Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

What’s behind the Russia-Ukraine Conflict?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Ukraine-Russia Conflict

Thousands of Russian troops have been deployed to stations along Ukraine’s border, sparking fears among Western leaders and Ukraine itself that Moscow is planning an invasion

Roots of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Ans. USSR disintegration

  • Ukraine was a part of the Russian empire for centuries before becoming a Soviet republic.
  • It won independence as the USSR broke up in 1991.
  • Since then, it has moved to shed its Russian imperial legacy and is in increasingly close ties with the West.
  • After the Crimean annexation, both nations have signed ceasefire agreements at Minsk in 2014 and 2015.

The beginning

Ans. Separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s East (by Russian speaking population)

  • In 2014, then Russian-leaning Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow.
  • This sparked mass protests that led to his ouster in 2014.
  • Russia responded by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and throwing its weight behind a separatist insurgency that broke out in Ukraine’s east.

Beginning of armed conflict

  • More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting that devastated Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland known as Donbas.
  • Ukraine and the West accused Russia of sending its troops and weapons to back the rebels.
  • Moscow denied that, charging that Russians who joined the separatists were volunteers.
  • Earlier this year, a spike in cease-fire violations in the east and a Russian troop concentration near Ukraine fueled war fears.

Why is Russia resented over Ukraine?

  • Cultural ties defying the conflict: The Russian president has repeatedly described Russians and Ukrainians as “one people” and claims that Ukraine has unfairly received historic Russian lands during Soviet times.
  • Influence of the ‘West’: The Kremlin has accused Ukraine of failing to honor the 2015 peace deal and criticized the West for failing to encourage Ukrainian compliance.
  • Asylum to rebels: The agreement was a diplomatic coup for Moscow, requiring Ukraine to grant broad autonomy to the rebel regions and offer a sweeping amnesty to the rebels.
  • Affinity with the US and NATO: Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO represent a red line for Moscow.

American concern over Russian build-up

  • Buffer state with Russia: Ukraine is a crucial buffer between Russia and the West.
  • Heavy troop deployment: Russia hasn’t provided any details about its troop numbers and locations, saying that their deployment on its own territory shouldn’t concern anyone.
  • Invasion: Russia is planning to deploy an estimated 175,000 troops and almost half of them are already stationed along various points near Ukraine’s border in preparation for a possible invasion.
  • Protection of its ally: Ukraine has been a close ally of the US. Hence, NATO has placed its military infrastructure closer to Russia.

Recent developments

  • As it moves a large number of troops towards the border, Russia seeks assurances from the US that Ukraine will not be inducted into NATO.
  • However, US President Joe Biden has made it clear that he is not prepared to give any such assurance.
  • This has left the countries in a stand-off, with tens of thousands of Russian troops ready to invade Ukraine at short notice, and the West not budging on Russia’s demands.
  • Experts believe that Russia is keeping the tensions high at the Ukraine border in order to get sanctions relief and other concessions from the West.


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