GP Insights

GP Insights # 499, 11 April 2021

Ukraine: Escalation of tensions with Russia
Chetna Vinay Bhora

What happened?
On 10 April, Ukraine's defence minister warned against Eastern Ukraine's Donbas region's Russian exacerbation as a provocation. Kyiv has raised the alarm over Russian troops' buildup along the border that separates Ukraine and Russia in Donbas. The Kremlin rebuffed accusations of the troops being a threat. 

On 9 April, Russia admonished that in the event of an attack on the Russian population in the Eastern part of the country, Moscow might intervene to protect and aid the Russian speaking residents. Ukraine argued that two of its soldiers were killed due to the shooting by the pro-Russian separatists. According to the open-source intelligence reports, the satellite images showcase an increased presence of tanks, artilleries and short-range ballistic missiles transported to just 150 miles from Ukraine. The Ukrainian President has implored NATO to set up a membership path for Ukraine to join the military alliance to stop the confrontations with Russia. 

What is the background?
First, the conflict since 2014. The Russian intrusion in the region set in a significant rift with the West, propelling the European Union and the US to impose sanctions on Russia. The situation in Ukraine intensified into an international crisis, with the US-EU deadlock against Russia after a Malaysian Airplane was shot down at Ukrainian airspace, killing all passengers on board. In 2015, France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine undertook the mantle to broker a ceasefire through the Minsk Accords. 

Second, NATO's entry. In 2016, NATO disclosed that the alliance would set up four battalions in Eastern Europe to avert possible future Russian aggravation, particularly in the Baltics. However, efforts to reach a diplomatic compensation and assuaging resolution have been unsuccessful. 

Third, an increased focus of the US, under Biden. In April 2021, Biden's administration pointed out that the latest US-Russia friction is due to the military buildup in the region, disputes over arms control and human rights issues. Biden had extended "unwavering support" to the Ukrainian President in his confrontation with Russia. Subsequently, on a call, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany urged that Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull his troops back to mitigate the situation. 

What does it mean? 
Russia has been building its military presence in the region, causing instability. One of the objectives is to ensure that Ukraine does not side away with the EU or NATO and drain the Russian earnings from the region. Ukraine has also been an important location for the former USSR and now Russia in the post-cold war period. 

The intervention is also meant to support the pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine. Putin has been backing the rebels to maintain a perpetual separatist crisis, maintain clout over the Ukrainian government, and encroach the region as he did in Crimea. 

The recent developments do not clarify the Russian move; it could just be an intimidation tactic or a prelude to a major escalation. However, the massive troop movements and the antagonistic attitude have caused a ripple in Kyiv and the other Western capitals.  The US and NATO will be obligated by Article 5 of the NATO treaty to retaliate. This could escalate into a war between Russia and the United States, and its NATO allies.

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