russia and ukraine : the escalation into an all out war

Guardian graphic. Source : OpenStreetMap contributors. Images : Reuters, Tass

Guardian graphic. Source : OpenStreetMap contributors. Images : Reuters, Tass


Working towards long lasting peace can be challenging in our ever changing world. Russia and Ukraine have been fighting for several years on land and the two clashed at sea recently. Is it likely that this maritime conflict will escalate into an all out war?  

Indeed, this conflict is not the first in the long term history that Ukraine and Russia share. The two neighboring countries have been intertwined for over a thousand years. In the 2000s Ukraine was one of Russia's biggest markets for natural gas exports, a crucial transit route to the rest of Europe, and home over 7,5 million ethnic Russians, who mostly lived in eastern Ukraine and the southern region of Crimea. At the same time, about 25 percent of Ukraine’s population claimed Russian as their mother tongue. Crimea had become a breaking point in the struggle between Kiev and Moscow, the two capitals.  The peninsula had been ruled by Russia for centuries when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev suddenly gifted it to Kiev in 1954. Ukraine only became independent in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union but nonetheless stayed under the influence of Russia.

In 2014, Ukraine was offered a trade deal with the European Union but the pro-Russian leader at that time denied it. The denial led to one of most crucial disputes between Russia and Ukraine as it resulted in a referendum in which 95,5 percent of the Crimean population voted to join Russia. Even though Putin confirmed that the vote was “fully consistent with the norms of international law and the UN charter” the former president of the United States and the European Union condemned the referendum as illegal and they thought about increasing sanctions towards Russia. Yet, Russia annexed Crimea, allowing the former superpower to control the Kerch strait, separating Crimea from the Russian mainland.

Nonetheless, to this day Ukrainian boats still use this passage and it is seen as provocation towards Russia, that is why on november the 25th of 2018, three Ukranian vessels and their crews where seized by the Russian forces while they were in the Kerch Strait. This scene was filmed and shared widely around the world through different media. The two countries held different views: Ukraine saw it as an act of aggression, Russia sustained that the boats had illegally entered its waters.  

As a consequence, the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko imposed the martial law in certain regions which allows the military forces to “seize” private property, mobilise civilians, ban mass gatherings and stop the sale of alcohol. Moreover, it could also give the government the power to regulate the media, suspend elections. The president says it was a natural response although this decision only heightened the tensions. Putin accuses his opponent of taking advantage the situation in order to suspend the presidential elections set for 31 March 2019 and therefore to remain president.

This incident caused Russia to increase its naval presence in Crimea, and so resulted in a debate at the UN security council in which the two countries’ ambassadors accused each other’s governments of seeking to trigger a conflict. Both of them being afraid that this situation might escalate to a total war.

The debate didn’t put an end to the conflict and Russia’s relations with other countries in the world such as the USA took a turn for the worst. Russia views Ukraine leaning towards the western powers as a threat to its interest. It should be noted that Trump is considering to sell additional arsenal to Ukraine besides the anti-tank missiles already supplied. As Ukraine continues to lean towards the western world powers the war that they have been dreading might take place.

  • An article by ELISABETH SCHILL