“Putin’s Soviet Ambitions”: The Return of the Cold War
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 26 Mar , 2015

Vladimir Putin

Ukraine is situated in the Eastern part of Europe bordering Belarus, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia and Slovakia. It is home to almost 44.3 million citizens (it grows to 45.4 million if we include Crimea). Territorially it is the largest country in Europe. After the fall of Soviet Union, Ukraine has maintained closer economic ties with Russia, and an estimated Ukrainian exports to Russia is 15.8million USD every year. It accounts for  about 5% of the total Russia’s imports – the largest among the commonwealth of Independent nations and overall fourth largest. Ukraine is also a pipeline state which connects Russia’s gas supply to the west. One of the Russia’s five divisions in the Russian Navy, the Black Sea Fleet, is stationed at Svetsapol, Crimea.

The crisis began with the interference of Russia in the internal politics of Ukraine followed by the involvement of “green men” in assisting the separatists to claim independence…

Historically speaking, Ukraine is divided into two fronts, the Western and the Eastern fronts, which differs in ethnic compositions, political workings and identity. The Eastern part of the nation comprises Russian speaking majority, while the western part comprises of Polish, Moldovan and Hungarian speaking communities followed by other minorities, all under the Ukrainian identity. The division in two separate dominions has been a major factor in issues, such as strengthening Ukrainian as the national language, which has been discussed many times in the Ukrainian parliament and is the key factor dividing the nation into two. This divide has been actively noted after the coming of pro western government in the centre, which won an undisputed majority in the eastern part. This divide is the “deep root” of the current conflict.

On August 24th, 1991 Ukraine gained its independence. It was very close to Russia when Leonid Kuchma was in power. After the end of Kuchma’s term, Ukraine saw two candidates, vastly different from each other, instituting different policies and different  methodologies, Viktor Yushchenko, widely known for his pro western attitude, and Victor Yanukovych, who was very keen in continuing relationship with Russia.

Yanukovych the pro Russian candidate took power in 2010 while pledging the people of Ukraine for stronger ties with Russia. He was leading in the second poll, which took place in the November 2014, the same time when protests in the nation began. Yanukovych leading the polls was questioned by local media sources followed by Ukrainians. This sparked protests in the country.

The recent events stretch back to 2013 when, under intense pressure from Russia, the then Ukrainian president refused to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which would have benefitted Russia with a free trade corridor. The agreement saw immense protests in Maidan Nesalezhhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev which later on escalated to a full scale revolution. Russia condemned the protestors for their actions and described them as new Nazis while EU and the US government supported the Euromaidan protestors. This sparked the wave of civil unrest, massive demonstrations against the Yanukovych government. In February 2014, 77 protestors were shot dead in the Independence Square which led to the ousting of president, and later on he escaped to Russia, as the government – opposition agreement was on way.

According to NATO, Russia moved its troops to the separatist-occupied territories.The Russian Government however denied this action. This action increased tensions further and turned into an escalated form of Cold War.

Events were intensive in the March of 2014, when “Little Green Men”, soldiers of unknown origins (which were later assumed to be Russian), entered Crimea and helped the local separatist movements to take power, while conducting a political referendum in the region. This referendum resulted in Crimea being “illegally” annexed by Russian authorities. This was deemed illegitimate by the Ukrainian government followed by the US and the western powers, as it was a clear violation of Budapest agreement of 1994 that took place between US, UK and Russia, guaranteeing territorial integrity of Ukraine. This had to be stopped, so EU and the US imposed economic sanctions on Russia. The success of separatist movement in Crimea was a moment of inspiration for other separatists groups in Ukraine, especially those in Donetsk and Luhansk which were now motivated to draft their own agenda’s. This caused massive outbreak along the Russian border, and when, Petro Poroshenko, a businessman turned politician, won the presidential election of May 2014, who had massive support from the EU and the West, military actions grew intense in these breakaway regions. The issue intensified when a commercial Airliner MH 17 was shot down over the Donetsk region, killing all crew and 298 passengers on board. This drew enormous media attention followed by attention of the UN and the EU. More economic sanctions were imposed on Russia.

The issue of “allegedly Crimean accession” was discussed numerous times in the United Nations Security and General Assembly sessions. The resolution (A/RES/68/262) was passed in the General Assembly strictly advising member nations not to recognise any alternations. Amid heated arguments UNSC seemed to be controlled on the discussion as it only passed the resolution condemning the shooting of MH17 (S/RES/2166 (2014))18 in several press meetings as the resolution pertaining the situation in Crimea was vetoed by the Russian Federation.

Unclaimed and Undenied– The Struggle for Donetsk and Luhansk

The situation in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk began intensive in 2014, when protestors which were claimed by the media was pro western, occupied numerous buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv (although the situation was not as violent as the other two). Protestors largely inspired by the Crimean accession demanded independence from Ukraine and requested Russia’s succession. In May the separatists proclaimed themselves as the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’. These newly formed governments held referendum and declared independence. They also requested Russia’s support. No acknowledgment was sent by the Russian authorities nor it was discussed in the Russian parliament. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, did, however, admit to provide assistance to the separatists.

It is also important to look at the fact that all the players in this game of dominance are equipped with nuclear arsenal…

In May 2014, the newly elected Ukrainian president, Pedro Poroshenko, established military operations in these regions, including the seizure of the airport in Donetsk, leading to heavy casualties on both sides. Throughout May and June, separatist groups expanded their territories, and occupied two strategic military bases in the Luhansk region and shot down several Ukrainian military planes.

The EU–Ukraine Agreement was signed on 27th June which angered a lot of pro Russian supporters while violating the previously adopted ceasefire. After heavy casualties on both sides, Ukraine authorities were able to recapture military and strategic installations in the region. Angered by their losses, the separatists retaliated by shooting down Ukrainian aircrafts. On July 17th, the separatists shot down the commercial airliner MH17, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala-Lumpur, with 298 people on board. The plane was shot down with a Soviet made anti aircraft weapon which made it difficult to identify the source. However a preliminary report suggested that the plane was shot down by mistake and no Russian involvement was found. This attracted international communities as international media began criticising Russia’s “Vodka policy”. Amid immense criticism from the global communities, EU and the US imposed more sanctions on Russia.

The United Nations Security Council meeting was convened on 24th October 2014, in the presence of Assistant Secretary General of Human rights Ivan Šimonović, who submitted his report on current civilian casualties. He informed the Council that the death toll during the conflict had risen to 3700 which was increasing than the previous estimated account of 2200 victims. By November 2014, the death toll had risen to 4400 people with over 9000 injured and million displaced. In his address to the UNSC session on October 14th, he advised the members “to work towards this urgent issue speedily before it consumes the whole nation” as the progress was too slow to handle an already escalated situation.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anant Mishra

is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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8 thoughts on ““Putin’s Soviet Ambitions”: The Return of the Cold War

  1. It is time for us to look at the Ukraine from an INDIAN perspective. After breakup of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved. However NATO, a military pact, continued to expand eastwards – aimed at whom? When I questioned the commander of the Leningrad Military district as to what would be Russia’s reaction if Ukraine joined NATO, his simple reply was that contingency plans were in place. Our conversation was in 1999: but the subsequent events have validated the Commander’s remarks to me. If Russia sees the eastwards expansion of NATO as a military threat – it is indeed a valid point. Suppose China were to position armoured, artillery and infantry divisions in Mexico, what would be the US response? The US sees developments in far away Syria as a threat to their country, but Russia must not see a NATO-sponsored Ukraine as a threat. This position is indeed absurd. India enjoys cordial relations with both Russia and the Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine must unilaterally sort out the problem – both do need one another in the long-term.

  2. With the breakup of the Soviet Union the cold war should have officially ended. The Russian State became busy in mending its political structure and integrating its economy with the world. The NATO began consolidating its self while the Bear slept. NATO took the first steps to move in to the Baltics. They encouraged the mess in the Balkans. As was usual American led NATO only bungled where ever they stepped in. Look at the American involvement across the globe, where ever they went and left they left a big mess behind which festers on till today. Russia was content with itself resolving its internal issues. Ukraine is a strategically located state between Europe and Russia. It’s a dual door which can open either way. Its territory can be used both ways, either to step into Europe or into Russia. It had a strategic position best left to neutrality. It was the European Union egged on by USA which used its leverage in the NATO to create a situation of instability in Ukraine in order to integrate Ukraine with NATO. Integration with European Union is in real fact integration with NATO and in real sense with the USA. The real powder keg was Crimea going the NATO way, strategically bottling the only warm water access that Russia ever had. That was the real danger and that’s what woke up Russia. It was an obvious thing to do – grab Crimea which the Russians did and did so rightly. So how does Russia stop NATO in its track from crossing the threshold of neutrality? Create internal turmoil in Ukraine and mobilise Russian Army on the Borders of Ukraine. Which they did. The Russians have just made the right moves that any self-respecting country would do. It’s the American belligerence that putting the region on the boil, it wasn’t the Russians that spooked the ghosts of the cold war and woke up the Russian Bear. So whose ambition is it – Putins or NATO (USA). Putin only reacted.

  3. The author as mentioned in previous comments is seriously “CNN news based”
    Get out of NY, UN rep and watch some unbiased news.

    Have you ever given the thought why the so-called PEACE keeping FORCE NATO is encircling Russia since its inception?
    The Orange Revolution and all the other protest in Ukraine was CIA plot, just like Arab Storm.
    When Russia does a military exercise in Russian territory Jen Psaki says its “Russian Aggression” whereas US doing the same thousands of kilometers away from home in Russian bordering countries its PEACE KEEPING exercise?
    Please do some good research beforehand when you write about Russia / Ukraine.

  4. The author is a Pro-Congressy for sure. The West inspired view of the conflict is what can only be expected from such type of people. He likes reading Western newspapers is very much evident from this article. I would request him to atleast try to witness the scenario from the Russian perspective. It was the West which had facilitated the Maidan uprising. They never wanted Russia to get any support and stand again. When NATO has already reached its borders, do u want Russia to be just a sitting duck and do nothing. As long as Ukraine was neutral, it was fine. But if u join a block A against the wishes of another block B, the block A is always going to do anything to protect itself.Ukraine is right on Russia’s border. It will not let Ukraine slip from its hold anymore.
    Russia has helped India the most since independence. Its time to pay the debt back, and not be selfish about being weakened. It was US which had threatened us with nuclear attack in 1971, and it was Russia which came to our support. Have we forgotten everything so quickly??

    We are a future superpower and should have separate relations with all countries, but in Indian culture, we stick with our friends and don’t abandon them in hard times. Now it is India’s times to show our support to Russia.

  5. It is hoped that the Indian policy planner tread the waters carefully. The cold war between Russia and the West will have only one outcome. Russia will be bankrupt and the West will continue to progress to prosperity. India must never become part of the Russian cold war. It has already paid a huge price in terms of lost opportunities and impoverishment of its masses over the last sixty years. During this same period China raced forward to become number two power in the world by joining the Western free market leaving India in the dust. India embraced pseudo neutrality and dependence on Russia for arms but today has to start from ground zero with number one priority to provide toilets to 70% of its population and then millions of other catch ups.

  6. Dear Author Cold war never ended & had a changed name Cornering War against russia followed by its allies.
    Russia was tolerating all tactics but when push came to shove it was forced to react in its national interest before it’s too late.
    west tried to support Chechnya out of Russia but Putin a very capable, shrewd, fore sighted leader did not let it happen.
    Being an Indian i ask you india s standing in world order as a sovereign independent nation without russian support.

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