The recent unprovoked amassing of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border has overtaken a significant event that took place a few weeks earlier when Russia met behind the back of Ukraine to discuss the situation in Ukraine’s Donbass region with France and Germany.
It not only revealed the continuing animus of Russia towards Ukraine, but caused alarm in Kyiv because it illustrated to Ukraine that two of its Western partners, despite public confirmation of their support for Ukrainian sovereignty, they could not resist the temptation of the practice of cynical geopolitical practice. This was an act of disrespectful condescension by all parties.
Now, whether this was an intended tactical move by Russia to undermine Ukraine’s “trust” in its Western partners or to gain an upper hand over the United States, which has become more vociferous in its support of Ukraine’s independence since Joe Biden’s election, one clear result has been the discrediting of the mechanism of the Minsk Agreements and the framework articulated in the Steinmeier formula as a solution to Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine.
Almost seven years have passed and these frameworks have not come even close to proffering a solution. For all intents and purposes, this process must be declared dead because they do not fundamentally respect Ukraine’s sovereignty nor its right to act independently. If read honestly, Ukraine is assumed to be some borderland, its lands allowed to be carved up and its internationally recognized borders submissive to the dictates of an imperial and anti-democratic neighbor.
For example, why would Ukraine accept joint patrols on its sovereign lands? What right does Russia have to suggest how elections are to be conducted within Ukraine’s own borders? What right does Russia have to dictate how Ukraine’s elected parliament should vote and on what? What right does Russia have to even suggest how to adjudicate the traitors that have fought against the sovereignty of the Ukrainian nation?
These “demands” have become laughable in their audacity, revealing an ignorance and obstinacy of the changed political and psychological reality that has taken place in Ukraine since it was invaded by the Russian Federation.
Whether publically stated or not, Ukraine can no longer assume that France or Germany either speaks for or is prepared to act justly for its interests.
Cynically meeting behind Ukraine’s back, and then seeing the greatest amassing of Russian troops since the last world war has drastically changed any further diplomatic scenarios originating in Europe. In the least, the door has been further opened for the United States to become more directly and openly involved in playing a more pivotal role in any further talks about the future of Ukraine.
To Ukraine’s relief, the United States is now directly part of the situation as they are prepared to conjoin Ukraine’s sovereignty with the backing of NATO and military action. This is a clear signal that the United States is no longer going to act demurely and that it is willing to stand up and confront Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
The recent diplomatic pressure on Ukraine by the United States to clearly decide on its future in the Western camp has worked successfully. Soon after the secret meeting was revealed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s made a public statement saying the only solution for Ukraine’s long term security is cooperating with NATO.
If Putin’s intention was to secure France and Germany to his side or to secure their sympathy in response to greater U.S. participation in the region, it is evident that he failed. Nonetheless, from another perspective, if Putin wanted the U.S. to get more involved and create a Russia against the U.S. scenario, then he got his wish.
At the moment, this seems to be a further tactical failure in that it elicited a swift and strong response from the Biden administration in terms of rhetoric and the promise of increased military activity in the region.
Is the expansion of the war in Ukraine, and further military aggression by Russia, inevitable? Of course not. But Putin’s probable miscalculation will come at a price which he will soon find out if he continues his present tact.
What will be that price? Further economic sanctioning? The removal of Russia from the international Swift banking system, more widespread sanctioning of those in Putin’s circle who rely on his favor? The restriction of travel of Russian citizens to Western destinations?
For Putin, the price may even be greater than he can imagine at this point because it will not be strictly understood in economic terms. It may well be the discrediting of the notion of a ‘Greater Russia’, the ultimate demise of the Soviet Union and its legal successor state – the Russian Federation – in the post-World War II political order and a reduction of its place and influence in the world.
The United States’ resolve has confronted Putin. Is he willing to push all his chips into the middle of the table to fulfill his nostalgic ambition to restore Russia’s prowess in the world order? This ‘restoration’ is Putin’s aim or even end game. Whether it is either accepted or understood in the West, the military moves in Ukraine are about the preservation and even the extension of an authoritarian Russian Empire on its borders. Ukrainian sovereignty be damned.
Putin still believes and is guided by the long-ago established strictures of a Stalinist geopolitical worldview, that of national buffers that would offer space between itself and its perceived enemies. It is a view that was unfortunately institutionalized by post-World War II political compromises with the Soviet Union. This notion must be discredited in Putin’s mind. In relation to Ukraine’s sovereignty, the principle of a “sphere of influence” must be abandoned within the Western mindset.
The unprovoked build-up at Ukraine’s border could be understood as a test of resolve initiated by Putin for President Biden. However, it may be more than that because the risk Putin is now taking with his build-up could forever jeopardize his macro strategic goals and actually limit his future political moves, having him become the cause of his own “containment”, an assumptive principle of what he has been trying to avoid.
To those interested in the question of what is going on in Ukraine, a longer view of history best explains the framework of understanding. We are not only seeing the last chapters of the Cold War being played out, but also a correction of sorts regarding the unfortunate decisions made in Yalta, where Roosevelt and Churchill acquiesced and allowed Stalin and the Communist leadership of the Soviet Union to hold captive millions in Eastern Europe for decades.
Ukraine is on a national quest towards freedom, to establish a democratic society based on the rule of law and aspiring to join a free market economic order.
Biden’s presidency suggests he is prepared to make bold decisions. His rhetoric and actions regarding Ukraine is an unequivocal reassertion of American and Western democratic values and an act of bold resolve at strengthening Western values in the present world order.
Both Biden and Ukraine are steadfast in their refusal to accept Ukraine as a captive nation. Ukraine is the stage upon which these competitive views of the world are being played out.