AMU Homeland Security Original

Tensions Continue to Rise on the Russia-Ukraine Border

By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies

In recent weeks, the world’s news media has been focused on the Russian forces amassing on the Ukraine border. About 100,000 soldiers are currently stationed on the border in the cold Russian winter.

The White House has speculated that Russia will be ready to invade in mid-February. Russia’s winter weather will freeze the ground solid, which will provide perfect conditions for Russian tanks to invade Ukraine.

But Russian president Vladimir Putin is being secretive about what he intends to do. Consequently, policymakers in Washington D.C. and European capitals are thinking about how they should react in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Related link: What Russia Wants versus the Reality of a Ukraine Invasion

Russia Does Not Want NATO Forces or Missiles at Its Ukraine Border

What does Russia want, exactly? The Russians are not hiding much on that front. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has watched the former Eastern Hemisphere come under Western influence.

At this point, countries like Poland and the Baltic states that were part of the Warsaw Pact are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The chance that Ukraine, Russia’s neighbor, may also join NATO is too much for Moscow to swallow.

Russia is not interested in having NATO forces at its borders; it’s simply too close to home. Having NATO missiles near Russian borders is seen by Moscow as a threat, similar to the Soviet missiles placed in Cuba during the 1960s Cuban missile crisis.

Is this perceived threat realistic? Yes.

There are NATO forces in Turkey, which borders Georgia and Armenia. The idea of missiles stationed in Turkey worried the USSR in the 1970s and brought about the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreements.

The Baltic states are already NATO members, and today’s missile technology makes the vicinity of a target less important. But the issue here is beyond having NATO forces or missiles in Ukraine.

Russia sees this situation as a time to retake control and reestablish Russian influence in the area. Ever since the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2014 Ukraine crisis when civil unrest caused pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych to flee from his office, Ukraine has taken steps to come closer to the West and distance itself from Moscow.

Putin, however, didn’t like that. He made his dissatisfaction clear after Moscow stood behind the Russian separatists who declared their independence in Crimea. The neo-imperialist vision of Putin is simple and clear to everyone who pays attention to Russian politics.

Related link: 8,500 U.S. Troops Put on Alert for Possible Deployment as Ukraine Crisis Deepens

Russia Is Trying to Create a Pan-Slavic Empire

In July 2021, Putin’s office released an article written by Putin on the situation with Ukraine. The article was translated to English to make sure nobody misunderstood it and shows Moscow’s desire to have power over the political future of Ukraine.

In the article, Putin stated, “During the recent Direct Line, when I was asked about Russian-Ukrainian relations, I said that Russians and Ukrainians were one people – a single whole. These words were not driven by some short-term considerations or prompted by the current political context. It is what I have said on numerous occasions and what I firmly believe. I therefore feel it necessary to explain my position in detail and share my assessments of today’s situation.” 

He added, “I would like to emphasize that the wall that has emerged in recent years between Russia and Ukraine, between the parts of what is essentially the same historical and spiritual space, to my mind is our great common misfortune and tragedy.”

Putin’s article makes it clear that his stance on Ukraine is a part of a larger geopolitical position. He also noted that beyond Ukraine, Russia has similar concerns for Belorussia, stating: “Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe. Slavic and other tribes across the vast territory – from Ladoga, Novgorod, and Pskov to Kiev and Chernigov – were bound together by one language (which we now refer to as Old Russian), economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith. The spiritual choice made by St. Vladimir, who was both Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Kiev, still largely determines our affinity today.”

Putin’s historical narrative continues in his article, and it is fascinating to read. Putin does not mince words; he talks about a pan-Slavic unity that he clearly intends to revive.

Reactions to Russian Moves

The U.S. and the United Kingdom have threatened retaliation if Russia invades. Weapons capable of dealing with the Russian tank threat have been sent to Ukraine.

Beyond that, the White House has made a clear statement that it will use “a swift, severe and united response” to a Ukraine invasion by Russia. No details were mentioned in the statement, but potential sanctions could include limiting the ability to transfer funds from Russian banks and targeting Russian oligarchs from Putin’s circle.

Russia, on the other hand, can limit the sale of gas and oil to the European Union. That action will have an adverse effect on the economies of several European countries as they attempt to rebuild after the COVID-19 recession.

Does Putin really want to invade Ukraine? I do not believe so.

The issue here is not about controlling the government in Kiev but the geopolitical allegiance of Ukraine to Russia, which could be achieved without an invasion. By deterring NATO forces from being stationed in Ukraine, Putin could continue his long journey to a pan-Slavic empire.

Dr. llan Fuchs is a scholar of international law and legal history. He holds a B.A. in Humanities and Social Science from The Open University of Israel and an M.A. in Jewish history from Bar-Ilan University. Ilan’s other degrees include an LL.B., a LL.M. and a Ph.D. in Law from Bar-Ilan University. He has published a book, “Jewish Women’s Torah Study: Orthodox Education and Modernity,” and 18 articles in leading scholarly journals. At the university, he teaches courses on international law while maintaining a law practice in several jurisdictions

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