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Dhaka Tribune

A way out?

Assessing the best way out of the Ukraine crisis

Update : 24 Mar 2022, 01:39 AM

It has been several weeks since Russia sent its troops inside the territory of Ukraine -- which Vladimir Putin declared a "peacekeeping mission." The US and its allies, on the other hand, condemned this as an invasion of an independent country, and also responded by imposing sanctions of various types to weaken the Russian economy, and attempted to isolate it from the rest of the world.

Now the question is: How to end this war?

From the beginning of the 21st century, the core strategic interest of the US have been Asia, the Persian Gulf, and Europe. Asia became a matter of concern for them because of the rise of China as an economic power, and the Persian Gulf was a place of interest for its stock of oil.

After the cold war era, a new conflict began between the US and Russia, when the US and its European allies started to expand NATO and took initiatives to peel Ukraine away from the Soviet orbit and incorporate it into the West. Beginning with the Clinton administration, NATO has been expanding eastwards towards the border of Russia.

NATO incorporated Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in 1999, and then the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), Romania, and Bulgaria in 2004. Russia from the mid-90s adamantly opposed NATO's expansion.

However, Russia was unable to resist that expansion as it was probably not strong enough to confront NATO at that time.

The crisis intensified at the end of the Bucharest Summit on April 3, 2008, when a declaration was issued that said, "NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro Atlantic aspiration for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO."

In response, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said, "Georgia’s and Ukraine’s membership in the alliance is a huge strategic mistake which will have serious consequences for pan-Europe security." Russian leaders interpreted this gesture as a "direct threat" to their nation.

Russia strongly opposed the "open-door policy" of NATO, and Putin announced military operations in self-defence if required. Following that, Russia and Georgia got into a war in August 2008. It was a clear warning against NATO’s expansion closer to the Russian border.

Russia was facing a direct threat not only from NATO expansion but also from the economic expansion of the European Union. While NATO, as a military institution, absorbed the entire security belt of Russia, the European Union was on a mission to integrate the economy of Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the Baltic states.

The crisis escalated even further when the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Yanukovych, fled the country on February 22, 2014 to Russia over a political upheaval and strong protest. Russia believed that the western plots were behind that coup.

Russia saw that move as a western attempt to take Ukraine away from Russia and make it a part of the West. Russia responded immediately and aggressively and annexed Crimea on March 18, 2014.

The US, the European Union, and their allies took reactive measures to weaken the Russian economy and military power imposing harsh sanctions against individuals, businesses, and officials from Russia. On the other hand, to the dismay of Moscow, the West kept strengthening the newly appointed pro-American government in Ukraine with economic ties and military arsenals. 

Russia saw that as a provocation, and the critics of American international policies viewed those actions as an attempt to expand American imperial power cornering Russia. Looking back, over the last couple of decades, the US attempted to topple regimes in many parts of the world, and put in their places pro-American governments in the name of democratically elected governments.

Russia always felt threatened by this venture. 

To secure Russian interest in the region, Vladimir Putin backed a revolt in the eastern part of Ukraine, intending to put pressure on Volodymyr Zelensky and his government. Putin wanted Zelensky to either comply with Russia, or step down and make room for a Russia-friendly government.

While the western leaders viewed Putin's initiative as his strong desire to recreate the Soviet empire, Russians considered it an act of self-defence. After years of turmoil, finally, the crisis turned into a full-fledged war when Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Though the US and European Union condemned this act, imposed harsh sanctions on Russia, and took measures to unite the international community against Russia, they refused to fight any direct war and eventually left Ukraine alone on an uneven battlefield.

Putin wanted the US and NATO to promise that they would never allow Ukraine to become a member of the NATO and EU, saying that Ukraine should be a neutral state. He also asked NATO to cease all military activity in Eastern Europe, but western leaders rejected those demands.

The present scenario of Ukraine implies that both the US and Russia will never allow Ukraine to become a neutral country, and the crisis is not going to be over very soon. Consequently, Ukrainian people who are now clearly divided into multiple groups, including pro-Russian and pro- American, will continue their struggle amidst a proxy war for a long time. 

In such a situation, the only possible way to bring peace in this region and save Ukraine from an obvious disaster is to leave Ukraine alone as a neutral state, rather than Russia controlling the Ukrainian government or the US imposing arbitrary sanctions on Russia and arming pro-American fighters in Ukraine for an insurgency.

It is high time for the rest of the world to unite to put diplomatic pressure on both NATO and Russia to stop the war, and thus save the people of Ukraine from the geopolitical game and protect the world from an economic catastrophe.

Md Kawsar Uddin is an Assistant Professor of English at the International University of Business Agriculture & Technology (IUBAT).

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