I am a fan of history and geopolitics, so to watch the Russia & Ukraine crisis unfold was shocking. I decided to get an idea behind what was happening between Russia & Ukraine and the history behind the long standing saga between the two countries. So in this blog I try to explain in simple terms a 100 year old history filled with triumphs and tribulations.
Before we get in, let’s take a look at NATO and other situations which seemingly is the crux of the issue.
Things to Know Beforehand : NATO
- North Atlantic Treaty Organization or North Atlantic Alliance was created post the second World War. The primary purpose of the alliance when it was formed (1949) was to deter the threat of USSR expansion in Europe but also to provide security to any aggression shown towards any of the member states through military and political measures.
- Incidentally even USSR retorted by creating their own alliance with 7 Eastern European countries called the Warsaw Pact which fell apart after the fall of USSR
- Now the new Russia saw members of this Warsaw pact join NATO over the years and Russia felt threatened.
- As of now 12 former USSR countries are part of NATO and two more likely to join before Russia stepped in with it’s demands.
Things to Know Beforehand : Black Sea
- Russia is faced with harsh weather conditions which makes for inaccessible ports during certain parts of the year.
- They finally found base in Black Sea which is a warm water port and navigable year around. It also gives Russians access to the Mediterranean regions which makes trade lot easier.
- Black Sea was earlier under USSR control, but after its fall it was completely surrounded itself with newly formed countries which were tying up with the NATO and EU.
- This expansion of NATO eastwards was beginning to trouble Russia a lot and would later conduct a lot of military exercises in the black sea which was to be marked as a cause of concern by the NATO partners.
Things to Know Beforehand : Donetsk & Luhansk (Donbas)
- Region of Donetsk and Luhansk is also called as Donbas. These regions are notorious parts of Ukraine which is known to be pro Russia.
- Donbas had declared it’s independence from Ukraine in 2014 immediately after Ukraine expressed interest of joining EU, but no country had recognized Donbas as sovereign state.
- There was constant fighting within the region which ultimately lead to creation of Minsk agreement which was a promise of ceasefire. But it failed and eventually Minsk Agreement 2 was reformed and eventually failed too.
- But it all changed, as Putin signed a decree which recognised Donbas’s independence. Now this is very important because these regions now automatically become allies to Russia and any attack from Ukraine allows Russia to answer back to “protect’ it’s ally.
HISTORY OF UKRAINE
- Ukraine got independence in 1991 after the fall of USSR, but it still had a huge Russian influence still lingering on. Fraction of people still considered it to be part of Russia and wanted them to join back.
- Ukraine’s geo location is also one of the reasons of keen interest by the Russians. It was right inbetween Europe and Russia while providing an easy and expansive access to the Black Sea.
- 2004 : Viktor Yanukovy, a convicted felon won the election which the Russians later admitted to have rigged. Viktor was a Pro Russian candidate.
- Orange Revolution (2004) : Once people realized they had a puppet government who was all the while serving the interest of the Russians, protests broke out. It was primarily organised and run by the youth of the nation who wanted the country to come out of the clutches of Russia.
- The eventuality of the Orange Revolution was that the Supreme Court decided to re-conduct the elections which was duly lost by Viktor Yanukovy.
If you want to know more about the Orange Revolution, would recommend watching this documentary on Netflix called Winter On Fire :
- Post the Revolution, Ukraine struggled economically and people started piling on hopes on a joining the EU which would have meant European financial aid which would have helped Ukraine immensely.
RETURN OF VICTOR YANUKOVY :
-  Now Victor Yanukovy came back to power after being overthrown post the Orange Revolution. He claimed that he would make the dream of Ukraine a part of EU a reality.
- But in 2013 Victor Yanukovy declined to sign Ukraine to be part of EU stating that he was under immense pressure from Russia to decline.
- To make things worse, Victor signed trade deals with Russia which would allow Russians to use their ports as base in the Black Sea in exchange for reduced pricing of Russian natural gas.
- He even attempted to add Russian as an official language.
- Now the people of Ukraine lost their patience and violence broke out once again. The parliament impeached Victor who fled the country and is living in exile in Russia.
- I hope you’re still with me on this. So the president is overthrown again and Putin takes advantage of this and swiftly takes control of Crimea (which has a port in Black Sea). Ukraine is powerless to put any fight up.
Why is Russia still going after Ukraine ?
- Obviously it has to do with the NATO expansion. Right? But again begs the question, so may neighboring countries are already part of EU and NATO and Ukraine is still far off from being a part of NATO or even the EU ? So why now ?
- Simple, it’s all down to influence of Putin. Putin has seen support towards Russia from people in Ukraine weaken over the years, Crimea getting annexed hasn’t helped either. Russia has always seen Ukraine as an extension of itself, so to see it toy around with the idea of EU and NATO must hurt Putin. Also it was a huge blow to Putin when Pro Russia media broadcasters were shut down all across Ukraine.
- Meanwhile Ukraine still not being part of NATO sees itself being armed up at a rapid rate through EU and American support. That along with the presence of other NATO nations around worries Russia.
- Once Ukraine eventually joins NATO, Crimea is at risk of still being under control of the Russians which they have no intention of giving up after all it’s still an important strategic point for Russia.
- Crimea’s fresh water supply comes in from Ukraine. But after it got annexed, Ukraine cut it’s water supply by almost 90% bringing a lot of distress to Crimea and Russia which has spent billions trying to solve the water issue. Infact Crimea recently faced a huge drought crisis.
- Ukraine is predominantly Russian people and there is a huge number of Ukraine citizens living in Russia. So if tomorrow the EU and NATO pump in huge amounts into Ukraine and turn it around, it could cause upheaval in native Russia who are financially still weak and would themselves want to bring about a change. This worries Putin.
- Russia is trying to undermine the power of NATO. By bullying Ukraine, which is a potential NATO ally it shows how the members are backtracking and not offering concrete actionable support towards one of it’s future members.
- Russia has the upper hand when it comes to natural gas. It supplies 40% of natural gas to Europe which is aiming to move away from coal dependency to gas. So at the risk of freezing out Europe, Putin knows the sanctions from Europe isn’t going to be heavy hence giving him the advantage.
It’s complex and layered situation, for now we can only draw an understanding on why and what next has Putin planned. As we watch Ukraine getting targeted in such a public fashion and helplessness of the rest of the world, the ball is definitely in Putin’s Russia.