russia news ukraine: Russia has reached the point of no return in its conflict with Ukraine

The international crisis created by Russia over NATO’s eastward expansion has brought Europe to its most critical moment since the dissolution of the state of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

At first glance, the crisis appears contrived in that there is no obvious NATO threat to the Russians. But why did Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov choose this moment to issue an ultimatum to NATO and its most powerful member, the United States?

There are several interrelated reasons.

First, the Ukrainian presidency of Volodymyr Zelensky, elected in the spring of 2019, was a big disappointment for Russians.

Moscow welcomed the departure of Petro Poroshenko, the president installed after the civil uprisings of 2013-2014.

Poroshenko had campaigned in the election on a platform of “nation, church and army,” a patriotic stance that was openly hostile to Russia.

Poroshenko, according to Putin, had ignored Ukraine’s commitment to the 2015 Minsk Accords which ended heavy fighting in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

In particular, he had failed to offer autonomy to the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, currently divided between Ukrainian control in the west and separatist regimes in the east.

A new era?

His loss to Zelensky, a young Russian-speaking Jewish comedian with no prior political experience, seems to herald a new era, moving away from what Russians perceived as a headlong rush to the West.

From the outset, however, Zelensky made it clear that he would continue the policy laid down by his predecessor. Additionally, Zelensky cracked down on Russian supporters inside his country, shut down a popular pro-Russian website, and placed leading pro-Russian political figure Viktor Medvedchuk under house arrest.

Second, the United States, with a relatively new President Joe Biden, appears to be the weakest in some time.

The Americans and their allies withdrew from Afghanistan chaotically soon after Biden took office, leaving behind a population they had supported for the previous 20 years.

Biden’s predecessor, Donald J. Trump, withdrew US troops from Syria, leaving the territory to Russians and Syrians under the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad.

Putin is a proponent of the “spheres of interest” worldview that places Ukraine squarely within his region. With this mindset, the United States adheres to the Monroe Doctrine which ensures geopolitical and economic control over the Americas, so why would the United States defend Ukraine, a country outside the alliance of the United States? NATO and former member of the Soviet Union?

Inexplicably, from the Russian perspective, the United States supplied Ukraine with offensive weapons in 2017. Together with NATO allies, it also sent several battleships to the Black Sea in 2021, which sailed near the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.

Third, this conflict concerns Putin’s obsession with Ukraine, a nation whose independence he never accepted. If Ukraine joins NATO, it will leave the Russian world, just as Poland joined the defensive alliance in 1999 and the Baltic states in 2004. Putin argues that Ukraine represents his “red line” that the West must not cross.

Pro-democracy uprisings

Over the past two years, Putin’s world has begun to fall apart. In Belarus, another Slavic neighbor, mass protests against pro-Russian President Alexander Lukashenko took place for several months after the August 2020 presidential elections.

Lukashenko’s main rival, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, likely won the election, but she fled to Lithuania after the vote. She visited European capitals seeking support from European Union states and the United Kingdom to support democracy in Belarus.

In late 2021, mass protests also took place against the government of Kazakhstan, implicitly directed against former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a once powerful leader and reliable ally of Russia.

In Belarus and Kazakhstan, the uprisings have failed, but discontent persists in both states and they depend on Russian support. Russia once again attributes the instability to Western interference.

Reverse ?

In Ukraine, Russia intends to reverse the trend. He gathered thousands of troops on the eastern and northern borders of Ukraine and moved troops into Belarus.

The so-called Allied Resolve military drills are set to take place soon in southwest Belarus, very close to the Ukrainian border – an alleged response to around 10,000 US military personnel currently based in the Baltic states and Poland.

In addition to troop movements, Russia presented its latest state-of-the-art weaponry.

Whether Russia intends a full-scale attack on Ukraine, including its capital Kiev, or a partial incursion that could see advances in Donbass is a moot point.

What is clear is that he will not just talk and there will be another attack on Ukraine in the coming weeks. Indeed, withdrawing troops would be humiliating for a president who relies on machismo to bolster his popular support.

Russian leaders have reached a point of no return.

(This article is syndicated by PTI from The Conversation)

Christi C. Elwood