Written by: Lim Junheng, Jovan (20-O5), Soh Iwin (20-E5)
Designed by: Poh En Xi (20-E3)
13,000+ fatalities. 2 key belligerents. 1 war. Indeed, the Ukrainian Civil War has been one of the largest wars seen by the international community in the 21st century. Often deemed as a forgotten war, it has seen lots of skirmishes with bleak prospects of a peaceful resolution. What exactly is the Ukrainian civil war, and what solutions do our writers have to offer?
So what’s happening in Ukraine?
Historically, Ukraine separated from the Soviet Union (now Russia) after its dissolution in 1991. Since then, Russia has been developing closer ties with the Eastern Ukrainian populace by culturally influencing the region through multifarious methods. This includes discouraging Eastern Ukrainians from speaking their native Ukrainian language, while advocating for an increase in Russian migration to Ukraine.
Over time, the Eastern Ukrainians grew closer to Russia, causing them to yearn to be a part of Russia to reap its economic benefits. Ultimately, the objective was to ensure that Russia could reclaim a share of Ukrainian soil, thus gaining more hard power.
What engendered this war? Tensions flared in 2014, when the Ukrianian government made an erroneous decision to reject the European Union’s offer of a trade deal. This happened after Ukraine succumbed to economic pressure from Russia.
As many Ukrainians residing in the West have been hoping for Ukraine to develop a stronger sense of camaraderie with European nations over Russia, such a decision did not sit well with them, thereby catalysing a protest by the Western Ukrainians. If this sounds complex to you, the problem isn’t getting better. Conversely, the Eastern Ukrainians favoured the decision. Eventually, the Eastern Ukrainians became separatists backed by Russia, and they are known as the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR).
Exploiting the political mayhem in Ukraine, Russia illicitly annexed Crimea. This was done via expelling the Crimean Parliament, followed by a referendum to determine whether Crimea should be under Russian rule. The referendum ended with a landslide, as 95.5% of voters supported Crimea’s independence from Ukraine; however, the results were dubious as international intervention was not allowed in observing the administration of the referendum. This incensed Ukraine, whose constitution was violated by Russia.
The Russo-Ukrainian hostilities aggravated as other incidents involving Russia followed the annexation.
For one, after the annexation, both the DNR and LNR demanded referendums in order to gain independence from Ukraine or recognition as Russian territory. Another instance was when Russia constructed the Crimean bridge in the Kerch Strait (shared waters between Russia and Ukraine), which dwindled the number of ships that passed through Ukraine’s sea and economically pressured Ukraine. Shortly after, the Kerch Strait incident also came into play, where Ukrainian vessels and sailors were seized and fired at for disregarding ‘formal procedures’ (in Russia’s opinion) to enter the Kerch Strait. These events cumulatively intensified Ukraine’s assertions over Russian being an aggressor, as the tensions snowballed to spark military action between Ukraine and Russia which led to the Ukrainian Civil War. Over time, the war is no longer a battle between Russia and Ukraine, for various countries such as the United States of America embroiled themselves in the war in the pursuit of their political agendas, such as the sale of weapons to Ukraine. This heightened the complexity of the issue.
Has anything been done to mitigate this war?
In response to the abhorrence of the war, various countries came up with measures to mitigate the effects of the devastating war, only to achieve limited success.
One measure enacted were the Minsk I Protocol and Minsk II Protocol, the latter being the revamped version of the former. Serving as ceasefires, these protocols aimed to demilitarise the regions in the hopes of reducing the amount of skirmishes in the region. The key difference between Minsk I and II is that the former did not consider the political interests of belligerent nations when it was crafted, while the latter did. Sadly, a common difference was that both protocols were ineffective.
This futility stemmed from a dearth of harsh punishments in place to incentivise belligerents to adhere to the terms of ceasefires; thus, hostilities continued unbated. While Ukraine has no other peace agreements with Russia, the Minsk Agreements have helped to lessen hostilities, though not to zero. Furthermore, with the Minsk Agreements, the “solution” is merely temporary, and chances must be siught to mitigate the war. Even directly from the Ukrainians, their reception of the Minsk Agreements have been far from pleasant. An approval rating of 36% in March 2015 dipped to a shocking 9.2% in November 2016.
With such abysmal attitudes towards this sole solution to an intractable problem, is it finally time for a new solution?
Additionally, attempts to cease Russia’s intervention in the civil war were evidenced by the countless sanctions imposed on Russian individuals, businesses, and officials. This mainly involved those led by the European Union and the United States, but other countries include Canada, Japan, and Australia. Ultimately, their objective was to lambast Russia for its annexation of Crimea and encourage Crimea’s return back to Ukraine by crippling its economy.
However, this merely incited Russia to retaliate with counter-sanctions. One example was the 2014 Russian embargo on food items from the US, the EU, Norway, Canada, and Australia. While the economic sanctions did undeniably help to weaken the Russian economy slightly, as of 2015, the Russian sanctions were said to cost Europe 100 billion Euros. In fact, the aforementioned Russian food embargo hurt the European Union the most, as 73% of the banned imports originated there.
Besides the Minsk Agreements for ceasefire and the economic sanctions imposed on Russia, some resolutions have also been adopted. In response to the Russian annexation of Crimea, the UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262 affirmed a commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity. It also emphasised the invalidity of the 2014 Crimean referendum which saw 97% of the Crimean population vote for integration of the region into the Russian Federation.
Potential solutions to the issue from yours truly
With the heightened military presence on the Russia-Ukraine border, one pertinent question lingers — is this necessary? In fact, peace treaties and the subsequent demilitarisation on both sides can help alleviate tensions at the border.
Looking at past attempts for peaceful negotiations, however, it had signified that it might still be an unfavourable option for the resolution of this conflict. For instance, a four-way negotiation in 2016 involving the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia ended up with a lack of a political agreement. This even incited the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to say that “Pure lip service will not be enough to solve this conflict.”
During further peace talks in Paris in 2019, Russia and Ukraine agreed to a “full and comprehensive implementation” of a ceasefire in the Donbass region of Ukraine by the end of 2019. Indeed, while it did seem timely for a potential solution to resolve the five-year conflict (as of then), was it really safe to heave that sigh of relief? After all, the two sides still hold their differences, and just a provocative remark from either side would render everything futile. But for now, this is all the world can hope for.
Another possible solution is the set-up of a peacekeeping force in the region. With the help of these peacekeepers from neutral European or Latin American countries, or militaries from former Soviet countries not hostile to Ukraine or Russia, the belligerence of these countries might be able to be contained if they are willing to take that step. These troops act as a tactical deterrence for further incursions by Russia.
In spite of this, the problem still remains that both countries might not be sincere about these commitments, making this problem even more unmanageable.
As this article comes to an end, it is necessary to acknowledge the onerous nature of finding a solution to this issue. With many political interests to consider, it is no surprise why this was dubbed by many as a forgotten war. Bearing in mind that it has been ongoing for about seven years, it has been serving as a chilling reminder to the world that conflicts happening globally would bring about devastating consequences, be it directly or indirectly.
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