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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim, Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Russia’s Ukraine gamble

How NATO backed Russia into a corner

In 1984, during a time of heightened tensions between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Soviet Union in the Cold War, former U.S. President Ronald Reagan famously quipped: “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

While the Soviet Union has now been gone for 30 years, perceptions about Russia and their foreign policy are still stuck in the past. Particularly in regards to Ukraine, Russia’s past and current relations with the country are reflected in their control of Ukraine during both the Russian Empire and in the era of the Soviet Union. As a result, many Russians see Ukraine as a natural ally and partner to Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has famously argued that, “Russians and Ukrainians are one people. Kiev is the mother of Russian cities.” This helps us understand Putin’s nostalgic view of the Soviet Union, and why he believes it’s collapse was so catastrophic.

In a new documentary released last month, President Putin said the collapse of the Soviet Union, “was a disintegration of historical Russia under the name of the Soviet Union,” and “what had been built up over 1,000 years was largely lost.”

This 1,000 years of history is again an allusion to the origins of Russia with the Kievan Rus.

It was under this pretext, and the belief that Ukraine was becoming unacceptably close with Russia’s rivals (the European Union (EU) and NATO), that Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. This was not just a massive uptick in approval for Putin but also proof that NATO allies don’t want to pick a fight with Russia.

Putin has since supported pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine’s Donbas region and received little substantial pushback from the international community. Now, as the Washington Post has documented, Russia
has been amassing around 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border in Donbas and has been moving troops to the region for months.

While the situation is admittedly scary, seeing Russia as some thoughtless invader completely misses the fact that this rift between Ukraine and Russia was largely created by western powers like NATO.

In 2009, Ukraine reasserted their loyalty to the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership with NATO in 1997. With cooperation between the West and Ukraine only further increasing after the violent 2014 overthrow
of the pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, it’s easy to see why Russia intervened in Ukraine later that year.

In September 2020, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy approved an official plan for the nation to become a NATO partner with the eventual goal of fully joining NATO. It is my belief that this announce-
ment is the real core source of this most recent standoff. Putin must do something now before Ukraine joins NATO which will prevent him from doing anything.

In effect, this plan has been proof that Western powers’ solution to the crisis is just to ignore it. Russia, for its part, has long opposed former Soviet states from joining NATO, but these demands have fallen on deaf ears. After diplomacy got them nowhere, Russia is forcing NATO’s attention with a crisis.

The situation we have now is one where Ukraine is not legally guaranteed by America nor NATO forces through any treaty, but is still being protected diplomatically by Western powers. President Biden has said that Russia will “pay a heavy price” if Putin invades Ukraine. Yet, similar rhetoric from President Obama did not prevent Russia from annexing Crimea.

Although it may seem like it, Vladimir Putin is anything but a supervillain with regard to the Ukraine issue. Instead, Putin and Russia have been backed into a corner by an American military superpower. After all,
having a rival military alliance expand on its borders is not something any nation should or could accept.

From an outsider’s perspective, it can seem like Russia is bent on invading Ukraine for its own power. In reality, Russia is barely holding on to global relevance since the Soviet Union’s collapse. Ukraine joining NATO would therefore be the end of Russia’s ambitions in restoring its own sphere of influence.

For the U.S., the Ukraine tension is just another global hotspot. For Russia and Vladimir Putin, what happens in Ukraine could determine the fate of their entire nation. The deck is stacked against him, but this has only encouraged Putin to go all-in on Ukraine and call Biden and NATO’s bluff.

It’s clear what Putin has to gain by fighting over Ukraine, but for the U.S. and NATO Ukraine looks far more like a liability than a partner.

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