Crisis in Eastern Europe –Russian Apprehensions

Moscow views NATO not as a defensive alliance but as one determined to encircle it and eventually, will bolster the US and European influence in the backyard of Russia.

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The victory of the Allies in World War II set the stage for the ideological conflict between the two great powers of the bipolar world. While the US won over the liberal international order, USSR was determined to disseminate communism to the world far and wide held a tight grip on Eastern Europe throughout the cold war period until its disintegration in the late 20th century.

The recent Ukrainian crisis sprang from the old enmities of the cold war period. Russia considers Eastern Europe as its sphere of influence where the US and its allies are not welcome. When the news of Ukraine joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) broke out to Russia, a massive amount of weaponry and personnel were piled up on the Ukrainian border. The United States took a strong exception to the massive troop build-up near the Ukrainian border and together with the EU and UK, threatened economic sanctions on Russia in the event of Moscow declaring war on Kyiv. Diplomats from both sides have tried to reach an agreement, however, with little success.

Russian and the U.S. diplomats met in Geneva to discuss the Ukrainian crisis and the proposal draft published by the Russian foreign ministry. The meeting ended without reaching a plausible conclusion; however, the Russian officials assured the US delegation that they had no plans to overrun Ukraine. Furthermore, Russian officials also held talks with senior NATO officials in Brussels to negotiate a settlement of the dispute involving Ukraine. The two sides were poles apart to reach an agreement; NATO views some of the proposals forwarded by Moscow as unacceptable. A third diplomatic effort in Vienna failed as well when OSCE and Russian officials met to chalk out a possible way to resolve the stalemate. Both sides, however, are optimistic about the possibility of a breakthrough, but, only if diplomatic engagements remain continued.

Ukraine had applied to join NATO in 2008 just before the summit in Romania. It, however, required a unanimous decision of member states to get a membership. France and Germany are the two states that are not in favor of Ukraine’s membership in the alliance because of its international dispute with Russia over the alleged annexation of Crimea. In 2014, after a failed attempt to suppress protests, the then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, a two times premier supported by Putin, fled the country and took refuge in Russia. Taking advantage of the crisis, Russia crossed the border into Crimea and annexed it bringing the relations between Russia and USA to an all-time low since the cold war.

Soon after the cold war ended, US-led NATO generously extended membership to various former Soviet states; thus antagonizing Russia. The latter wanted of NATO not to interfere in its sphere of influence because it was apprehensive of the alliance’s role; particularly in Eastern Europe. While the United States is averse to the politics of spheres of influence; however, its history has been specked with Monroe doctrine – the Western hemisphere became its sphere of influence and likewise, the Roosevelt proposition of Four Policemen –manifest in the United Nations Security Council, that runs contrary to the position it took in Europe after the collapse of USSR.

Moscow views NATO not as a defensive alliance but as one determined to encircle it and eventually, will bolster the US and European influence in the backyard of Russia. Although, some former Soviet states, like Lithuania and Estonia, already have joined NATO citing their security issues vis-à-vis Russia, Kremlin, does not look approvingly on other states, like Ukraine and Georgia, to join the alliance. Lastly, Putin wants guarantees, not assurances from NATO about barring Ukraine from joining NATO. In addition, both U.S. and Russia, although have withdrawn from the INF treaty in 2019, which called for the elimination of short-range and intermediate-range missiles. The Kremlin still wants the U.S. to remove its missiles from Europe, which the former perceives detrimental to its security.

The prospects of lasting peace might look bleak; however, we shouldn’t forget the wonders diplomacy has done in the past from the Cuban missile crisis to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in the recent past. With sophisticated weapons and advanced technology, war is no solution to deadlocks involving great powers; therefore, both sides should show restraint, de-escalate tensions and rely on diplomacy.

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