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Expository Essay: Geopolitical Impact of Russia-Ukraine Crisis
The Ukraine-Russia crisis has been ongoing since 2015 when Russian President Putin scrapped a peace deal for Eastern Europe and recognized rebel-controlled areas in Ukraine as independent as retaliation for the ouster of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych (Kirby, 2022). Following this, Russia attacked and annexed Crimea. For years, Putin has denied intent to invade or attack Ukraine, despite deploying large troops near the Ukrainian border. In 2022, he went back on his word and launched an attack on Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and the Donbas (Kirby, 2022). Within a few days, hundreds of casualties and injured were reported, prompting other countries to take action to assist Ukraine and discourage Russia from pursuing an all-out war. However, despite various economic and personal sanctions, Russia has not shown any intent to stop the attack. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is politically motivated, and conversely, it has serious political ramifications. Apart from threatening Ukraine’s newly established sovereignty, Putin’s invasion also threatens the geopolitical order that world leaders have taken years to establish and maintain. This expository essay explores the implications and impact of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on international politics. In particular, the research paper shall focus on the crisis’ adverse impact on European-Russian relations, its contribution to the further breakdown of Russian-American relations, its impact in reinforcing alliances between European countries, Europe and the US, and Ukraine with Europe and the US.
Overview of the Ukraine-Russia Crisis
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a culmination of more than a decade’s worth of the Ukraine-Russia Crisis, which has been ongoing since the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90s. In exchange for its sovereignty and guarantee that Russia will not attack it, Ukraine had worked with the US and Russia to surrender to the latter its nuclear warheads (Kirby and Guyer, 2022). Despite this, however, Russia attacked and annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 (Kirby & Guyer, 2022). Putin has also acknowledged and supported the two regions held by separatists (Kirby & Guyer, 2022). Experts explain that Putin is committed to reclaiming the former Soviet Union, insisting that Ukraine and Russia are “one” (Kirby & Guyer, 2022). This explains why Putin is adamant that Ukraine not join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and has threatened offense should any country sell arms to Ukraine. Putin sees the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO, and indeed Zelenskyy’s vocal expression of his desire to join NATO, as a threat to his vision of a reunited Soviet Union under his rule.
According to Kirby and Guyer, developments in Ukrainian politics may have also prompted Putin to launch an attack. The pro-Russian president Yanukovych was replaced by Zelenskyy, who despite being a novice politician, did not cooperate with Moscow and even aligned himself with NATO and the West. The agitation this may have caused, in addition to the apparent divide between the US and other western countries after newly elected US president Joe Biden withdrew troops from Afghanistan, may have led the Russian president to believe that it is tactical to attack Ukraine.
Impact Of The Ukraine-Russia Crisis On The World
The Ukraine-Russia crisis is not an isolated event. It is interconnected with other geopolitical conflicts where more powerful countries are also involved, and therefore, with the international power dynamics. The succeeding section discusses how Putin’s invasion impacts international politics.
1. Breakdown of European-Russian Relations
Following the Cold War, Russia and Europe continued to disagree on many topics, particularly on democracy and security. While Europe helped former Communist countries transition to democracies, Russia continued to embrace an authoritarian style of leadership. While European countries maintain diplomatic relations with the transcontinental country, the European Union maintains a defensive stance to protect democracy while Russia sees the EU’s efforts as a threat to its existence.
Despite the tension caused by fundamental and ideological differences, Russia and the European Union remain dependent on each other in their energy and financial sectors. In 2018, approximately 40% of the EU’s natural gas came was imported from Russia (Popovic, 2020). Conversely, Russia is dependent on the EU’s continued exportation of its natural gases for its financial and social stability (Popovic, 2020). So, the push and pull between these two powerhouses are rather delicate.
Despite the tense relationship, Russia and Europe’s energy relationship managed to survive major international crises like the Cuban missile crisis and Russia’s invasions of Czechoslovakia, and so on (Tsafos, 2022). As a matter of fact, the two struck a deal on Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline that will deliver gas from Russia to Germany and throughout Europe in 2011 (“Nord Stream 2: How does the pipeline fit into the Ukraine-Russia crisis?”, 2022). The gas pipeline was completed in September 2021, but its operating license has been put on hold by Germany since Putin’s attack on Ukraine (“Nord Stream 2: How does the pipeline fit into the Ukraine-Russia crisis?”, 2022; Tsafos, 2022). This move by Germany sends a clear message to Putin that the European Union does not agree and will not condone his move to invade Ukraine.
However, Nord Stream 2 is just one project under the European Green Deal, which European leaders see as an opportunity to improve relations with Russia. With the crisis, Europe is hesitating with its plans to allow Russia to participate deeper in Europe’s energy sector (Tsafos, 2022). In addition to holding the permission for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, the European Union has been reported to be planning to block Russia from upgrading its oil refineries (“Ukraine: What sanctions are being imposed on Russia?, 2022”). The sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia’s energy sector evidently not only have economic impacts on Russia but also on its diplomatic relations with the EU.
The Ukraine-Russia crisis could, if it has not already, prompt the EU to seek other sources of energy and diversify its natural gas imports. Once the European Union achieves a diversified source of energy , this would greatly limit Russia’s capability to influence the former’s energy market both in the short term and the long term (Popovic, 2020). This puts Putin in an even more vulnerable position with respect to global politics and his country’s economy.
2. Breakdown of Russian-American Relations
It is quite clear that Russia’s relationship with the world is still fragile, and it has been a popular historical research topic . In many ways, Russia’s relationship with the United States mirrors that of its relationship with the European Union. The US along with the EU represent the antithesis of the Soviet Union that Putin hopes to re-establish. Tensions between the US and Russia have escalated many times in the past after the Cold War, such as with the Crimean Crisis of 2014 (Kim, 2020). Since then, American presidents have worked to avoid escalating tensions any further. However, Russian-American relations became precarious again when it was found that Russia interfered with the 2016 US presidential elections, then again in 2020 (Kim, 2020). In response to this, Biden imposed sanctions, namely the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and broad sanctions against Russian officials and companies (Roth & Borger, 2021). Nevertheless, Biden continued communications with the Russian president to manage and de-escalate tensions.
With regard to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden did not hesitate to condemn it and show his support for Ukraine. Along with the European Union and NATO countries, Biden imposed various sanctions against Russia and various Russian elites. The sanctions include freezing the assets of Russia’s central bank, banning people and businesses from dealings with the Russian central bank, removing Russian banks from the Swift messaging system to prevent the transfer of money across borders, and sanctions against key Russian individuals (“Ukraine: What sanctions are being imposed on Russia?”, 2022). In addition, the US president has sent troops to Ukrainian borders (“Ukraine: What sanctions are being imposed on Russia?”, 2022). These actions, imposed by the US and its allies swiftly, confirm the US’s alignment with NATO and the EU in protecting democracy even at the compromise of relations with Russia. This could mean the detachment of Russia from international politics.
3. Alliances Between Western Countries
Some analysts postulate that one of the reasons Putin may have invaded Ukraine in February 2022 is because he thought that relations between Europe and the United States are dwindling or, at least, unstable (Monaghan & Morcos, 2022). Some say that the move was to test the alliances between the western countries. This is following Biden’s decision to pull out troops in Afghanistan, which allowed Taliban militants to reclaim control of the country, as well as Brexit. With unstable relations between international leaders, they may not arrive at a united response swiftly.
Indeed, Biden is rebuilding diplomatic relations with its allies following what political experts labeled as a “blunder” in Afghanistan. However, the result is perhaps not what Putin expected because these western countries quickly came together and imposed economic sanctions on Russia. It may be argued that Biden may have seen the Ukraine-Russia crisis as an opportunity to strengthen damaged diplomatic relations.
Similarly, Ukraine’s alliance with the west appears to have strengthened following the invasion. Although still not yet a member of NATO, Ukraine is now being treated as an informal member. Likewise, other European countries have shown support for Ukraine in the form of providing military assistance and opening up their borders to refugees. Monaghan & Morcos (2022) claim that Europe has never shown such strong unity in history as it did during this Ukraine-Russia crisis. If this move to invade Ukraine is indeed a test of the alliances between western countries, it has indeed proven that their alliance remains strong, especially with their goal of protecting international peace. This is a crucial lesson for Russia and its allies.
4. Implications Of Unstable Borders Around the World
Given the close relations between Russia and China, many are concerned that China may take similar steps and become more aggressive toward Taiwan. In recent years, China has been increasing military assertiveness not only toward Taiwan but also around its neighboring countries, insisting on its claim on territories. However, Scobell and Stevenson-Yang explain that China is not likely to be influenced by the invasion of Ukraine. China has been treading carefully with regard to Taiwan because it is aware of the US’s commitment to helping Taiwan (Scobell & Stevenson-Yang, 2022). Despite the lack of official agreements, successive US presidents have vocalized support for Taiwan, so for China, an invasion of Taiwan would mean war against the US—something that Putin did not anticipate with Ukraine because of Ukraine’s minimal diplomatic ties with other countries.
Furthermore, the Ukraine-Russia crisis, with the unity with which western countries responded, may serve as a cautionary tale for China, as well as for other groups or individuals who may be planning to launch similar attacks on other countries. With that said, given the role that Russia plays in other conflicts, such as in Syria and Libya, it is likely that the Ukraine-Russia crisis will further complicate the situation and even potentially postpone the likelihood of arriving at a solution. Moreover, according to Aydintasbas, et al. (2022), Putin could use the crisis in Syria and Lebanon to gain some type of leverage against the US and Europe. So, while the Ukraine-Russia crisis may potentially deter aggression in some states, those where Russia has heavy influence could potentially become more destabilized.
The Ukraine-Russia crisis is a culmination of years of tension. During those years, world leaders have worked to mitigate the threat of another world war while also helping manage conflicts in the Middle East. Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has upset the fragile order in international politics. Although the conflict involves two Eastern European states, its impact reverberates throughout the world, reinforcing stronger relations between European countries, the US, and the world, as well as potentially deterring aggression by others. Not all implications are positive, however. Some states that are already struggling with civil wars, such as Libya and Syria may face grave impacts as they may potentially be used as pawns in Putin’s power struggle against the West. Certainly, the economic sanctions imposed on Russia also have a global economic impact , which is bound to shape global politics in the next years.
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