The old crisis has resurfaced…
Russia and Ukraine have been trading barbs since the Crimean peninsula was annexed from Ukraine by the Russian Federation in February-March 2014. The situation deteriorated after the inauguration of a bridge on Kerch Strait in May 2018. And in November, Kiev accused Moscow of detaining 29 Navy personnel onboard three Ukrainian naval ships. As the seizure by Russian forces of three of Ukraine’s ships raised fears of an escalation of the conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared military rule on his country’s border with Russia in the last week of November. Almost immediately, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Kiev against ‘reckless acts’, saying that the three Ukrainian vessels had crossed illegally into Russian waters after ignoring warnings from the Russian border guards. However, the essence of tension between the two neighbouring countries is deeply rooted in history!
The crisis between the two emerged for the first time in 1764 when Russian Empress Catherine the Great attacked the Cossack Hetmanate. Although the peace prevailed immediately after the October Revolution, the then Soviet Union took just five years to rebuild the colony. It seems that the crisis was resolved in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union, but the latest development shows that the solution was a temporary one. In a rare first, Kremlin has admitted that it had sent forces to Ukraine in the past. It is an extraordinary development as the modern Russia rubbished the claim that it had sent forces to the neighbouring country in recent times.
Poroshenko & Putin
It is also important for the political analysts to explain the religious aspect of the crisis. The Church of Ukraine recently emerged as an autonomous body, as it is no longer a part of the Russian Orthodox Church. So, it’s quite natural for Russia to think that it has lost control over the former Soviet state.
In such a situation, Kiev has urged the Western nations to help Ukraine overcome the crisis (despite the fact that the Western reaction to any global crisis has not been appropriate in recent times). In fact, the European countries are facing difficulties in tackling domestic issues and they have no time to rebuke Russia. Now, Brexit is the most important issue for Europe. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel – popularly known as a staunch critic of Russia – didn’t raise the ‘Ukraine’ issue during her recent meetings with President Putin.
US President Donald Trump is the only statesman who has refused to meet his Russian counterpart, saying that Moscow should release the Ukrainian Navy personnel and the three vessels as soon as possible. However, the US president blasted his predecessor Barack Obama for the ‘Ukraine-Russia’ crisis. So, it is quite obvious that President Trump’s views on the conflict between Kiev and Moscow will be monotonous. He has only expressed regret and blamed both Ukraine and Russia for the crisis.
On the other hand, it’s the perfect time for President Putin to flex muscles. There is a high possibility of smooth transfer of power in Ukraine after the forthcoming elections. In that case, Putin will gain nothing! The forceful annexation of Crimean peninsula had helped the Russian strongman increase his popularity in his country. Later, he dented his popularity by reforming the elderly allowance programme. Now, President Putin needs another crisis to regain his popularity. The Russian leader is an astute politician and he knows how to change the tide.
Ukraine, too, is a tough nut to crack! President Poroshenko has restricted the entry of Russian men – aged between 16 and 60 – in an effort to prevent Russia from forming private Armies on its soil. It was a calculated move indeed, as the Ukrainian president was well aware of the fact that such a move would trigger a fresh tension.
Therefore, the two parties would not resolve the crisis in near future for the sake of their political interests. Both the presidents will try to regain control of domestic politics and to gain importance at the global stage with the help of this centuries-old crisis!
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