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Ukraine: Back In The USSR?

Foreign Policy Brief #141 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald | January 23, 2022

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Policy Summary

Ukraine is one of the major foreign policy concerns of the Biden Administration with tensions reaching a high point over the last month with multiple phone conversations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden and in-person negotiations between US and Russian diplomates in Europe during the past 2 weeks; the major concern of the Biden Administration is another invasion of Ukraine, like the world saw in 2014 with the invasion of the Crimean Peninsula.

Ukraine has long been a focus of Russian politics and culture. Ukraine’s relationship with Russia is a long and complicated one dating back to the origins of the Russian people in Kievan Rus in the 9th Century. Ukraine was part of the centuries old Russian Empire ruled by the Czars, and then became part of the Soviet Union under communist rule.

Fast-forward to the 1900s and the introduction of the Soviet Union to the world stage, and we can start to see some clear examples of Russian (then Soviet) and other sorts of foreign interference in Ukraine; when Ukraine was used mostly for its agricultural advantages. The early stages of the Soviet Union were famous for their strategies of ‘collectivization’ under Joseph Stalin which directly led to widespread famine in Ukraine known as ‘Holodomor’; during this famine over 3 million people died. Once World War II began, Ukraine was occupied by the Nazis until 1944. About 5 million Ukrainians were killed during the conflict and another 1 million Jewish Ukrainians were killed as victims of the Holocaust. After the war Stalin  famously deported 200,000 Crimean Tatars for their alleged aid to Nazi Germany; though this reasoning is now a little more suspicious.

In 1954, the Soviet Union under Nikita Kruschev gifted the Crimean Peninsula to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as a gift to mark the 300th anniversary of the Russian Empire (which was so large it ranged from modern day Finland through Mongolia and to the Pacific Ocean). The merger of the two countries in 1654 was done under the auspices of the Russian Czar after Ukraine and Russia fought a war against the Polish.

When the Soviet Union fell in the early 1990s, Ukraine gained its full independence from the Soviets; this allowed for many policy changes such as allowing the Tatars to return after their deportation, and creating a new Ukrainian Constitution. However, since the end of the Soviet Union, there have been many instances of pro-Russian candidates running for positions in government and other Russian interference with Ukraine including cyberattacks on Ukrainian elections in 2014.

President Putin has seemingly been trying to interfere,as many of his predecessors have done, in the politics and governments of the former Soviet states – especially Ukraine. The 2014 invasion of Crimea followed the ousting of a pro-Russian Ukrainian president, Yanukovych, during the Ukrainian Revolution. The invasion and conflicts since 2014 have had approximately 7,000 casualties, according to a report from the fall of 2021 from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It should come as no shocker to the international community that President Putin has, in recent months, been building up his military presence along the border with Ukraine, potentially signaling a Russian invasion of sorts.

Policy Analysis

Ukraine has long sought entrance to the European Union and membership in NATO. Russia sees these actions as threatening because it would bring the borders of Russia closer to the military and political alliances of the West .

Ukraine is an ally of the United States, which has been made clear by President Biden throughout recent calls with President Putin. President Bident spoke with President Putin recently, and said the following afterward: “We made it clear to President Putin that if he makes any more moves and goes into Ukraine, we will have severe sanctions. We will increase our presence in Europe with our NATO allies, and it will be a heavy price to pay for it,”, as reported by NBC News. Biden also has said that there will not be a military intervention into Ukraine if Russian forces do invade the country.The strategy at that point would be to fund and arm an insurgency inside of Ukraine to repel the Russian military. This would be done with NATO aid in terms of money, munitions, training, technology, intelligence and information,; but without NATO countries putting their own troops on the line. The United States  already gives Ukraine  around $2.5 billion in  defensive military aid – and that could be expanded to a larger sum and including more offensive weaponry.

US sends military aid to Ukraine amid Russian invasion tensions

Photo taken from: NBC News

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Ukraine is very concerned about the reality of a Russian invasion. According to the BBC, the Ukrainian Defense Minister Reznikov believes the invasion could be as imminent as the early months of 2022. CIA Director William Burns agrees and thinks Russia “could act in a sweeping way”. Russia has accused the United States of providing masses of weapons to Ukraine fueling the conflict. President Putin’s major demands are stopping NATO from expanding into Ukraine, the removal of Western military presence in Eastern Europe, and a wish to return to  pre-1997 political borders which would remove counties like Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia from NATO.

 

This would re-create the Cold War Era “Buffer Zone” around Russia to protect their sphere of influence from Western ideas and values.

It is unclear whether or not sanctions against Russia will be a strong enough deterrent to keep Russia from carrying out an invasion. Ukraine will be a big test for the Biden Administration. Many of the values and ideals that President Biden and the United States will be put to the test by the less than democratic Russian President. The talks between the two leaders and their diplomats  in recent weeks have not achieved anything as of yet with both sides claiming that no progress has really been made – and tensions rising. However they have agreed to keep negotiating. The next few weeks should shed light on what Russia will do.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

US Department of State – Ukraine ( https://www.state.gov/countries-areas/ukraine/

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