On Friday, Dec. 22, the U.S. Department of State announced that the United States would be arming Ukraine with “lethal anti-tank weapons” to combat Russian backed armed separatists in the Donbass region of Ukraine. The move comes as no surprise, as during the Presidency of Barack Obama the topic was hotly discussed, however with the rise of ISIS and the stabilization of the situation in Eastern Ukraine through other means, the United States opted to devote its resources to combating ISIS in the Middle East. However, with ISIS militarily defeated and the recent NATO expansion into Montenegro, the United States finds itself allocating its attention back to Eastern Europe and the conflict that geopolitical wise shook Europe nearly 4 years ago.
In response to the move, The Russian Federation condemned the act, claiming it’ll “further fuel the conflict in Ukraine and derail any chance of peaceful settlement in Ukraine”. The conflict has killed over 10,000 since its start in 2014.
The conflict in Ukraine is fueled by Russian geopolitical interests and can trace its roots back to the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics back in 1991, when all the constituent Republics of the Union-State became fully independent sovereign nations, leaving many ethnic and historic territorial claims into open dispute. In essence, with the large Russian minority in East Ukraine and the Ukrainian Oblast of Crimea, which also includes the highly strategical and Russian majority Black Sea “warm water” port of Sevastopol, coupled with Putin’s longstanding claim of “protecting all ethnic Russians anywhere,” the region was only a ticking time bomb waiting to be set off.
The conflict began on November 21, 2013, with the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine. The revolution was caused by the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych decision to suspend the “Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement,” an agreement which laid the framework for further cooperation and Ukrainian integration into the European Union. The suspension of this agreement was a major change of policy in Ukraine, as Yanukovych had changed the nation’s stance from pro-western to pro-Russia, a move that did not sit well with many ethnic Ukrainians. This marked the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis as the domestic situation in Ukraine quickly spiraled out of control, with mass anti-government protests in Kiev, occupation of local Ukrainian governmental bodies, the impeachment of incumbent President Viktor Yanukovych, the resignation of Ukrainian PM Mykola Azarov and most notably, the Russian annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Eastern Ukraine. On top of this, there was also significant pro-Russian protests in the country, which would later accumulate into a large-scale separatist insurgency.
The Russian Military Intervention in Ukraine was one of the most significant events in recent history as it uprooted the order as to which the European continent was built upon in the post-Cold War era. Reasoning behind Putin’s decision is debated and widely vary, with many arguing that NATO expansions into former Eastern Bloc states and states that share a direct border with Russia alongside a fear of the new and pro Western Ukrainian Government joining NATO and relinquishing Russia’s Black Sea Fleet its rights to the Naval Base in Sevastopol as a driving factor behind Putin’s decision to invade, occupy and annex the Crimean peninsula and support uprisings both directly and indirectly in the Russian majority region of Eastern Ukraine to ensure Russia isn’t geopolitical wise boxed in and isolated. Others suggest that Putin never came to grips with the major decline of Russian prestige after the collapse of the Soviet Union and thus wishes to restore it through a policy of foreign-based successes, which can be seen with Putin’s decision to intervene directly into the Syrian Civil War and utilize Russia’s cyber-corp to interfere in foreign elections and referendums. Other’s argue its a combination of the two.
The West’s response to Russian aggression into Ukraine was quick and decisive to counter Russian cyber and military successes. The day after Crimea held an unconstitutional referendum on its fate, the European Union, Canada, the United States and others applied targeted sanctions on Russia, which led to a major economic decline and the largest recession Russia had seen since its economic troubles during the 1990’s. On top of this, NATO sent military advisors to Ukraine, to assist in training newly mobilized Ukrainian forces to effectively combat Russian armed and backed separatists, who style themselves as the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic (which to note, are also undergoing their own crisis) and Russian “little green men,” official professional soldiers of the Russian Federation operating in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea without marked insignia.
The Western intervention in Ukraine hampered Russian progress in the region. When the conflict began, the breakaway Republics, with the assistance of the Russian Armed Forces, scored several military victories against the Ukrainian government. However, as Western advisors and aid from neighboring states such as Poland poured in, the front lines stabilized, and the Ukrainian Government was able to make significant advances before a stalemate ensued between the warring parties. Attempts at peace were made with the MINSK treaties, however these agreements ultimately failed when neither side would oblige to the terms of the treaties.
This now leads us to the present. With the war dragging on and a deadlock between the two parties that doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon, a fresh breakthrough has come in the form of US armament shipments to Ukraine. The “lethal weapons” that’ll be supplied to the Ukrainian Armed Forces include the US Anti-Tank FGM-148 Javelin. This state of the art weaponry could provide the Ukrainian Armed Forces the advantage it needs, as the TANDEM 600-800mm HEAT rocket can devastate most armored forces the separatists can put up. This now leaves the Kremlin in a precarious situation. Do they further their involvement in Ukraine and face further international backlash that could lead to the advancement of already crippling sanctions that leave their influential oligarchs in a vulnerable position? Or does the Kremlin accept its losses in East Ukraine and further promote the legitimacy of their historical claim on Crimea? Only time will tell how Russian policymakers react to this decisive move taken by the United States.