Five main actors in Ukraine crisis

Feb 03,2022 – JORDAN TIMES


Michael Jansen

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the Western powers and Nato to refrain from rhetoric and actions during the Russian troop build-up on his country’s borders. He rightly fears bombast, bullying and confrontation could precipitate a war no one wants.  He dismissed Western claims of an imminent Russian invasion as they could cause panic in Ukraine, de-stabilise his country and undermine its economy.

Although Russia has, reportedly, deployed 120,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, Zelensky said he did not regard them as a greater threat than a similar demonstration of strength last spring.  He rightly criticised the evacuation of staff by the US and UK embassies. “Diplomats are like captains. They should be the last to leave a sinking ship. And Ukraine is not the Titanic,” he stated. US diplomats are usually the first to flee countries when the politico-military situation is hot or tricky.

While the US has dispatched tons of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine President Joe Biden has promised to bolster his country’s Nato presence in Eastern Europe with the dispatch of only 8,500 combat-ready troops in case of a Russian invasion. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to double its deployment to the region. This is a risable promise as the UK has 900 troops in Estonia, 100 in Ukraine and 150 in Poland.

Such numbers would hardly ward off Russia or prevent a Russian advance into Ukraine. Nato’s Response Force is only 40,000-strong and can be deployed only with the agreement of all the alliance’s 30 members which is unlikely. The ratio of Nato-to-Russian troops would be hugely unfavourable to Nato and Russia has the means to defend its ground troops from Western air strikes.

In any case, Ukraine is not a member of Nato and is not likely to be a member. To join any time soon its entry would require another unanimous agreement. France and Germany have previously opposed Ukraine’s membership, arguing, correctly, that Ukraine’s induction could lead to the unwelcome escalation with Russia the West now faces. France is trying to de-escalate the confrontation, while Germany refuses to provide Ukraine with weaponry.

For Moscow, Ukrainian membership in Nato is a casus belli. Ukraine provides a territorial buffer zone between Russia and Nato which, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has admitted Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and seven more countries which had been tied to Russia. Moscow strongly objected to Nato’s eastward expansion and has repeatedly demanded guarantees that Nato would not continue to enlist countries belonging to the former Soviet bloc. The US and Nato have refused to provide such guarantees, arguing that any country seeking membership in the alliance is welcome. They promised only that Ukraine’s application could be postponed for many years.

Ukraine is a special case for Russia. The Russian language is widely used in Ukraine, particularly in its eastern and southern regions. In Russian annexed Crimea, 97 per cent of the population is Russian. Russian President Vladimir Putin argues Russians and Ukranians are “one people”, share the same Orthodox faith and the same history. Like many of his countrymen and women, Putin fears that Nato intends to surround Russia with hostile countries allied with the Western powers. He is right, this is precisely what the Western powers have been doing since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Putin also has serious concerns over the presence of an aggressively expanding Nato in neighbouring countries. He was born in 1952 in Leningrad, now St Petersburg, in the shadow of the World War Two when the Germans mounted a 900-day siege that killed 800,000 civilians before Soviet troops routed the Nazis.

Russians also recall that Britain and the US invaded Siberia between 1918-1920 in the wake of World War I with the aim of bolstering Czech and Russian anti-Bolsheviks who were seeking to overthrow the Soviet government.

Finally, Russians learn in school that Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 and marched the French Grand Army to Moscow only to be defeated by Russian forces and the snow and extreme cold of the Russian winter. Napoleon’s defeat in the Russian campaign led his first exile from France to the island of Elba.

How this situation develops will depend on the five main actors in this drama.

Zelensky has little real political experience but is trying to steer a middle course between an assertive Russia and the pressuring West. He unfortunately has to put up with hardliners in his own administration who seek to exploit the situation to gain political capital.

Before becoming a politician, Putin was an intelligence officer whose job was to defend the realm. This is, presumably, what he intends to do by massing troops around Ukraine with the aim of exerting pressure on the US, Britain, Nato and other Western countries to halt the expansion of the alliance and respect Russia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty by withdrawing troops and military equipment from countries bordering on Russia.

Biden seeks to assert US leadership on the international scene and take command of Nato in order to show himself to be strong and competent ahead of November’s parliamentary elections which the Democrats must win if he is to earn a second term in the White House in 2024. Biden’s approval rating has sunk to 39 per cent due to his failure to contain COVID, secure his ambitious legislative agenda, and conduct a smooth withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Britons are clamouring for Johnson to step down after it was found that staff members and advisers were partying his office/residence during the country’s strict COVID lockdown during 2020 when families could not meet or not visit hospitalised members dying of COVID. He is seen by many members of his own party as well as the opposition as untruthful for denying the parties which are being investigated by the police. In the view of a majority of Britons, “Partygate” has exposed Johnson’s unfitness for office. Johnson may believe talking tough on Ukraine and deploying soldiers to front-line countries might divert popular attention from the scandal.

Having suffered a backlash by taking a harsh line against unvaccinated citizens, Macron, who is campaigning hard for a second term in office, would like to earn credit as a peacemaker in Ukraine and has promoted dialogue among the principal parties.

Hopefully, Macron and Zelensky will prevail.


Leave a Reply