TENSIONS between Nato and Russia over Ukraine have reached a critical pass, and there are genuine fears of a fresh conflict in Europe at any time. At the heart of the crisis is Nato’s eastward expansion into Russia’s ‘backyard’, particularly overtures from the Western bloc towards Ukraine, with Moscow drawing the line at any attempts to include the former Soviet republic within the Nato orbit. The Western side claims Russia has massed around 100,000 troops at the Ukrainian border and is poised for an invasion. Moscow denies any such intentions. Over the past few days, there has been a disturbing uptick in combative rhetoric from both sides, while the US has rushed “lethal aid” to Kyiv to help stave off a Russian attack. In the latest developments, the Americans have ordered families of staffers as well as non-essential workers to leave their Kyiv embassy, with the US State Department saying that “significant military action” by Russia could come “at any time”. The tensions are reminiscent of Cold War-era stand-offs, indicating that the wide gulf of mistrust that once existed between the West and the Soviet Union today continues in the form of frosty ties between the Nato states and Russia.
While talks have occurred between the highest-ranking American and Russian diplomats over the crisis, so far these have failed to resolve the issue. However, instead of accepting an armed conflict as a fait accompli, both sides need to keep the communication channels open. A new war in Europe will be disastrous for the region, while also having geopolitical and economic impacts on the rest of the world. It is a fact that since the fall of the USSR, Nato has continuously expanded into the heartland of ex-Warsaw Pact states, sending alarm bells ringing in Russia. However, Moscow has also been involved in the internal matters of former Soviet states and communist allies, intervening militarily at times. To address this and future crises, all sides need to shed the Cold War mentality. Nato must explain why it is expanding its reach even though the bloc says its moves are not targeted at Moscow. Russia, on the other hand, must respect the sovereignty of former constituents of the USSR and its satellite states. Any fresh conflict will have devastating effects on the region, and force members of the global community to take sides, similar to the circumstances that existed during the Cold War.
Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2022