Tracing the Ukraine – Russia quagmire and way out

After weeks of high-level diplomacy, looming thunder clouds and intense global hysteria, Russian troops have since entered deep into Ukraine, an independent, sovereign state.

A dismal fait accompli and rather ominous recline for global peace and the progressive consolidation of international law. Day after day, Russia, a world power continues to bomb Ukrainian cities and other targets.

Indeed, from Friday, 24th February, 2022, after days of deafening military exercises around the 2,295 kilometres of shared border, Russian troops moved as far as 260 kilometres into the precincts of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine from all directions and other major towns, and have continued advancing.

From the north to the east through Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Sumy, and from Crimea in the south, they move, leaving in their trail, indescribable toll of loss of lives and wanton destruction of properties.

Typical of military conflicts this nature, optics on not few counter accusations of war crimes have been rife. FROM EMPIRE TO COMMUNIST DIKTAT The story of Ukraine and Russia interrelations goes back to the shared parsimony in the Russian Empire commonly referred to as Imperial Russia.

This was a historical state that extended across much of Europe and Asia.

It was the third most expansive political potentate in world history; surpassed in size only by Britannia which “ruled the waves” at a time and the Imperial Chinese empire of the Qing dynasty (1631-1912).

The Russian Empire which had a population of about 125.6 million people, as far back as the census of 1897, was known for its great economic, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity.

It comprised more than 100 different ethnic nationalities, of which the Russians were majority; i.e., over 40%, while Ukrainians were equally major stakeholders. In political terms, the Russian Empire which was ruled by Kings known as Czars from the Romanov Dynasty (1613-1917), revelled in absolute and autocratic powers.

They were also famously conservative, authoritarian and ultra-nationalistic. In modern times, the successor state to the Russian Empire, that is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or Soviet Union, as it was more commonly called, its origin in, the “October Revolution of 1917”.

At that time, October, 24-25 on Russia’s Julian Calender, but actually November 6-7, in world history, the Bolsheviks, headed by a fiery ideologue and revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Provisional Government and established the world’s first constitutionally declared Socialist nation.

Thereafter, a unification of the Russian and Slavic Republics of Ukrainians and Byelorussians as well as the Transcaucasians (Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia) took place. In 1944-1945, in the course of the 2nd World War, iron-fisted Soviet leader, Josef Stalin annexed the Balkan States (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia) after liberating them from occupation by Nazi Germany. The nation of Ukraine was therefore a critical part of the founding fabric which made up the erstwhile Soviet Union.

Besides, it enjoyed very straddling demographic and linguistic cognancy with Russia. Indeed, after the Russian Federation, two other nations, being Ukraine and Belarus, came next in the line of “original” European stock that made up the Communist state and were part of the centre-point of doctrinaire socialist superstructure.

Ukraine’s privileged standing in the former USSR explains why three of the most prominent and long-serving Soviet leaders were all of its national stock. These are Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) protagonist of the Soviet Missile Crisis of 1962, Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982) ruled for 18 years, and Konstantin Cherenkov (1911-1985) remembered to have paved the way for Mikhail Gorbachev’s emergence.

In recent history political reforms known as “perestroika” – openness and “glasnost” – economic reform, became embarked upon by the 8th and last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. By the way, this great man just turned 91 years on March 2, 2022 and lives peacefully in Moscow in the midst of the current war.

Ukraine, just like the other 14 former Soviet Republics, therefore pronounced its independence on 24th August 1991. This marked Ukraine’s formal cessation from the stranglehold of Russian over-lordship after several centuries. PUTIN’S MINDSET Vladimir Putin, 69 years old, a one-time Soviet intelligence officer, bears many similarities in demeanour and psychological makeup with some of Russia’s ferociou s and oligarchic rulers of the past. Such historic personalities as Czar Ivan the Terrible (1530- 1584), Emperor (Czar) Peter the Great (1672- 1725) were responsible for the expansion of the erstwhile Russian Empire.

Also, Putin’s hard-line stance towards America and Western Europe, unlike his immediate past predecessors Gorbachev and Konstatin Chernenko is also a repeat of the mien of Josef Stalin, who ruled the USSR for a lengthy period of 31 years, from (1922 to 1953). In his days, strongly-willed Stalin entered into an alliance with Western Allied Forces to defeat Nazi Germany during World War II. But then, he was mindful of drawing, very clearly, the easternmost boundaries between the East and the West. As a matter of fact, a town like Berlin, the German capital was divided into three and later two separate parts demarcated by a deafening wall.

More than Putin’s mental state, is the factor that Ukraine’s privileged standing and the seeming advantage of geographical contiguity occasioned the unrestrained citing of several critical economic and tactical defence assets of the former USSR in that country. As a matter, at the time of independence in 1991, about 3,000 of the Soviet Unions nuclear warheads were deployed on Ukrainian territory. Ukraine is also of great economic asset to the sub-region as it has among other things, some of Europe’s highest endowment of agricultural and mineral resources covering its entire landmass of 603,548 square kilometres, The Trumpet gathered.

Putin will therefore want to keep away Western meddlesome in a place as Ukraine as much as possible. In a repeat of history, as 35th American President, John Kennedy (1917-1963) would not see Soviet missiles in Cuba, about 145 kilometres from its borders, exactly sixty years ago, Putin and his Russian security hawks will not risk allowing Ukraine join NATO or enter some other deeper extraneous military alliances, unrestrainedly.

As perceived by Putin and his ilk, the current invasion of their smaller neighbour, Ukraine, is essentially a fight for survival and an act in group self-preservation of its concentric sphere of influence. Indeed, Putin, as a young Communist Party official, perhaps grudgingly, saw his predecessors, Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin dismantle Soviet era structures and the creeping cobweb of western democracy and military structures all around Russia.

However, from Georgia (2008), Chechen (1999-2008) Crimea (2014), now to Ukraine, he could not stomach such meddlesomeness directly inside his neighbours next door. CAN PUTIN WIN THIS WAR? Although the current Ukraine war is, strictly speaking, not an ideological match of opposites, it bears historical traits to entrenched interests. The Cold War (1947- 1991) has since ended, and the Warsaw Pact Military Alliance which since 1955 shielded countries of the Eastern Bloc, was dissolved in 1991.

However, Russia and China and a coterie of smaller nations are practising ideological hybridization at present, i.e. economic openness in the midst of closed political rigidity. Notwithstanding, their antecedents rooted in socialist/communist credos, keeps the two great powers (China and Russia) orphaned together as scions of eastern ideological orthodoxy.

They are somewhat perpetually on antagonistic and confrontational standing with western powers and vice versa. Although China’s economic interests in the western world are overwhelming, its slow-footedness towards condemning Russia on all its adventurist policies, shows where its heart woukd lie, if things get worse.

Russia and some of its allies are equally obtuse and by their own rights, global leaders in fire power. As of now, China, for one, has the largest active men in uniform in the world totalling about 2 million.

In terms of fighting force, India, North Korea and Russia count among the five largest armies respectively, each with over one million personnel. With respect to overall military capability and capacity on deployment of weapons, China and Russia only come next to the United States.

Russia itself is the world’s numbers one nuclear power with about 6,225 warheads. Added to these, the exact size and strength of Moscow’s maverick friend, North Korea’s nuclear arsenals are unclear. Many believe that the pariah nation’s testing of nuclear arsenals and show off ballistic capability during this period, keeps both America and its friends Japan and South Korea seriously on high alert.

On the flip side, from the days of its founding in 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), an American-led military alliance has increased its collective military power.

Now boasting a capacity to deploy, in nominal terms, nearly 3.5 million personnel, NATO remains the world’s greatest defence and tactical platform. In terms of individual standing in military ranking, some of its key members such as United States is the world’s no. 1, Germany is number 4 in power rankings, while the United Kingdom is number 5 and France comes up as number six (6).

This makes NATO a greatly formidable collective force to reckon with. According to the leading global watch group, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) as of 2018, military expenditures was at a high mark of about US$1,822 trillion.

However, three years later, i.e. 2021, despite the rage of Covid-19, defence spending rose by almost 2.8%. In this, just the Americas alone expended in its aerospace and defence about US$ 550.78 billion in 2021.

Two years earlier, in aggregate terms, the military budget of the United States was US$693 billion, the highest in the world. America itself is number two in nuclear capability, holding over 5,550 warheads What the above scenario depicts is the counter-balance of belligerent capacity if things generate.

None can therefore risk a conjecture on the outcome of a head-on confrontation. SO, WILL NATO STAND UP TO RUSSIA? NATO’s hands are tied as it were, by its Article 5, which limits it to only initiate action if one of its 30 members is attacked. That Article has been invoked only once in NATO’s 70 years history.

On September 12, 2001, the alliance invoked the provision, barely 24 hours after the 9/11 Terror Attack on the United States. It remains tenuously optimistic if the alliance will invoke that article now, as Ukraine’s quest for membership is still far from reality. Besides, NATO is wary of orchestrating a Third World War, with the rather precipitate prevalent conditions.

THE RAIN OF SANCTIONS As Russia continues, undeterred to pillage, quite pitiably targets in Ukraine, its 44 years old President, Volodymyr Zelensky mounts global rostrums virtually and digitally, canvassing support. America and Europe’s response has been to extend to Ukraine unprecedented military and humanitarian support, short of plunging into direct belligerency.

These include lethal weapons, advanced systems, attack battle systems, anti-tank weapons, etc. These have helped Ukaine maintained relatively appreciable level, though at a much higher cost.

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Additionally, the US and the rest of Europe have imposed unprecedented sanctions of economic, political and diplomatic nature on Russia.

The sanctions which have been mounted cover almost all spheres of the country’s national life. Primarily, the sanctions have been political, which are focused on isolating Putin and top members of his government in their personal and collective capacities. Added to these are visa and emigration restrictions.

Several European countries have also expelled hundreds of Russian diplomats. The intention here is to limit the country’s ability to conduct diplomatic relations or enable its operatives carry out intelligence activities at a time when the EU considers itself, to be at war with Russia.

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