Ukraine crisis: Continual military build-up from Russia raises fears of geopolitical risk amid border tension

Moscow has criticised the NATO and the US allies for providing weapons to Ukraine and holding joint military drills, saying it may encourage Ukraine to try to force its entry into rebel-held areas

FP Staff January 27, 2022 21:05:53 IST
Ukraine crisis: Continual military build-up from Russia raises fears of geopolitical risk amid border tension

A convoy of Russian armored vehicles moves along a highway in Crimea, on 18 January, 2022. AP

The continued military build-up from Russia along the Ukraine border has the world on its toe for a possible geopolitical crisis in the region.

Fearful of a potential ground invasion from Russia, NATO allies have also stepped up help for Kyiv by sending troops and military support to Ukraine.

Also read: India asks its citizens in Kyiv to register as Russia-Ukraine border tensions escalate

While Moscow has defended its actions as necessary for its security interests, Ukraine fears Russia is trying to destabilise the country.

Even though tensions have been ripe between the neighbouring nations for more than seven years, with the recent developments the possibility of another war cannot be denied.

Let’s take a deep dive into the Russia-Ukraine border issue, what has triggered it now and how the world is reacting:

What is the Russia-Ukraine conflict

Once a part of the Russian empire, Ukraine gained independence as the USSR broke up in 1991.

In late 2013, violent protests erupted in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, after a political and trade deal with the European Union was rejected by pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych reportedly in favour of closer ties with Moscow.

While Yanukovych was removed as leader in 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula on the pretext of defending the interests of Russian-speaking citizens.

According to a report by Al Jazeera, Moscow also indirectly supported a separatist rebellion, which it claimed to be volunteers, in the country’s eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The pro-Russian rebels established two authoritarian "People's Republics" where dozens of concentration camps were being run and death penalty was restored.

The months of heavy fighting between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists led to the death of more than 14,000 people, according to Al Jazeera.

As per UN figures, more than 3,000 civilians have died in eastern Ukraine in conflict since March 2014.

Even though Moscow and Kyiv signed a peace deal in Minsk in 2015, brokered by France and Germany, ceasefire violations across the border never completely stopped.

Moscow has criticised the NATO and the US allies for providing weapons to Ukraine and holding joint military drills, saying it may encourage Ukraine to try to force its entry into rebel-held areas.

Russia has also accused Ukraine of violating the Minsk ceasefire agreement.

Since the 2014 upheaval, Ukraine has upgraded its weaponry with the help from the US and NATO allies. The country has also boosted domestic production of arms over the last seven years.

Why the current escalation

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed concerns over NATO and Ukraine’s increasingly friendly relations. According to a report by CNN, Moscow sees NATO’s growing support for Ukraine as a threat to its own security.

Russia has also accused Ukraine of increasing its own troop numbers in an attempt to retake the Donbas region, a claim Ukraine has denied.

The current situation started escalating as early as last December when as per reports Russia had amassed more than 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border and in annexed Crimea.

Putin has also called for legal agreements that would restrict any further NATO expansion towards Russia’s borders. However, NATO’s continuous involvement with Ukraine has Russia seeing red.

Also read: Five reasons why Russia might invade Ukraine and why the US want to get involved

According to CNN, Putin has said that the deployment of sophisticated weapons like missile systems in Ukraine would be crossing a "red line" for Russia.

Putin has also said that NATO deploying sophisticated weapons in Ukraine, such as missile systems, would be crossing a "red line" for Russia, amid concern in Moscow that Ukraine is being increasingly armed by NATO powers.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in November that Ukraine was receiving weapons and military advisers from the US and other NATO member states.

"And all this, of course, leads to a further aggravation of the situation on the border line," he said as per CNN.

In response, the Ukrainian government has insisted that Moscow cannot prevent Kyiv from building closer ties with NATO if it chooses.

"Russia cannot stop Ukraine from getting closer with NATO and has no right to have any say in relevant discussions," the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement to CNN.

Even though Ukraine is not a NATO member, it is considered a partner of the alliance.

The current situation

The US on Wednesday rejected Russia's key demand to bar Ukraine from NATO and said it believed Moscow was ready to invade but offered what it called a new "diplomatic path" out of the crisis.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would speak again in the coming days to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whom he met Friday in Geneva, as a separate initiative by France brought a promise by Moscow at least to keep talking to Ukraine's government.

One month after Russia put forward sweeping security proposals, having sent tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine's border, the US delivered a reply in coordination with NATO allies and said it was ready for any eventuality.

"It sets out a serious diplomatic path forward should Russia choose it," Blinken told reporters of the US response, which he said would remain confidential.

Blinken made clear that the United States would not budge on Russia's core demand that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO, the US-backed military alliance.

"From our perspective, I can't be more clear - NATO's door is open, remains open, and that is our commitment," Blinken said.

Meanwhile, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia would not "rush into assessments", saying it would take "time to analyse" the response.

The Pentagon has also put 8,500 troops on standby in case Russia invades Ukraine. Although Russia has denied its possibility for now.

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has said that they were hoping and working for a good solution, which would de-escalation, they are also “prepared for the worst”.

With inputs from agencies

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