Ukraine, center of Putin’s geopolitical and emotional board | International

Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have a special fixation on Ukraine. The idea of ​​the neighboring country close to the West and outside its orbit disturbs the head of the Kremlin, who in recent times has delved into his thesis that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people”, that Ukraine is a failed state ruled by people that they are making it “anti-Russian” and that it is on its way to being a NATO aircraft carrier. As he demonstrated in 2014, by annexing the Crimean peninsula with a referendum deemed illegal by the international community and by supporting pro-Russian separatists from Donetsk and Lugansk fighting the Kiev Army, for the Kremlin leader, Ukraine is an existential issue. . One, in addition, that he has to resolve now – which is approaching his seventh decade of life and is cementing his legacy – or never.

The unusual concentration of Russian troops along the borders with Ukraine, threats from the Kremlin and Putin’s furious rhetoric against Kiev have set off alarms from the West, which fears a new invasion. And not only because Ukraine is a geostrategic country and an ally – it is not a member of NATO, but has the promise of eventual accession – but because in various diplomatic groups it is considered that if there is an open war – although US President Joe Biden , has made it clear that the dispatch of troops “is not on the table” – the conflict would hardly remain between the Ukrainian and Russian Army. It could be the biggest war on the continent since WWII. Kiev, which is one of the main recipients of military aid from Washington and which also has substantial agreements with London, this week received, for example, support in the form of military equipment from the Baltic countries.

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Delving into the dialectic of Vladimir Putin and his gestures, it is clear that Ukraine is above all a vehicle to achieve a fundamental point of his legacy: to resurrect the role of Russia as a world power. Even if it is through showing his military muscle and with the spirit of fear in the background. The thesis of the Russian leader on the neighboring country, also a former Soviet republic, brings together another of the keys that has tormented him: that of fighting against the expansion of NATO, says analyst Tatyana Stanovaya.

  Vladimir Putin during the video conference with Joe Biden this week.
Vladimir Putin during the video conference with Joe Biden this week. DPA via Europa Press (Europa Press)

After Putin’s long-awaited videoconference this week with Biden – which he later dispatched with NATO allies and with Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenski, following the logical premise that Ukraine is not discussed without Ukraine – to try to ease the situation, The Russian Foreign Ministry has made public its wish list in which it demands that the Atlantic Alliance disinvite Georgia and Ukraine, in addition to guaranteeing the promise not to deploy weapons in countries bordering Russia that could threaten their security.

“NATO’s relationship with Ukraine will be decided by 30 NATO members and Ukraine, no one else”

Jens Stoltenbert, Secretary General of NATO

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The second request, if it concerns Ukraine or Georgia, could lead to some kind of compromise, says a senior Western diplomat. But even considering the first would be too great a concession to Putin. “Every nation has the right to choose its own path,” Atlantic Alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenbert stressed on Friday. “NATO’s relationship with Ukraine will be decided by 30 NATO members and Ukraine, no one else,” he insisted. In addition, it would be a shot against the waterline of Ukraine, which enshrines in its Constitution the intention of joining the Atlantic Alliance. Although that membership is too distant a horizon and has barely moved since the Bucharest summit of April 2008, when Kiev and Tbilisi received the promise that one day they would be part. Four months later, Russia fought a brief but devastating war in the small Caucasian country.

The war in Georgia, which left two territories with a Russian military presence – the separatists South Ossetia and Abkhazia – is continually coming up these days as a dire warning for Kiev. On the Donbas front line, Ukrainian soldiers are on high alert. “Russia has kept us in tension for eight years, but we are increasingly prepared to face them,” says Lieutenant Ivan Skuratovski of the 25th Airborne Brigade.

A Ukrainian soldier in a trench near the pro-Russian positions, last week in Avdíivka (Ukraine).
A Ukrainian soldier in a trench near the pro-Russian positions, last week in Avdíivka (Ukraine).CARLOS ROSILLO

In an outpost near the city of Avdíivka, just a few meters from positions of the pro-Russian separatists and surrounded by the colorful drawings that children from different parts of the country have sent to the soldiers of the red zone, Skuratovski, 30 years old and father of two children, he admits that he is afraid. “But a good fear, which acts as a protective shield that makes you think twice,” he says.

Outside, in the cold of the night and the darkness of the trenches, turned into a quagmire, three bursts of gunfire are heard. In a way, says the lieutenant, a physicist by training, the conflict began in 2013, when millions of people took to the streets in Kiev and other cities in Ukraine in pro-European mobilizations that consolidated Kiev’s Euro-Atlantic intention and succeeded in overthrowing President Victor. Yanukovych, an ally of the Kremlin, who fled to Russia. Later, there would be the illegal annexation of the strategic Crimean peninsula – defined by Putin’s environment as “the return home” – and the mobilization of pro-Russian independentists in the East who, with the political and military support of the Kremlin, it led to the Donbas War.

The conflict has already claimed some 14,000 lives, according to the UN, and has left more than 1.5 million displaced. The daily fire at the front lines shows that it is far from a frozen conflict, despite countless ceasefire pacts and the Minsk (2015) peace accords, which both sides insist must be honored but are not moving forward. The Kremlin, which defines it as a “civil war” despite various reports determining its support and even the transfer of arms, has distributed more than 600,000 Russian passports in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – a move it has used in the past. as an argument to intervene to “defend” its citizens ”- and it has increased its warnings to the Government of Volodímir Zelenski that if it acts to recover the territories it will receive a Russian response. The development of the Minsk agreements determine the holding of local elections in the territories controlled by the separatists but also include a ceasefire, the withdrawal of the Kremlin-backed fighters, that these elections are recognized by the OSCE as free and fair. and for Ukraine to regain control over the eastern border. Everything is, for the moment, frozen.

Checkpoint at a strip of the red zone on the front line, last week near Pisky, in Avdiivka (Ukraine).
Checkpoint at a strip of the red zone on the front line, last week near Pisky, in Avdiivka (Ukraine). Carlos Rosillo

Slavic heart of the empire

But for the head of the Kremlin, Ukraine is not only about geopolitics, but also about restoring the Slavic heart of the old empire. And it’s personal, strategic, and generational, say Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss in a commented article for the Carnegie Center. “No part of the Russian and Soviet empires has played a bigger and more important role in Russia’s strategy towards Europe than the jewel in the crown, Ukraine,” experts say. The country is essential to Russian security because of its size and population (44 million inhabitants), its position as a buffer between Russia and other major European powers, and its role as a centerpiece of the Russian and Soviet imperial economies.

And a fundamental point, about which Putin has written a lot and which is also pointed out by 13% of Russians, according to polls by the Moscow Levada Center: their cultural, religious and linguistic ties with Russia ―Nikolai Gogol, Leon Trotsky and many great figures they were Ukrainians, for example. And in particular, the history of Kiev as the cradle of the Russian state. Ukraine, says Nina Khrushcheva, a professor of International Relations at the New School, has always been important to all Kremlin chiefs. “For the leadership of Russia, almost always – with the exception of the Khrushchev government – Ukraine has been and continues to be Malorossiya, the little russia; and when something else is demanded in Ukraine, problems begin for the Kremlin, ”says Khrushcheva, great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, under whose mandate the Crimean peninsula – which had been part of the Use and before the Ottoman empire – was transferred to Ukraine.

Furthermore, no part of the Soviet Union played a more important role in its dissolution than Ukraine. Ukraine’s declaration of independence after the failed coup in August 1991 marked the end of the URRS, which could not continue without Ukraine, says Leontiy Sanduliak, co-author of that declaration. “Russia cannot live without Ukraine, it cannot be an empire without it. And that is why they claim that Ukraine does not exist by itself and they try to destroy it, ”says 84-year-old Sanduliak. In a hoarse but firm voice, over the phone from his home on the outskirts of Kiev, he insists that if there are Ukraine’s ties to Russia, the country’s ties to Europe are “unquestionable.”

The fact that other former Soviet republics have sought new allies, such as some from Central Asia with China, does not matter so much to them, Sanduliak remarks, “but as long as Putin is alive he will not give up the idea of ​​’going back’ Ukraine.” The neighboring country, which the Russian leader considers partly as the ‘little brother’, has disconnected from the Russian orbit; and not to turn to either side, but to the West. It is consolidating important reforms and has paved its democratic path with free elections.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on a visit to troops on Monday.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on a visit to troops on Monday. AFP

As the Russian leader and his team inflame his speech against the Ukrainian government, the negative view of the neighboring country has increased among the Russian population. In February, 31% of Russians said they had a negative view of Ukraine; in August they were 49%, according to the Levada center, the only independent center in Russia. In the media around the Kremlin, which often seek to portray the country as a “Nazi” ecosystem, criticisms of the Kiev laws that promote the use of the Ukrainian language have a prominent place, as well as the measures that have led to the closure of pro-Russian television channels, with the aim of “countering threats to national security.” This week, Putin has assured that what is happening in Donbas is a “genocide.”

After the talks between Biden and Putin, some European officials believe that there is still a window for diplomacy, pointing out that what Putin is doing is launching an order and asking for a list of maximums to get some points. However, the idea of ​​open war, warned the Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitri Muratov on Friday in the speech to collect the award in Oslo, “has ceased to be something impossible in the heads of some crazy geopolitical scientists.” “In our country, and not only, it is often thought that politicians who avoid blood are weak,” stressed the director of the independent Russian newspaper Nóvaya Gazeta.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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