The current crisis in Ukraine has once again revived the concept of great power competition and its impact on international security. The escalating situation intensified after the deployment of Russian forces on its border with Ukraine and military developments in its neighbouring countries. As per some international media reports, which have quoted US President Biden, Russia has deployed almost one hundred fifty thousand troops on its borders with Ukraine. In the same vein, the US has sent additional troops and military equipment to Poland, Romania, and Germany as part of its security commitment towards her European allies.
As tensions continue to mount between Russia and Ukraine, many fear and argue that this could worsen ties between Moscow and Washington. While both world powers are careful not to engage in direct confrontation, the crisis over Ukraine will have long-lasting implications for international security and great power competition.
However, it needs to be pointed out that the recent escalation has its roots in 2014 when war broke out between anti- and pro-Russian forces in the east which resulted in the political and military annexation of Crimea. In subsequent years, skirmishes and shelling occasionally also occurred. However, 2021 saw a gradual increase in violence particularly in the eastern part of Ukraine. In October 2021, Russia began to deploy its forces and military equipment near the Ukrainian border. According to satellite imagery, by November and December 2021, Russia had already deployed missiles and other heavy weapons near its border with Ukraine. Moreover, in February 2022, President Biden warned that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine after a false flag operation within days. However, Russian officials rejected this claim and termed it ‘hysteria’. Regardless of their credibility, the Ukraine crisis has emerged as one of the most intense crises involving the US and Russia particularly based on their security interests, commitments, and doctrines.
It is worth mentioning here that one of the most important determinants of the current crisis is Kyiv’s prospective inclusion in the US-led ‘North Atlantic Treaty Organization’ (NATO) alliance. Russia maintains that the US is paving the way for Ukraine to join NATO which Washington denies. This is perhaps one of the primary reasons for Russia to deploy its forces on its border with Ukraine. In this regard, in December 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a set of demands, including keeping Ukraine out of NATO was one of the key ones. Furthermore, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered that if NATO reduced its troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe, he would withdraw Russian forces. However, the US and other NATO countries rejected these demands and warned Russia of retaliation if it invaded Ukraine. While Russian troops have now allegedly reached the capital city and the European Union has initiated several sets of sanctions against Moscow, no boots on the ground from NATO seem to be forthcoming.
Ukraine, despite fighting it out with Russia on ground by itself, has still not categorically moved away from seeking membership in NATO which is Russia’s main security concern. The US, on the other hand, is also reluctant to guarantee that Ukraine will not be made part of NATO. Russia, as it appears is also suspicious in this regard and maintains that Ukraine becoming part of NATO would undermine its national security. This clearly shows that there has been a continuous lack of trust between the two great powers over the Ukraine crisis which is likely to deepen in the coming days.
Hence, the rapidly unfolding events in Ukraine have further complicated global politics and great power contestation. Unless and until there is lasting settlement, the antagonism between Russia and the West would likely increase. The new wave of hostilities between the EU, USA and Russia could also affect other important issues such as arms control, non-proliferation and European security.
Haris Bilal Malik is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image Source: Michael Lee 2022. ” Biden makes direct appeal to citizens of Russia, warns against ‘bloody destructive war” Fox News, 15 Feb 2022. https://www.foxnews.com/politics/biden-direct-appeal-russia-destructive-war