NIAS Europe Monitor

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NIAS Europe Monitor
Lecture report: Ukraine, Russia and Europe

  Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan

Report of a lecture delivered by Amb (retired) PS Raghavan

The National Institute of Advanced Studies in partnership with the Kristu Jayanti College, organised a lecture on 22 February as a part of the NIAS Europe Lecture series. Ambassador (retd) PS Raghavan, who had served as India’s ambassador to Russia, delivered the lecture. His lecture focused on the possibilities of how the recent escalations were not solely due to historical reasons but were about Russia and the US jostling for position and about a possible European security architecture. 

Amb Raghavan’s lecture addressed the following six significant themes.
 
First, the West’s response to Russia
The West, especially the US, discussed harsh sanctions and their implementation if Russia attacked Ukraine. However, the question arises: What are these sanctions, and how would they hurt Russia? Apart from that, we also need to look at the implications of sanctions in Europe as sanctions against Russia could backfire and even hurt energy-dependent European economies. Russia is a significant exporter of aluminum, copper, nickel, platinum, oil, and gas. 
 
Since 2014, Russia’s trade with France, Germany, and Italy had only increased with sanctions in place. Therefore, sanctions are not effective, nor do they achieve the desired impact; instead of at times, they backfire. Furthermore, the Europeans were apprehensive of the US since Trump had withdrawn from the JCPOA and were also divided on his policies in Syria. Likewise, Trump’s withdrawal from the intermediate-range nuclear treaty (INF) was the last straw as Russia had stationed those intermediate-range missiles endangering Europe, this increased Europe’s security threat. Therefore Europe, NATO, and the US are likely not to be united in terms of sanctions. 
 
Second, geostrategic locations of eastern Ukraine and Crimea
Geographically it is located east of the Dnieper river, and it has a vast Russian-speaking population with ethnocultural links. Even Crimea was of geostrategic importance as a great power like Russia needed an all-weather port. The prospects of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO would make the black sea into the military bloc’s lake. Moreover, Georgia shares a direct border with the restive north Caucasus region of Russia, which leaves them vulnerable on that flank if it joins NATO. Therefore, Russia’s interests in Crimea, Georgia, and Eastern Ukraine can be seen as a great power acting to safeguard its interests.
 
Third, Russia’s historical consciousness
Ukraine is situated on the European plains. It shares a long border with Russia; these European plains are flatlands that have historically provided excellent ground for invading armies moving towards Moscow. Thus, Russia has historically seen armies from the West through the Ukrainian plains. The Polish, Swedes, Napoleon, and even Hitler had used the same geographically favorable stretch for their campaigns against Russia. Additionally, the border of Russia with Ukraine is porous, which increases its vulnerability to attacks. Moreover, Russia’s concerns were aroused by the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia and further highlighted in 2008 when NATO recognized the aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia for membership. 
 
Fourth, Ethnocultural links & the importance of Sevastopol port
The other consideration is the ethnocultural links of Russia with Eastern Ukraine. The Russian-speaking population is now vast, especially in eastern Ukraine, Crimea, and Odesa. The Sevastopol port is currently Russia’s only all-weather port. Moreover, this port enables Russia to reach the Mediterranean Sea. Russia aspires to be a maritime power, and therefore it is willing to do whatever it needs to safeguard Crimea for its national interests. Thus, applying moral considerations is pointless as Putin did what was best for his country and for the people with similar ethnocultural links. 
 
Fifth, the importance of the Minsk agreement
The Minsk agreement was introduced to check Russian-backed separatists’ expansion and bring a ceasefire in the Donbas region. Under the agreement, there were lines of control and contacts, and artillery and heavy machinery would move some distance away from those lines creating a demilitarized zone. The significant part of the agreement was how it was decided that Ukraine would change its constitution and grant autonomous status to the Donbas area. It was further decided that there would be local elections in the region after the regional government got a federal status within Ukraine. The Russians saw the agreement as a medium for a buffer zone in Ukraine on Moscow’s borders. France and Germany brokered the agreement with Russia and Ukraine, but the agreement was not implemented. The agreement was said to undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine as it would give the region more power under the federal structure.
 
Sixth, the grievances of Russia 
The failure to implement the Minks agreement was one of the reasons why Russia had declared the two regions in eastern Ukraine as autonomous. Apart from that since 1990 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the bloc rapidly moved to include most of the countries in Europe under its security umbrella. This contrasted with the promises that western leaders had made to Gorbachev in 1990. Besides, Russia is also concerned about how the European countries were testing and developing more lethal and far-ranging weaponry that was also being used in NATO. This up-gradation of weapons had directly accelerated Russia’s arms race. 

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