Turbulent Relationship Between Russia and Ukraine

The South African public joins the rest of the world, in witnessing local and international civilians (including fellow South Africans working and studying in both countries), trapped in the unfolding bilateral ongoing saga between Russia and the Ukraine alongside their respective allies. What is new in this contemporary dispute, is that previous confrontations between Russia-Ukraine, never soared to the current level, were World War 3 (WW3) seems imminent. Those misreading this current dispute, as limited to ‘European Affairs’ must think again. The involvement of multilateral institutions such as countries, who are signatory to the National Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) founded in 1949, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) should be concrete proof, of the global scale of this dispute. No amount of denialism about this contemporary global encounter, may be wished away. In order to make sense of this international relations affair, it may help to summarily backtrack into history. After the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) collapsed in 1991, the bilateral relations of its successor states navigated periods of both alliances and hostility. As one of the USSR’s successor states, Ukraine's foreign policy since the 1990’s, was particularly dominated by aspirations to ensure its sovereignty and independence, followed by a balanced cooperation with Russia, the EU and the UN.

Chronologically Crimea was part of the Russian Empire from 1783 until 1921, when the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was created. When fast-forwarding to 2014, Russia eventually annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, on the basis of a ’Revolution of Dignity’. It is for the latter reason that the UN, politically considered Crimea as part of the Ukraine. The UN’s current stance on this matter, is ambivalent. Basically the current conflict observed, emanates from the aforesaid background and the subsequent desire by Ukraine, as led by its President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to become a member of NATO. This raised a red flag for Russia’s security, given how NATO has been abused as a military tool, of the United States of America (USA). The latter is the foremost reason, which irked Russia, under President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine last week. President Putin’s Russia unleashed military force upon Ukraine, to thwart their ambition of joining NATO. Putin’s aggressive actions against Ukraine, originate from his belief that NATO was formed to subdue the then USSR, which was collapsed in 1991. President Putin regards Ukrainians as Russians but their ambition to join NATO, is seen as a proxy for NATO’s expansion to the East.

The jury is still out whether the USA and some of the NATO affiliated countries encouraged Ukraine to join NATO, in order to subsequently neutralize Russia in the immediate future. As initiators, their political calculations may have been that they did so in anticipation of President Putin’s current invasion of Ukraine. If correct then the latter means that the nefarious tactics, associated with the Cold War (1947-1989) are being revived. This may be a proxy war whence Ukrainians bear the initial brunt. NATO under the instructions of USA, seems hell-bent on expanding eastwards. This expansion to the east, rightfully threatens Russia because it had been agreed in the past for NATO, not to expand eastward. NATO is in violation of that agreement. In the event that Ukraine was to join NATO, Russia has every right to be worried because Ukraine’s geographic location, will make it a very strategic member of NATO, for easy access into Russia. We may pause here and recall for a moment the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when the USA objected to the USSR’s planting of ballistic missiles in Cuba. Awareness of the latter, must thus expose how the USA are hypocrites.

If one takes NATO’s position in as far as wanting to arm Ukraine, so that it can defend itself against Russia, this conflict will then be protracted. If Russia manages to take control of Kyiv, it will be bolstered to withstand Ukraine forces and make it hard, for NATO to penetrate forward. Unfortunately this may be one of the inevitable realities, if current peace negotiations between the Russian and Ukrainian officials drag on. President Putin is wary of NATO’s intention, to arm Ukraine that is why he will not stop attacking, until there is an agreement between him and President Zelenskyy. As it stands, President Putin will not allow Ukraine to join NATO, this evokes Article 5 of the NATO Treaty which addresses ‘Collective Defence’. The latter states that “an attack on a NATO member is an attack on all”. This clause compels USA and its allies, to directly be involved. At least Russia will count upon the aide of China, Belarus, Iran, North Korea, Serbia, India and Brazil. Embarrassingly most of the foreign Policy positions of the bulk of the Global South states, remain ambiguous. Observably South Africa was one of the 35 countries that abstained from voting this week, from the total of 193 UN Member states, on the motion ‘to demand Russia to withdraw from Ukraine’.

At present the economic sanctions, imposed on Russia by the USA and EU were expected. These sanctions will certainly harm Russia’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), with the same harm extending to EU members states and beyond. For example Germany, depends on Russia for gas. Russia has responded, that it will issue a statement on how it plans to counter the sanctions against it. Let’s recall that Russia also exports 40% of oil to EU members and also 40% of coal. Discrimination in sports also reared its ugly head, the International Federation of Association of Football (FIFA) headquartered in Switzerland, alongside the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) banned Russia and its respective athletes from its fixtures. Has FIFA ever banned USA for its fatal attacks upon Iraqis, Afghans, Somalis, Syrians, Libyans and numerous others? Has apartheid Israel ever been sanctioned, for torturing vulnerable Palestinians? Lest we forget on our home front, Apartheid South Africa was sanctioned until 1992. Once again the application of International law, may be herein evoked.

Suggestions by EU members to impose a no fly zone over Ukraine will anger the Kremlin, who will view such a move as an attack on Russia. Unless President Zelenskyy accedes to Russia’s demand, not to join NATO and the EU, then President Putin’s end game will be to oust President Zelenskyy and replace him with a Ukrainian regime, loyal to Russia. President Putin’s remarks this week, about Russia’s nuclear weapons, being placed on high alert, signals a point of no retreat. The West has thus far, blocked ‘Russia TV’ (RT). This ought to explain why the Multichoice owned Digital Satellite Television (DSTV), in South Africa has also blocked RT. President Putin has issued a stout warning, that any threat to Russia will be addressed accordingly. Is there any more proof needed, to anticipate an imminent WW3? Russia is listed as second (after USA), in nuclear power. Although Russia’s defence minister Sergey Shoygu stated, that there will be no winner in a nuclear war, Belarus and Iran as Russia’s allies have flirted, to resume their nuclear programmes. It must be noted that all states (including Russia and USA), that have enhanced their nuclear programmes, have violated the Treaty of the Nuclear of Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1968. Cool heads must prevail, until then let’s spare a thought for all the casualties.