych was long seen as a Kremlin-ally and since being ousted fled and sought refuge in Russia. Shortly after the incursion, which was denounced by Western countries and NATO, Russia was hit by sanctions which further increased tensions between Moscow and NATO countries.

NATO countries such as the USA and UK have threatened serious consequences should Russia invade Ukraine, yet little has been achieved to subdue the growing tensions between the two sides. Last week US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, held a bilateral meeting in Geneva hoping to ease tensions and find a diplomatic solution to avoid conflict.

However, little seems to have been achieved as despite Blinken stating that there is now a clearer understanding of each other’s concerns, both the United States and Russia have continued to make moves that signal a growing likelihood of conflict in the region. The United States has also announced that within the next week it will produce in writing a response to Russia’s demands which it says will contribute to a de-escalation in tensions. Russia has long seen the expansion of NATO as a direct threat to its national security and has thus demanded that neither Ukraine or Georgia should be allowed to join NATO and that the organisation itself should not place any troops in countries that weren’t already in place before 1997, when 13 Eastern European countries joined the alliance.

On Monday it was reported that Joe Biden is considering sending thousands of troops to NATO allies in order to bolster NATO defence in the region. This comes as NATO, on the same day, announced that Denmark and Spain would be deploying warplanes, frigates and fighter jets to the area and that France is ready to send troops to Romania. Both the UK and USA have also ordered non-essential embassy staff to leave Kyiv with the USA suggesting all American citizens in Ukraine try and evacuate the country as soon as possible.

Should an invasion take place Ukraine will suffer an intense and violent conflict that could potentially lead to significant consequences for other European countries. The USA, UK and NATO have all threatened sanctions against Russia should a conflict take place, yet it is possible that counter-sanctions from Russia will cripple access to energy across the continent in what is already a highly uncontrollable situation.

Germany especially has a lot to lose if Russia decides to weaponize its gas supplies. Germany relies almost exclusively on Russian gas as in a bid to lower CO2 emissions, it has decided to phase out its use of nuclear power and coal plants. With the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Germany now has a significant amount to lose should Russia decide to withhold its gas supplies.

Olaf Scholz, the Chancellor of Germany, and his predecessor Angela Merkel have both raised concerns about using the pipeline in political discussions as it is a private-sector project, yet with unpredictability surrounding Putin and the actions Moscow could take should sanctions be placed on Russia, there is a strong fear that Russia could cripple Germany’s energy supply. Europe is already facing an energy crisis with German gas prices up sixty-nine percent in December 2021.

Whilst it is unclear how the events in the region will unfold, it is becoming more apparent that tensions between Russia and the West are not cooling down. Russia continues to make provocative moves that fuel more concerns of conflict, with Dublin announcing on Monday that Russia will conduct war games one-hundred and fifty miles from its border, within its exclusive economic zone.

Furthermore, the intentions of Putin are seemingly unclear. Despite a strong nostalgia for Soviet Russia, Putin has distanced himself from the communism and socialism that characterised the USSR. Yet, the power and land that the USSR once controlled seems to be what has fuelled aggressive behaviour from Russia throughout the century with the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

As both sides continue to bolster their defences in the region, Ukraine and its citizens have the most to lose should a conflict ensue. In a nuclear age where direct conflict between the West and Russia should be out of the question, the world watches on as tensions continue to rage and the West is slowly dragged into a conflict that has the potential to be disastrous.