Russia and Ukraine have agreed to meet for a dialogue in Belarus, to possibly find a peaceful and diplomatic end to the armed conflict. Ukraine has demanded an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of troops. But will the Russian delegation be receptive of this insistence?
“The more Putin is abusive toward this country, the more people wanna go toward NATO and the EU,” says Terell Starr, a journalist covering the conflict in Ukraine, as he hears explosions 15-20 kms away from his place.
As Russia launched a full-scale devastating attack on Ukraine sending forces across the border, Kyiv residents have been asked to stay indoors until further orders.
On February 24, during a television address, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia could not ‘feel safe’ because of some political developments in modern Ukraine.
The world is aware of the military improvisations and modernisations in the Russian armed forces, under the captainship of Putin. The entire strength of the Ukrainian army is 125, 600. Russian troops gathered at the borders of the country amount to about 190,000. Eventually, they crossed the border from multiple directions – north, east, and south – by air, land, and sea, from Russia, and Russia-annexed Crimea.
“Russia began an attack on Ukraine today. Putin began a war against Ukraine, against the entire democratic world. He wants to destroy my country, our country, everything we’ve been building, everything we are living for,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message posted on his official Facebook page.
The Historical Conflict
Ukraine became an independent nation following the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991. However, Putin has time and again emphasised the fact that Ukraine is not an independent country, and is historically a part of Russia. He believes Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians are people bounded by cultural, linguistic, and political commonalities.
Russia, in simple terms, wants Ukraine to be under its influence, and dare not think of joining North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). President Putin is certain that if Ukraine becomes a part of NATO, the Russian borders will eventually reach a point of fragility. The expansion of NATO has always been a matter of concern for Russia. Putin has some serious complaints with NATO, especially with the US, pertaining to the Iraq invasion in 2003.
Putin attributes the formation of the modern state of Ukraine to former Russian leaders like Lenin, Stalin, and Nikita Khrushchev. He believes that Ukraine, under any circumstance, shall not be disobedient to Russia. “It is possible to interpret Putin’s statement about the historical genesis of the Ukrainian state as self-serving history and a way of saying, ‘we created them, and we can take them back’. But ironically, his recent actions have driven Ukrainians more tightly into the arms of the West,” said Ronald Suny, Professor of History & Political Science at the University of Michigan. According to Putin, the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the ‘greatest catastrophe of the 20th century’.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO pushed its agencies in the east, forming alliances with the eastern European nations that once belonged to the communist spectrum. Russia had some serious, unresolved grievances with regards to this.
A ceasefire agreement was signed by the two countries in 2015, however, despite it several military directives were broken. In the last eight years, the Russian government has used multiple tactics to put economic pressure on the Ukrainians, including cyberattacks. The recent issue is, in a way, only an escalation of these tactics as President Putin tries to further his agenda.
Can Ukraine Defend Itself?
According to military experts, the Ukrainian army is spread very thin across the country, putting the country in a compromising position.
Dr Jack Watling, Research Fellow at the Royal United Service Institute, and an expert in military sciences, says that the area in which Russians can gain superiority very quickly is through the air. Ukraine, according to statistics, has around 100 aircraft, while the Russians are equipped with more than 305 combat planes.
Reportedly, to solidify their defence system, Ukraine has received supplies from the US and the UK, comprising short-range air-to-air missiles and anti-tank weaponry.
Russia, on the other hand, has been working towards carrying out substantial reforms of its military forces for a long time. A study finds that the Russian military is very capable of defending its territory, and avoiding decisive engagement with a peer or near-peer competitor, with the help of state-of-the-art defensive systems and strike weapons with extended range.
In an effort to demilitarise the Ukrainians, Russia is essentially trying to destroy the army by squeezing it into one pocket, strategically blinding military leaders.
There has been a lot of debate among military strategists over whether Russia intends to take over the country, or for how long are they gonna sustain the attack. Experts believe that apart from Kyiv, the Russian military will be targeting three critical regions, including Kharkiv in the north, Mariupol in the south where a proxy war has been going on, and Odessa, a major city and Ukraine’s economic lifeline.
Explosions and gun fires have caused thousands of people to leave the capital city of Kyiv and move to subway stations. Russian soldiers have taken several towns and cities, including the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site. Russia is also targeting civilian areas, and there are tanks approaching from Belarus and Crimea. According to Ukrainian President Zelensky, the response from the West has not been quick enough. He has requested further help from the European Union.
A report by the UN’s refugee agency has claimed that about 100,000 Ukrainians have been displaced so far.
The door to diplomacy, assessing the current circumstances, seems to still be slightly ajar. “Negotiation, by definition, means communication from both sides and not an ultimatum by one side,” said Halyana Yanchenko, a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament. But it remains to be seen whether Ukraine’s requests will be granted? Or will they fall on deaf Russian ears?