Why Does Russia Want to Invade Ukraine? What Role do the US, NATO, China, India, and the EU play?
Updated: Jun 11, 2022
Ukraine, which was a part of the Soviet Union until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, is currently the second-largest independent country by area in Europe, leaving Russia aside. Kyiv is the capital city of Ukraine. It is an agricultural country whose 42 out of 60 million hectares of land is classified as agricultural land.
For ages, Ukraine has been known as "the breadbasket of Europe." Due to the availability of a type of black soil called chernozems in most Ukrainian areas whose richness makes it perfect for the cultivation of grains like wheat and barley, it will only be fair to say Ukraine can feed the world.
It is also the world's leading producer of sunflower oil, 4th producer of corn, 5th largest producer of wheat, and 5th largest producer of honey. It is noteworthy that eighty percent of Ukrainian agricultural products go to the EU (European Union).
Ukraine & the European Union (EU)
The European Union is a political and economic alliance of 27 European member states. Although Ukraine is not a member of the EU, the EU stands with Ukraine and continues to provide coordinated humanitarian, political, financial, and material support to Ukraine.
Currently, when Europe is blindly siding with Ukraine and NATO seems to be failing itself to create peace and stability in Ukraine, the EU (European Union) could be the last resort to bring about peace and end the conflict.
Friendly relations between Russia and the EU could have been a positive influence on Russia since the U.S. and other European countries are hell-bent on bringing Russia down without taking Russia's security and safety into consideration, but the report says otherwise.
However, the EU has strongly condemned Putin's decision to invade Ukraine and has imposed several sanctions on Russia, calling it unprovoked and unjustified military aggression.
"It is not only Ukraine that is under attack. International law, rules-based international order, democracy, and human dignity are also under attack. This is geopolitical terrorism, pure and simple."
- Charles Michel, President of the European Council, 1 March 2022
"Ukraine belongs to our European family."
- EU leaders' statement, 10 March 2022
EU's dependence on Russia
The European Union is vulnerable to Russia due to its heavy reliance on Russian natural gas. Out of 68% of the EU's natural gas imports, 40% come from Russia. European countries are concerned about Russian natural gas dominance.
Ukraine & NATO
NATO is a western military alliance of 30 countries formed in 1949 to secure peace in Europe and guard the freedom of its member countries. In other words, countering the growing power of the Soviet Union.
Article 5 of the NATO charter has enshrined the idea of collective defense, which means an armed attack on one NATO ally is considered an attack on all others and they will jointly fight for that one victim country.
Ukraine holds the center stage in the conflict between NATO and Russia as it shares borders with Russia and European Union countries.
It is nevertheless noteworthy that despite the fact Ukraine has not been granted the membership of NATO and NATO's military force would not directly protect Ukraine under the collective defense principle, as is not yet a NATO member, NATO still sees Ukraine as a partner country which means there are strong possibilities of Ukraine joining the NATO in near future.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg agrees that NATO allies have a responsibility “to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine.” NATO member countries are taking major steps to isolate Russia from the global economy.
However, NATO has been trying to expand itself to Russia's borders, and to a large extent, it has been successful. However, the expansion has only angered Vladimir Putin as he sees the continuation of NATO's open-border policy as a major threat to Russia's security.
Then, Putin fired the first shot by annexing Crimea. It could have been taken as a heads up. Russia had already warned NATO in December 2021 and demanded not to expand, as having the military deployed with weapons all around is not safe for Russia.
Ukraine & the US
The United States maintains friendly relations with Ukraine. The two have developed a strategic alliance due to their mutual dislike of Russian foreign policies. As being a geopolitical enemy of Russia, US's grand strategy has always been to limit Russia as much as possible.
Hence, Ukraine's geographical position makes it even more important for the US as it shares the largest border with Russia.
The US wants to completely end Russian supremacy over Ukraine. Several times in history it has accused Russia of conspiring to take over Ukraine's government by recruiting many government officials in Ukraine to cooperate with the Russian occupying force.
In Feb 2022, the US blamed Russia for cyberattacks against two of Ukraine's largest banks. The US even holds firm on Ukraine’s bid to join NATO. In the existing state of affairs, the US strongly condemns Russia over the invasion of Ukraine. It even warned China of severe consequences for helping Russia with military assistance against Ukraine. Recently, an announcement of $350 million help to Ukraine in new military aid against Russia was made by the US.
According to the latest report, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, earlier last week, delayed the $40 billion Ukraine aid package, which is more than the aggregate amount the US spends on many domestic programs. We cannot overlook the fact that the decision of the Senator attracted bipartisan support in the US Congress.
"No matter how sympathetic the cause, my oath of office is to the national security of the United States of America,” Paul said. “We cannot save Ukraine by dooming the US economy."
- U.S. Senator Rand Paul
Another report says former US President Donald Trump criticized Biden for providing more than USD 40 billion in assistance to Ukraine, which is in retrospect very less in comparison to what Europe is contributing considering the fact that European countries are impacted far more than the US by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine & Russia
Ukrainian and Russian both belong to the Slavonic (or Slavic) language family. The vocabulary, grammar, and features of pronunciation they share are more similar than any other Slavonic language. Russia's President Vladimir Putin has even mentioned the historical unity of the Ukrainian and Russian people in his write-ups.
Historically, Russia has been a political and cultural dominant figure in the Soviet Union. According to the last census, around 30% of Ukrainians are native speakers of Russian. A large number of people in Ukraine studied Russian to a high level. However, the reverse has not been true historically, but things are gradually changing.
Although, the similarities between the two shouldn't obscure the fact they are different political entities with varied political beliefs.
Russia's relationship with Ukraine turned adversarial ever since Ukraine showed interest in NATO membership and announced it would be an achievement for Ukraine if it could join NATO. By being in alliance with NATO, Ukraine would pull itself away from Russia’s sphere of influence.
This may be a prime reason why Ukraine wants to join NATO. Russia interprets the alliance’s expansion as a direct threat to its security, so it would only make it worse and exacerbate the regional tension. Putin had already fired the first shot long back by annexing Crimea in 2014. However, Putin also said the US is trying to draw Russia into an unwanted war.
Putin warned and demanded NATO in December 2021 to not expand any further in Eastern Europe. Having the military deployed with weapons all around Russia is a menace to its safety and security.
However, Putin also says he would step down if NATO agrees to prohibit Ukraine from joining it. A demand that has been rejected by NATO, which built the major pillars of the Russo-Ukraine conflict and caused all the turbulence and terror.
Russia's dependence on Ukraine
Although Russia is one of the biggest exporters of oil and natural gas to Europe; it is dependent on Ukraine for its supply. Major routes of gas pipelines connecting natural gas fields in western Siberia to export markets of Western Europe run through pipelines across Ukraine before reaching the EU.
Ukraine and China
At present, Russia seems to be closely aligned with China. China claims to be on the right side of history as being a force to maintain world peace and order. On the one hand, it shows deep concerns over the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, but on the other hand, it asserts that Russia's legitimate security concerns should be addressed worldwide.
A report says China has warned China of serious consequences. Although China's President Xi Jinping said that this war is in no one's interest, his actions say otherwise. Chinese diplomats accused the US of disinformation on claims of military aid to Russia against Ukraine and blamed NATO and USA for Ukraine's war. Meanwhile, Ukraine has urged China to not support Russia in this war.
Ukraine and India
Today, the entire world doubts India’s decision to take a neutral stance on the Russo-Ukraine crisis. West is condemning India for not cutting all ties with Russia for attacking Ukraine. Although if we go through history; we would understand the reason behind this. India and Russia share a bond, unlike India and Ukraine.
Russia is one of the closest historical allies of India and has always been supportive of India, whether it is India’s nuclear programs, article 370 of Kashmir, or India’s presence in the UN’s Security Council. Russia is also the largest exporter of major arms to India. On the contrary, one cannot say the same about Ukraine and India.
Another prime reason is the existence of China and Pakistan. China and Pakistan have a long history of friendship and dependency. Both are the neighboring countries of India and they do not have sound foreign relations with India. Thus, in the prevailing circumstances, India needs a close ally in Security Council to defend itself.
Unfortunately, India cannot rely on UK, USA, or France in the matters of China and Pakistan for the long term. However, Russia has always stood by India and has earned its loyalty.
Conversely, Ukraine has always supported Pakistan and has opposed India, whether it is the Indo-Pak war or the Submarine Nuclear deal, or issues of Kashmir. Evidently, India is just carrying out its foreign policy based on prior experiences or trying to handle the situation as diplomatically as possible.
Why does Ukraine want to join NATO?
Membership with NATO would significantly increase Ukraine's international military backing, allowing NATO action within Ukraine and alongside members of its military. This might egg Russia on to take an aggressive step toward Ukraine again.
Although NATO doesn't plan to deploy troops to Non-NATO allies, countries like Afghanistan had its support during humanitarian emergencies from time to time, which makes NATO intervention in Ukraine probable in the present scenario.
Undoubtedly, this membership would draw Ukraine closer to Europe, smoothening the way towards Ukraine joining the European Union — another policy goal for Ukraine. Membership in NATO would also help the country build a better relationship with the US.
Why might NATO not let Ukraine in anytime soon?
NATO is a US-led military alliance between 30 member states. If Ukraine joins NATO under current circumstances, it would simply be a liability to NATO. To earn membership in NATO, Ukraine will have to implement certain reforms and adopt a strategic action plan to be considered by NATO and especially the US, which would create differences between Russia and Ukraine.
Also, Russia would never approve of this membership as it can be seen as a threat to its power of modulating Ukraine for its benefit. Moreover, Putin does not want a military base of his biggest enemy, the US, at his doorstep.
Furthermore, NATO might have to take military action against Russia in case of an imminent conflict forthcoming between Russia and Ukraine, which would further give rise to great global tensions with a ripple effect all over the world.
Is Ukraine a pawn in the game?
A report says the majority of people believe that Ukraine is a pawn in the game played by NATO and the US against Russia. That Ukraine has been drawn into their battle for power. In the name of protecting Ukrainian democracy, it is now clearing the way for Russia's downfall and preparing it to hold Russia under its thumb.
The word out there is that the US could easily end the war by announcing disapproval of Ukraine's membership in NATO, but for the US, it seems it is more important to portray Russia as an evil state than to stop the ongoing war. China has also accused the US of taking advantage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Renowned author, linguist, and philosopher Noam Chomsky says,
“Unlike Trump, the Biden administration doesn't seem to be supporting peace negotiations & is focused on sanctions against Russia."
Geographical disadvantage or poor decision-making?
Today, Ukraine is very passionately fighting against a giant superpower, Russia. Armed officers, as well as civilians, are coming out to protect their homeland. The entire world is cheering them up and acknowledging the courage it takes to do so. They are being portrayed as superheroes that are fighting for their country and people on social media.
But the very fact that untrained countrymen have to hold weapons without any practice is appalling as well as shocking. This cannot be described as the best-case scenario for Ukraine. With the threat of growing terrorism and debt, Ukraine would be dealing with after the war, it seems like the country is moving towards a future of vulnerability.
Question is, is this war an outcome of the geographical disadvantage Ukraine is facing or does going against Russia shows the incapability of Zelensky to make the best out of worst situations.
Could the mass destruction in Ukraine have been avoided with the agreement not to join NATO or not? And can we avoid the fact that even though Ukrainians take pride in firing weapons against Russia, they are suffering at the hands of Zelensky?
On the one hand, Zelensky resembles a patriotic citizen who is making difficult decisions and is ready to die for his country; on the contrary, he appears to be a narcissistic politician who is hungry for the reward that follows the bloodshed of his own people.
Of course, If Ukraine wins, Zelensky’s name will be written in the history books. He will be called a truly patriotic superhero of Ukraine who fought for the freedom of his people.
A blunder of NATO & the US?
The US displays firm belief in NATO membership of Ukraine, giving an opinion that it would guarantee peace and democracy in Ukraine.
Although Ukrainian women are more liberated than women in most European countries and are fighting alongside men, that reflects how important it is for a nation to accept and realize the importance of unconstrained growth of women in this era, the fact that untrained civilians are coming out to fire weapons to protect their nation and families and are dying on a large scale cannot be glorified.
Also, the future of a country where youngsters have been handed over lethal weapons to fight another nation is a travesty.
Scholars had predicted expansion of NATO would lead to a great tragedy. John Mearsheimer, the political scientist and one of the most famous critics of American foreign policy, says, Putin's aggression toward Ukraine is caused by Western intervention.
He is of the view that the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the Crimean annexation by Russia. That the current invasion of Ukraine is influenced by the relationship between the US and Russia. Many scholars believe that Putin has been provoked by the US.
It all started in April 2008, at the NATO Summit in Bucharest, where a statement was issued by NATO that Ukraine and Georgia may become a part of NATO in near future. Putin viewed it as an existential threat and refused to accept it.
However, NATO expansion, EU expansion, and now including Ukraine as a Western bulwark on Russia's border and trying to turn Ukraine into a pro-American liberal democracy, was seen as an immediate existential crisis for Russia by Putin.
In this great-power politics, you have to be careful about what superpower countries think of you, especially if you border with any of them.
It is more like provoking Russia and Ukraine into a war than protecting Ukrainian sovereignty from the Russian dictator. Of course, one country's peace and security are bigger than another's growth and development. Also, no state would allow any organization of which it is not a part and its allies to deploy militants all around it.
Former US president Donald Trump said that the world was a peaceful place because America was strong. Stressing that Russia "respected" America under his administration, he called current President Joe Biden "weak and grossly incompetent," which has led to the current situation in Ukraine.
It is not easy to infer whether we should lay the blame on Russia for taking it out on Ukraine, whose security is at stake, or should hold Ukraine responsible for this massive chaos, which is concerned about its growth and development under Russia’s shade, or should denounce USA and NATO for Ukraine being caught up in the middle of their war with Russia. One easy escape would be explicating the interplay between Ukraine’s geographical position and global politics.
Although there is no direct participation, European countries like the UK, USA, Poland, France, etc., are still giving brainstormer’s advice to Ukraine, providing Intel, setting up defenses, and formulating plans. Their grievances against Russia are not a well-kept secret. Nor is their continuous struggle to make Putin fall from power in Russia.
Also, Vladimir Putin, often considered a dictator, is a bold, competitive, and arrogant political figure who avoids social contact as much as possible and lives life by his own rules keeping aside all social norms and values. In such a case, it becomes difficult to say whether the huge assistance Ukraine is getting from other European countries would help defuse tensions between the two or push the world towards the blast of world war three.
The only thing that is certain about this war is it is a turning point for Ukrainian Sovereignty and Russian dominance in Ukraine.
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References: (click the arrow to expand)
Shipra Swaraj is a Research Associate at Grant Thornton. She is also a Researcher and Writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.