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Russia - Ukraine Conflict by Tarun Kumar

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is a complex affair and a result of a series of historical moments, broken promises, mistrust, and suspicion on both sides - west and east. Russia became self-governing while Ukraine gained independence in August 1991 and Belarus a few months later. A couple of years earlier, the political landscape had also changed in central Europe with the reunification of Germany, which signaled the end of the Cold War. From 1922 until recently, Ukraine was an outpost of the federal Soviet Union, governed by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). That changed with the dissolution of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s. Between 16 November 1988 and 26 December 1991, the USSR ceased to become a sovereign state, and a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was formed.

The origins of the present conflict and the Russian invasion of Ukraine can be traced back to the expansion of NATO, the military alliance formed in 1949 under the North Atlantic Treaty. It was an initiative designed to “safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of the peoples” following the widespread destruction during World War II.

However, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and German reunification, NATO’s purpose had to be reviewed. On 9th February 1990, at a meeting in Moscow, the US Secretary of State James Baker assured Gorbachev that NATO’s forces “would not expand an inch eastward” or act as a threat to Russia or the newly independent states under CIS, former Soviet states. However, just nine years after that meeting, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary - three former members of the Warsaw Pact, were accepted as members of NATO. As far as Moscow was concerned, NATO and the US had broken their promise.

NATO has an open-door policy. Through this, any non-member states are free to join if they meet the alliance’s criteria and their submission is approved by the rest of the existing member states.

Russia and NATO have cooperated on several issues such as the fight against terrorism but the Kremlin has always resisted the chance to join and, relationships between the two deteriorated after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Meanwhile, Ukraine along with Georgia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, is actively seeking to become members of NATO. This is what has irked Putin and the Kremlin, who feel that their national security would be compromised. Ukraine was invited to join NATO at the Bucharest summit in April 2008. A statement read: “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO”.

After decades of mistrust, President Putin doesn’t want NATO on his doorstep. Before ordering invasion, this he said in a televised address to the nation. “Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood. Modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia, more precisely, Bolshevik, communist Russia. This process began immediately after the revolution of 1917.

If Ukraine was to join NATO, it would serve as a direct threat to the security of Russia. They try to convince us over and over again that NATO is a peace-loving and purely defensive alliance, saying that there are no threats to Russia. Again, they propose that we take them at their word. But we know the real value of such words”.

Although some commentators have suggested that Putin launched the military assault to reclaim Ukraine as part of a broader plan to reconstruct the old Soviet Union. In the most recent broadcast, Putin justified the Russian invasion, describing it not as an invasion to occupy Ukraine but as “a special military occupation” and to “demilitarize and neutralize” the threat from their neighboring country. As we all know now, history is being rewritten. Although the war is not over, hopefully, good sense prevails.

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