Context:

Recently, there was a stand-off between Russia and Ukraine capturing headlines in the international news media. This geopolitical situation appears to be complex due to the indirect involvement of its multiple stakeholders, including the United States, Turkey and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Important Foreign policies and developments)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Russia – Ukraine crisis
  2. Sea of Azov Conflict
  3. Who Controls Donbas?
  4. Recent Developments
  5. Conclusion: For a peaceful resolution

About the Russia – Ukraine crisis

  • Despite being an independent country since 1991, as the former Soviet republic Ukraine has been perceived by Russia as being part of its sphere of influence.
  • Ukraine was one of the republics within the USSR during the cold war days, and has remained a strong ally of Russia ever since, till 2013.
  • While it was planning to sing an association agreement with the European Union in 2013, Russia sternly objected to it, leading to tensions.
  • Russia subsequently annexed “Crimea” (Russian speaking province in Ukraine) by force and declared its sovereignty over it with people’s support.
  • The Russo-Ukrainian War is an ongoing and protracted conflict between Russia and Ukraine that began in 2014, centred around the status of the Ukrainian regions of Crimea and Donbas.
  • The resultant conflict has so far claimed about 10,000 lives and displaced millions with no lasting resolution in sight.
  • Though the 2014-15 Minsk peace accords prohibited air strikes and heavy artillery firing, the dispute still prevails as a low-intensity combat.

Sea of Azov Conflict

  • The Sea of Azov is a shallow body of water that Ukraine shares with Russia.
  • Its only access to the open seas is through the Kerch Strait, which connects it to the Black Sea.
  • After Crimea’s annexation in 2014, Russia gained control over both sides of the Kerch strait.
  • In May 2018, Russian opened a 12-mile-long bridge over the Kerch Strait, which has also become the physical gateway to the Sea of Azov.
  • To prevent the Ukrainian boats from passing under the bridge, Russia placed a cargo ship below it.
  • In late September, two Ukrainian vessels had successfully travelled from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, exercising Ukraine’s maritime rights under international law.
  • Recently, three more Ukrainian vessels attempted to make the same journey.
  • But the Russian coast guard intercepted the Ukrainians saying that unlike the previous passage, the Ukrainian vessels had failed to request permission and ignored orders to stop.
  • However, Ukraine insists that the patrol of the Kerch Strait was authorised under a bilateral agreement with Moscow.
  • Thus, the naval skirmish over the Sea of Azov proves again the Russia’s irreversibility of its annexation of Crimea.

Who Controls Donbas?

  • Pro-Russian separatist groups attacked pro-government troops in Donetsk and Luhansk (Donbas) regions in Feb. 2014. The two regions are densely populated by Russian-origin people.
  • According to the Kyiv administration, the separatists received significant weapons and ammunition from Russia.
  • The separatists claimed two so-called states, named Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, through a so-called referendum on May 11, 2014.
  • Russian military vehicles and heavy weapons entered Donbas from the Russian-Ukrainian border, where the Kyiv administration lost control. This situation, which Russia denied, was also included in the reports of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Recent Developments

  • From the beginning of April 2021, Moscow has allegedly deployed thousands of troops as well as tanks and artillery near Ukraine’s eastern border. It has also mobilised troops in the annexed Black Sea region of Crimea.
  • This was enough to send a shock wave among the political elite in Ukraine, forcing them to appeal to the U.S. and NATO and ask for an intervention, if needed.
  • In April 2021, NATO Secretary General invited Ukrainian Foreign Minister to the NATO headquarters for a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission on the security situation in Ukraine.
  • It was reaffirmed that NATO would continue to provide significant political and practical support to Ukraine.
  • Besides powerful rhetoric from NATO, Ukraine seems to be desperate to receive more commitments and concrete actions.
  • The Ukrainian President has also used the current tension as an opportunity to push for NATO membership, arguing that ‘this is the only way to end the war in Donbas’.

Russia’s moves

  • Arguably, the cornerstone of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is insufficient communication, especially on the part of Russia. A deficit of explicit messages from Moscow creates room for misinterpretations and exaggerations on the part of Ukraine and its western supporters.
  • From the Russian perspective, the current ‘military build-up’ can be viewed as another round of muscle flexing and an attempt to perpetuate the narrative of a powerful and capable Russia.

Conclusion: For a peaceful resolution

  • All the stakeholders in the ongoing crisis should focus on establishing a constructive dialogue among themselves using clear and unambiguous language.
  • The only way forward is to seek a peaceful resolution to the Russia-Ukraine conflict rather than exacerbating the reality and using quid pro quo tactics.
  • Both countries do need support from the global community, but not in a military form. There is a need for a platform (similarly to the Minsk Agreements) that will facilitate negotiation, mutual consensus and possible compromises, as well as engagement with mediators.
  • The long-term solution should be sought out in order to break the vicious cycle of animosity and misunderstanding.

-Source: The Hindu

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