All independent units are subject to a constant dilemma in their foreign relations. They should be either watching the situation they are in so that they will be forced to react in the future, or they should take the initiative to design a situation in which there is the greatest possibility of securing national interests.
For many years, Russia was the only observer on the field due to the lack of sufficient ability to expand NATO. However, choosing this country to attack Ukraine is an initiative to change the playing field in Eastern Europe. Basically, the reason as to why Russia was in a situation where it had to choose between the two options of starting a war or being proactive, goes back to the situation that this country was in, which is partially mentioned below.
NATO’s eastward expansion, with the membership of 14 countries that were allies or former members of the Soviet Union, had for years increased the threat on Russia’s borders. However, the main part of the problem goes back to the Bucharest meeting in 2008, when NATO leaders supported in a declaration the accession of Georgia and Ukraine. Since then, Russian officials have time and again warned against Ukraine’s membership in NATO and stated that they consider such a thing to be a direct threat to Russia.
In the following years, the Ukrainian government’s activities against Russian interests increased and reached its peak with the presence of Zelensky. The prohibition of the Russian language, the killing of the population of Russian descent and the weakening of Russian-Ukrainian cultural ties were followed by neo-Nazi directions. These groups, whose roots go back to cooperation with Hitler’s army to invade the Soviet Union, have a significant impact on Ukrainian politics. A large part of the Azov group, whose crimes were compared to ISIL (Daesh) by the American publication Newsweek, has been integrated into the Ukrainian army, and its leaders are among the commanders and officials of Ukraine.
The westernization of Ukraine took a new form with the removal of the president close to Russia in the Maidan revolution in 2014. In response, Russia seized Crimea, which showed that the country is not exaggerating its sensitivity to Ukraine’s NATO membership.
Crimea is an important part of the conflict due to its possession of the port of Sevastopol, Russia’s most important non-ice-free port in warm waters that is not under blockade by US allies. Ukraine is seeking to reclaim Crimea, and Russia is not willing to compromise on keeping it, which gives it supremacy in the Black Sea. Before 2014, Russia had not shown any interest in occupying Crimea, and this issue only happened in response to NATO’s action.
With Biden taking office, Ukraine’s association with NATO was accelerated. The sending of offensive weapons to Ukraine and joint drills in the Black Sea showed that the US insists on building an all-western country on Russia’s borders. NATO’s 2021 communique reiterated its support for Ukraine’s membership. Just as four months after the 2008 NATO declaration supporting the membership of Ukraine and Georgia, Russia invaded northern Georgia, so the result of the 2021 NATO summit was the attack on Ukraine.
When we look at the story from a Russian politician’s perspective, the issue is clear; since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has not reacted practically to all NATO advances and has retreated from all its strongholds. But Ukraine is the last bastion that should not be turned into a launchpad for threats against Russia.
Although no country is indifferent to the surrounding countries, the Russians’ use of the phrase “near abroad” to explain the surrounding environment explains the double importance of this issue for this country. The fact that Russia has been invaded at various times, including during the Napoleonic Wars and Hitler’s invasion from the western border, clarifies the significance of Ukraine’s buffer role; This viewpoint about Ukraine is shared by all Russian political elites.
Except for the small Baltic states, none of the 14 new NATO members shared a border with Russia. But Ukraine has always acted as a buffer between Russia and other European powers and has a significant difference from other countries.
The aforementioned situation lays out the conditions of Russia being on the threshold of war. Ukraine was on a path that would determine its membership in NATO, and on the other hand, despite the crisis in Donbass and Crimea, confrontation between NATO and Russia had become an almost certain possibility. Moreover, Russia’s diplomatic efforts were rejected by America.
In such a situation, the Russian government was faced with two choices: to remain an observer or to take the initiative. Russia should have either witnessed the deployment of NATO weapons and military battalions on its borders, or instead of playing on the court that NATO was designing, it would have changed the situation in its favor.
If Russia did not put the Ukraine’s government on the brink of collapse by attacking the country, the most likely event would be Ukraine’s membership in NATO and the attempt to recapture Crimea, which would inevitably lead to a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia. The issue could lead the world to nuclear war. Between the two, Russia chose to occupy the eastern regions of Ukraine and destroy its military and infrastructural power, practically making the possibility of this country’s membership in NATO impossible for the next decades.
Brookings had predicted the possibility of NATO-Russia war four years before the start of the war in Ukraine. The think tank wrote in a report, “Bringing Ukraine in with the ongoing disputes would mean that NATO would face an Article 5 contingency against Russia on day one of Kiev’s membership.”
Unprecedented sanctions and efforts to wage attrition warfare show that the West has no desire to end the crisis. By and large, maintaining the order of Europe and the world for Western countries is only possible if Russia is defeated in Ukraine. Before the start of the war, Russia, by deploying its army on the borders of Ukraine for a few weeks, demanded guarantees about Ukraine’s non-membership in NATO and preventing the transfer of offensive military equipment to the Russian border, which was left unanswered by NATO. The reaction of Western countries to the war in Ukraine confirms that in case of Ukraine’s membership, no path for diplomacy was conceivable.
By Hossein Mehdi Tabar