Millennium Post

Approaching ignition

Will the War in Donbass once again become a 'live war'? In recent weeks, the international community has reacted with increasing alarm at the slow buildup to what looks to be a continuation of the 2014 war. To briefly recap, the 2014 conflict between Russia and Ukraine was sparked over the regions of Donbass and Crimea. Giving support to pro-Russian separatist groups in the region, the Kremlin swiftly annexed Crimea. A supposed 'referendum' gave Russia all the authority they needed to assume the will of the Crimean people in breaking away from Ukraine and 're-joining' Russia. In response, Russia faced severe international condemnation and crippling sanctions. Russia reacted in kind and since then the issue has dragged on. But while the world may have moved on since, the war in Eastern Ukraine has continued simmering. Russia has heavily militarised Crimea and NATO has even stated that it believes the Kremlin has deployed nukes to the region. At the same time, Russia has provided steady support to the pro-Russian separatist groups in nearby Donbass. Putin, of course, has denied any such support, just as he did for Crimea before its annexation. While Putin would like to assure the world community that nothing untoward was happening in the disputed region, the actions of Russia in recent weeks have betrayed such assertions. Once again, thousands of Russian troops are massing at Ukraine's borders. Once again, Moscow is making threats based on odd assertions. It claims that the troops and the heavy equipment is there for its own protection. It has urged Ukraine to not react explosively or risk sparking a war that could destroy it. Not exactly subtle is it? This time around, NATO is determined to not be caught with its pants down. UK, EU and the US have all offered their unwavering support to Ukraine in this new stand-off. Additionally, Ukraine has announced that it will be holding joint military exercises with NATO later this year which will delightfully be known as 'Exercise Cossack Mace'. To put a finer point on it, the situation is explosive. Russia looks to be escalating the crisis along a set plan which looks quite like the one it used for acquiring Crimea. At the same time, for the first time in decades, NATO looks to be regaining its place from its glory days. An alliance of the Cold War, its members in recent decades had started questioning the need to keep it intact at huge expense. But no longer it would seem. There are multiple possibilities for how this situation may go and very few are peaceful. An almost optimistic reading of this situation is that Putin is trying to test the resolve of Joe Biden early in his term to get a measure of how far the US would be willing to go. Others point to Putin using this smoke and mirrors show to distract his political detractors back home. Putin has been facing increased resistance to his rule in recent decades, particularly from the youth which demands political change to a stagnant system. It should be noted that Putin signed new legislation into law this week which will allow him to hold office for two additional six-year terms, meaning he could stay on till 2036 until he retires. All in all, this would likely see him being in power as a Russian leader even longer than Joseph Stalin. There is some merit to this given that Putin will be facing elections in September and a military victory may serve to at least blunt the growing dissatisfaction against his rule. But is Putin willing to take on the international community for the sake of this ploy? The answer depends on just how far the international community is actually willing to go to hold Putin responsible. As 2014 proved, sanctions have a questionable effect in dissuading Russia. Indeed, even the situation in Myanmar currently proves that sanctions are not quite as strong a tool as the international community sometimes makes it out to be. While it is important to avoid escalating the situation, it is also important to note that simple condemnations will not be enough. Already caught with its fingers in multiple pies, the Biden administration will nevertheless have to step up and take charge of a suitably measured but unambiguous response to Russia as the crisis in the Donbass region heats up.

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