The world is experiencing dramatic moments as a bloody war in Ukraine unfolds. A war in the heart of Europe. Putin’s authoritarian regime seeks to change the borders and the balance of power in Eastern Europe in a geopolitical game of terror. Having served at the KGB before becoming President, Vladimir Putin does not believe in liberal democracy and longs for the revival of the USSR. Putin views Ukraine and the wider region as Russia’s “living space” according to classical geopolitical theories.
The world that emerged in 1989 from the fall of Communism and the dissolution of the USSR is coming to an end. Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, Russia is making a strong comeback as an awe-inspiring rival to the United States and the West, moving from a multi-polar world system to a bipolar Cold War system. After the end of the Cold War in 1989, we first had US world domination and then new global actors began to emerge like China and Russia and other regional powers creating a multi-polar world. But now everything shows that the Cold War is reviving dramatically as the US and Russia with their allies will once again be the two great gladiators in the global geopolitical firmament.
In 1991, the Soviet Union disintegrated and lost many territories with the independence of states within its territory. It also lost control of the Eastern European states that until then were members of the Warsaw Pact. Russia shrank and lost its geopolitical power. The United States became powerful and NATO expanded throughout Eastern Europe showing strength and supremacy. NATO’s eastern expansion was seen as an offensive to Russia, just as the US considered the deployment of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962. To be fair, NATO enlargement to Ukraine poses security problems for Russia. It would have been better if the EU had acquired its own autonomous defence alliance and deployed a European army for its defence against Russia without the presence of NATO, which is a “red flag” for Russia, but such a common defence policy requires the strong will of the EU Member States to strengthen the EU’s political integration. In fact, the EU’s common defence policy could be combined with the signing of a non-aggression pact with Russia to ensure peace in Europe. Instead, the EU relied on NATO defence to create an imbalance of power in Eastern Europe.
Russia, however, never reconciled with the borders that emerged in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, something that was clearly seen in Putin’s speech. Since Russia set foot in Ukraine on the strategically important Crimean peninsula in 2014, Putin has sought to claim other Russian-speaking territories, and he has now done so by declaring these territories independent shortly before invading Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine completes what began in 2014 by making it clear to the West that it will not tolerate further NATO eastward expansion.
In 2014, the Ukrainian crisis ended with the Minsk Agreements. The Minsk I Agreement provided:
- Immediate bilateral ceasefire with OSCE monitoring.
- Decentralization of power in Ukraine through the adoption of the Ukrainian law on the provisional order of local government in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
- Permanent monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian border and verification by the OSCE by establishing security zones in the border areas of Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
- Immediate release of all hostages and detainees.
- Legislation to prevent the prosecution and punishment of individuals in connection with the events that took place in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
- Continuation of the national dialogue without exclusions.
- Take measures to improve the humanitarian situation in Donbas.
- Ensuring early local elections in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
- Withdrawal of illegal armed groups and military equipment, as well as fighters and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine.
- Economic recovery and reconstruction program for the Donbass region.
- Personal security for the participants in the consultation.
While the fighting subsided after the signing of the agreement, it never ended fully and the provisions of the agreement were not fully implemented and we were led to the Minsk II Agreement in 2015 with similar provisions including the removal of weapons from the borders and Donbass areas which were given administrative autonomy. .
Unfortunately, the Minsk Agreements did not solve the problem, resulting in the current impasse. The problem was the different interpretations of the Minsk Agreements by Moscow and Kyiv. Ukraine saw the agreements as a means of restoring control of the territories ruled by the separatists. He wanted a ceasefire, control of the Russian-Ukrainian border, elections in Donbas and a limited transfer of power to the separatists. Russia, for its part, saw the agreements as obliging Ukraine to grant full autonomy and representation to the central government to the separatist authorities in Donbass, effectively giving Moscow the power to veto Ukraine’s foreign policy choices and only then Russia would return to the border before 2014.
The non-implementation of the Minsk Treaties from 2014 onwards, as well as the West’s reluctance to confront Russian expansion, decisively led to the current situation with the complete occupation of Ukraine by the Russian army. Indeed, the EU and the US have not dealt effectively with Russia for the past eight years, forcing Russia to withdraw from the occupied territories. Today, however, the West is reacting vigorously. In particular, the EU announced restrictions on Russia’s access to the EU’s capital markets and financial markets, services and entities for their actions against the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. The EU has also decided to freeze the assets of Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov, as well as Putin’s close circle. EU airspace for Russian aircraft is also closing. Meanwhile, Germany announced the suspension of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Germany and Russia.
A package of sanctions against Russia was also decided by the United Kingdom, which includes the freezing of the assets of large Russian banks and the exclusion of Russia from the British financial system. Funding for major Russian companies and the state from UK markets will also be cut off and the assets of 100 individuals or entities will be frozen. Finally, Aeroflot will be banned from landing in Britain. In a joint statement, the EU, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada announced that Russian banks were being excluded from the SWIFT payment system, while assets of the Russian Central Bank were frozen and Russian oligarchs’ access to the financial system was blocked.
In the military field, Western support for Ukraine is more limited, as Ukraine is not a member of NATO and therefore cannot activate Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, which provides for mutual assistance of all members when a member is attacked by a non-member. However, Article 4 of the NATO Treaty allows for consultations within the alliance, and Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have already activated this article on Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Germany also announced the delivery of 1,000 anti-tank and 500 Stinger missiles and, for the first time, decided to spend more than 2% of its annual GDP on defence, a long-standing NATO requirement it had not previously met. France, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada have send or proceed with the approval process for military equipment in Ukraine.
Another serious issue is whether Turkey will be asked to close the Black Sea Straits to Russian ships, in accordance with the Montreux Treaty. But if Turkey closes the straits, then it will risk Russian retaliation. Possibly, Turkey, in order to close the straits, will ask for some compensation from the West. Turkey, however, will have to balance between the West and Russia. Greece must also keep its balance and not participate in military operations in Ukraine, but only to assist in the provision of humanitarian aid.
In conclusion, the Russian invasion of Ukraine will have long-term consequences for the West. The energy crisis will intensify as the EU is energy dependent on Russia. There will be great precision and a general economic hardship in Europe while there will be a humanitarian crisis in Europe from the Ukrainian refugees who are already leaving Ukraine. In any case, we are at the beginning of a Russian revisionism with global geopolitical consequences. The geopolitical architecture of the world is changing as Russia and China form a new alliance with the United States and Europe. Other countries such as Iran, India, North Korea, Venezuela and possibly Cuba will be added to the complex. Russia-China cooperation leads to control of Eurasia, ie global control according to Halford Mackinder. The United States has failed to prevent Russia-China rapprochement, so we are now facing a new Cold War, a balance of terror.
by Dr Panagiotis Sfaelos
*Dr. Panagiotis Sfaelos is a Lawyer, Political Scientist and Journalist, NUJ Member, International Relations Officer of the Association of European Journalists and Vice President of the Centre for International Strategic Analysis – KEDISA. He also teaches European and International Law at the Hellenic Police Academy.
The views expressed in the article are those of the author