At the end of March, Ukraine accused Russia of amassing thousands of troops along the country’s northern and eastern borders, as well as in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.
Since then, tensions have escalated between the two countries, and the United States, Britain and the European Union have expressed their concerns and expressed support for the Ukrainian government.
The fact that Russia also ended up in disagreement with the Czech Republic and that both countries had now expelled about two dozen diplomats, hardly made things any better.
During Monday’s European Union foreign ministers’ meeting, concerns over Russia’s work agenda dominated.
Time has several reasons
There are several reasons why escalation is taking place in Ukraine at the moment, says Jakob Hidensko, head of research at the Swedish Defense Research Agency (FOI).
“The appointment of Joe Biden to the presidency of the United States is one. On the Russian side, they might want to try the new administration and see if it is ready to defend Ukraine,” he says.
– There were previous indications that an escalation was on the way. Soon the ceasefire from last year collapsed since the start of the year, and violations of it increased significantly in February, Jakob Heidenskog continues.
In addition, there is also an aspect of domestic politics in Ukraine.
The country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, recently spoiled his anti-Russian rhetoric. Among other things, he shut down several pro-Russian Ukrainian TV channels.
When he took over nearly two years ago, he had a much softer streak. He said the most important thing is to end the killing and that he is ready to make concessions to Russia. It turned out to be a naive position, because Russia was not interested in ending the conflict.
Russia’s actions are “strategic”
Why, then, is the Ukraine question so important to Russia?
To understand this, we must go back in time further. This is what Carolina Vendil Pallin, research leader and expert on Russian politics, among other things, thinks of, as well as at the FOI.
Russia is operating in the long term and strategically. It is still considered a regional superpower and what is happening in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region is part of their area of interest. This is why they want to influence Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policy, she told TT.
Crimea was annexed in March 2014. The protest movement known as Euromajdan had already at that time forced the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, to leave the country. Russia chose to respond with harsh military means.
I think Russia wanted to show that if Ukraine wanted to approach the European Union, that would have consequences. But it’s not about 2014, even before the relationship between Russia and the West turns chilly, Carolina Vendel-Palin continues.
An important election awaits Putin
There are several good reasons why Russia may want to avoid approaching its Western neighbors.
If countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus were to move in a more western-oriented democratic direction, there is great fear that the people of Russia would do the same. It will be devastating for Putin, who does not want any alternatives to him and his United Russia party.
In this way, much of what is going on is connected to the internal political tensions in the country before the State Duma elections in September.
Weak opinion numbers make imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny even more concerned about Putin.
The younger ones are dissatisfied
On Wednesday, the same day Putin plans to deliver his annual major speech, large demonstrations are planned in support of Navalny. Many young Russians participated in similar events since the opposition politician was arrested at the beginning of the year.
In local public opinion, there is a generation gap. From Ukraine’s point of view and how satisfied one is with Putin’s leadership, one finds that the younger generation is fundamentally dissatisfied with the current situation.
Carolina Vendell-Palin believes the generation gap may be due to the fact that the younger generation never lived during the Soviet era.
They grew up instead with a number of freedoms older people didn’t have when they were young. They want to be able to work and create their lives in other ways. Putin knows this very well.
Ida Vanhainen / TT
In the winter of 2013-2014, Ukraine was shaken by mounting protests against then-pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, who refused to sign a cooperation agreement with the European Union. The president’s violent attempt to quell the demonstrations caused a great outrage and led to his flight to Russia in February 2014.
The counter-protests in Crimea, with the majority of the Russian-speaking population, at the same time led to a swift referendum demanding Russian membership, followed by the annexation of Russia in violation of international law.
In parallel, protests also erupted in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, where the situation subsequently deteriorated into a civil war. Most of the two provinces today operate as breakaway republics with close ties to Russia. On the front line, there are regular clashes between Russian-backed local militias and Ukrainian government soldiers.
Russia has vehemently denied its involvement in Donetsk and Luhansk and considers itself fully eligible for Crimea, citing the referendum. However, the European Union and the United States refused to accept the peninsula as Russian and have contracts with economic sanctions against a large number of Russian and Ukrainian politicians, the military and companies.