Why Does Russia Want to Invade Ukraine? What Role do the US, NATO, and the EU play?
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 union 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
The European Union is vulnerable to Russia due to its heavy reliance on Russian natural gas. Out of 68% of natural gas that the EU imports, 40% comes 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.
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.
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.
NATO is obvious about the bounds of its support to nonmember countries. While it supports nonmember countries like Afghanistan during humanitarian emergencies, NATO doesn't plan to deploy troops to a nonmember state.
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.
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. The US has also been accused by China of taking advantage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
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.
Although there is no direct participation, it seems like other European countries like the UK, Poland, France, Germany, etc are participating as well by giving advice, providing intel, setting up defenses, and formulating plans for Ukraine. 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 large 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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Shipra Swaraj is a Political Science graduate from Patna University, in India. She is also a content writer and activist at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.