Revival of Cold War and Looming Prospect of Limited War between Russia and Ukraine -Imran Nazir


Francis Fukuyama’s epochal the end of history after the end of ideological rivalry between socialism and capitalism camps has been marked as a rise ofUS led single unipolar world order in international system with the omnipresence of liberal democracy. But the world did not see a mass conversion to liberal democracy rather diversity still exists in international system with continued rivalry. In fact, Cold War syndromes are emerging with the resurgence of Russia under the vibrant leadership of Putin. Recent Ukraine crisis near the border of Russia over NATO question reminds how far the world system has shifted away from the US centric unipolar world.

Russia has gathered more than hundred thousand soldiers near its western region bordering Ukraine. Satellite images have shown the amassment of Russian heavy artillery, infantry fighting vehicles, heavy armor and missiles. Navy presence has also been tighten in Crimea. Ukraine has also taken position in their side but unlikely to create much defense resistance against Russian aggression if situation escalates to border skirmish. Fire exchanges and sniping have been continued since last month. Western countries under NATO and EU have been warning Russia for any possible military attack on Ukraine but Moscow shows reluctance by dismissing any prospect of war. Whatever the statement and official position Russia gives and takes, there is existing a highly intense situation going on beside Ukraine-Russia border as Ukrainian civilians have been started fleeing their homes. However, USA has met Russia in Geneva to deescalate the tension but Russiansdefined the meeting outcome as unsatisfactory. Russia Council and NATO have also sat for talk in an attempt to bring regional stability. Additionally, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have met in Geneva on January 21 over Russian “demands” and still hopeful of continuing talks over Ukraine crisis.

However, today’s conflict between Russia and Ukraine is not a new phenomenon rather a reflection of subsequent events taking place since late 2013. Ukraine-EU monumental trade and political deal has angered Moscow in 2013. Russia’s pressure had forced Moscow supported President Viktor Yanukovych then to suspend further talks. This retreatment has also fueled domestic protest against Yanukovych. Russia took this turmoil situation as pretext to annex Ukraine’ Crimean peninsula in March 2014. Notably, Crimea was bested with overwhelming Russian language speaking people. Russia successfully incorporated Crimea as a Russian territory despite having opposition from international community, namely Western countries. Shortly afterwards, Russian language speaking separatists in border area of Donetsk and Luhansk have declared their independence from Kyiv. This has resulted in continued battle between Ukraine national force and pro-Russian separatists. In the context of ongoing conflict, separatists issue creates a big question regarding the possible military attack on Ukraine. Russia denied the possibility of military invasion of Ukraine but did not rule out the prospects of helping Russian speaking separatists who are currently holding Donbas region. Experts are finding current developments similar to Crimean annexation period.

The most burning question in on going conflict goes beyond Ukraine-Russia border. Ukraine is a country having vibrant presence of both pro-Western and pro-Russian. In fact, West and Russia both had been engaged in influence battle in Ukraine after the disintegration of Ukraine from Soviet Union. However,fall of pro-Russian president in the context of Crimean annexation, a strong sense has been created among a vast number of Ukrainians to join NATO security apparatus so that overwhelming Russian pressure and presence can be reduced. NATO members have also been aware of the Russian emergence as an old threat, though China still remains the most strategically threatening counterpart in world politics for USA. NATO’s open door policy might sound liberating for Ukraine but it has created deep tension in Moscow as Ukraine currently plays a buffering role between Russia and NATO allied member countries. What NATO countries term as containment, Russia sees NATO’s move in Ukraine as encirclement.Russia had been vocal of NATO expansion in previous years despite the collapse of Soviet Union. So, Russia does not like the further expansion of NATO in its bordering countries. To prevent Ukraine joining NATO, Russia is playing twofold strategy.Primarily frightening Ukraine through military mass mobilization near Ukraine border creating war-like situation and gives the hint of annexing Donbas region in a similar style of Crimea annexation in 2014. On the other hand, Russia has been involved in negotiation with NATO, USA and other big European players to make it guarantee in black and white that Ukraine (other remained ex-Soviet Union members) will not be allowed to be a member of NATO, additionally NATO will curtail its military presence near Russia territory in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithunia. Though NATO members are still upholding open-door diplomacy. This is the point where Russia is most furious as its security would be jeopardized with the inclusion of Ukraine in NATO.

Apparently Russia is dominating the whole crisis drama. Russia is having some big advantages in this crisis over its counterparts. First of all, strategically Ukraine is surrounded by huge Russian border and through sea by Crimea. So Ukraine will have to calculate the cost of possible military attack. Popular news media have been portraying a possibility of full scale warfare, but as a student International Relations, I do not see such possibility rather Russia may involve in limited scale war which limited objectives and weapons involved. Secondly, over the years, Russia has created an asymmetric energy dependency with Europe. So this time, NATO members are unable to take any harsh economic stance against Russia through cutting off from international financial system SWIFT. It has been discussed among US economic experts regarding the consequences of economic sanctions on Russia but they ruled out the possibility of much impact as Russia economy has been accustomed to live under sanction.Beside, many European countries (especially Germany through Nord Stream 2) cannot survive this winter without Russian gas to heat their homes. So, NATO’s key players will have to think of the cost of energy supply from Russia. Along with these advantages, Russia is also running the risk of being labelled as aggressor. Neutral Finland and Sweden are rethinking to join NATO in the context of Ukraine crisis. If all neighboring countries vow to join NATO, it would not be possible for Russia to prevent all.
In sum, Russia is unlikely to allow its immediate neighboring Ukraine to allow to join NATO. Despite the presence of a warlike situation, only a limited scale war can take place. Additionally, it will be tough for NATO members in negotiating Russia as they are vulnerable for Russian energy supply. But we should not downplay the vulnerability of Russia if its neighbors antagonize altogether with the help of Western countries.

Author of this article is a student of the University of Dhaka.