The Impact of Regional and International Variables in the Russian-Ukrainian War

By SAKHRI Mohamed

Abstract

The Russian-Ukrainian war that began in February 2022 has dramatically altered the geopolitical landscape and relationships between major powers. This conflict is the result of various regional and international dynamics that have been building over the past few decades. This paper analyzes key regional and international variables that impacted the onset and evolution of this war. It examines factors such as NATO expansion, EU aspirations of Ukraine, Russian historical ties to Ukraine, the role of the United States, differences between Western and Russian perspectives, impacts on the post-Cold War security architecture, and reactions from China and other powers. By evaluating these variables, this paper aims to provide greater understanding of the complex web of factors that contributed to this armed conflict in Eastern Europe.

Introduction

On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a large-scale military invasion of Ukraine. This action represents a dramatic escalation following months of rising tensions, failed diplomacy, and initial Russian incursions into separatist-held areas of Eastern Ukraine. The unfolding violent conflict between Russia and Ukraine has already killed thousands, displaced millions, and threatens massive destruction and instability across the wider European region (Smith, 2022).

The onset of this war is the product of various complex regional and international dynamics that have evolved since the end of the Cold War. Key factors include NATO and EU expansion eastward, revival of Russian nationalist sentiments under Vladimir Putin, differences between Western and Russian perspectives on European security, and reactions from major powers like China and India. No single variable fully explains this outbreak of conflict, but rather the combination and convergence of multiple regional and global trends (Kofman et al, 2021).

This article will provide an in-depth examination of the most salient regional and international variables that contributed to the current Russian-Ukrainian war. It will analyze factors such as NATO and EU eastern enlargement, Russian historical ties to Ukraine, the role of the United States, divergence in Western and Russian security outlooks, the weakening of the post-Cold War order, and responses from China and other major powers. Evaluating these key variables will provide greater insight into how regional and global dynamics combined to spark this armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

NATO and EU Expansion

Many experts cite the eastward expansion of Western institutions like NATO and the EU as a key variable catalyzing Russia-Ukraine tensions and the current war. Since the 1990s, both organizations have steadily incorporated former Eastern bloc states like Poland, Romania, and the Baltics that were previously within Russia’s sphere of influence. This expansion is perceived by Russia as a threat to its strategic interests in maintaining a buffer zone from Western military alliance and economic integration (Mearsheimer, 2014; Layne, 2022).

NATO’s growth continued despite promises to not enlarge eastward after German reunification, feeding Russian fears of encirclement. Major moments that raised tensions include NATO’s 1995 accession of former Soviet states, the 2008 invitation to Ukraine and Georgia, and the Alliance’s military buildup in Eastern Europe after the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea (Sakwa, 2015).

Meanwhile, talk of Ukraine joining the EU’s economic and political bloc also challenged Russia’s historic ties with its Western neighbor. Efforts by Ukraine to align with the EU, such as the 2014 Association Agreement rejected by Russia, demonstrated the country’s westward trajectory. Moscow viewed this as another instrument of Western encroachment on its borders and interests (Allison, 2022).

Overall, the dual expansion of Western security and economic institutions into former Soviet domains has been a major source of suspicion and conflict with Russia. Moscow sees its vital strategic buffers slipping away, while the West justifies enlargement as voluntary accession by independent states seeking security and prosperity. But this disconnect in perspectives between Russia and the West contributed significantly to rising tensions leading up to the current war.

Russia’s Historical Ties with Ukraine

Related to concerns over Western expansion are Russia’s intricate historical, cultural, and political ties with Ukraine. As the cradle of early Slavic civilization with ties dating back centuries, Ukraine represents an area of great symbolic and strategic significance for Russia (Hosaka, 2022).

Ukraine was a vital part of the Tsarist Russian empire before becoming a Soviet republic. During the Soviet era, Ukraine was an integral part of Moscow’s economic and political structures. The two countries remain deeply intertwined through energy, trade, populations of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, and other linkages. Ukraine’s status as a buffer state between Russia and the West has always been paramount in Russian strategic thinking (Kuzio, 2021).

Therefore, Ukraine’s overtures to the West represent not just a security threat for the Kremlin, but also a profound civilizational rupture. In the nationalist ideology of Putin, Ukraine is an inalienable part of Russian heritage that should not be lost to Western alliances (Umland, 2021). Allowing Ukraine’s alignment with NATO/EU is seen as an unacceptable humiliation and threat for Russia’s great power status.

This combination of security considerations and nationalist identity helps explain why Russia has been willing to take extreme military action to stop Ukraine from joining the Western bloc. Reintegrating Ukraine into Moscow’s orbit, by coercion if necessary, is viewed as essential to restoring Russia’s sphere of influence and reclaiming its historic status.

Role of the United States

The policies and actions of the United States as the leading Western power have also critically impacted Russia-Ukraine tensions. U.S. leadership was essential in promoting NATO expansion despite Russian objections throughout the 1990s and 2000s (Sarotte, 2021). Continued efforts by Washington to pull Ukraine westward like the 2008 NATO invitation further alienated Russia.

More recently, waves of U.S. sanctions against Moscow after Crimea led to a sharp downturn in bilateral relations. Russia views these U.S. policies as deliberately provocative and threatening (Mankoff, 2022). American military aid provisions to Ukraine worth billions of dollars also concern Russia in terms of strengthening its adversary.

On a geopolitical level, U.S. unipolar dominance has motivated Russia to push back and reassert itself, especially in zones like Ukraine vital to its interests. Putin’s vision of a multipolar order necessitates resisting U.S. hegemony and control over Eurasia, even through force (Lo, 2022).

Overall, the United States has been the main driver of the Western bloc’s expansion and estrangement from Russia. American support for drawing Ukraine into the Western orbit while isolating Russia diplomatically and economically contributed significantly to the breakdown in relations that spawned this conflict. Russia’s desire to challenge U.S. dominance has also spurred its aggressive stances.

Differing Western and Russian Perspectives

Behind the growing tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine lay profoundly different perspectives on European security and the regional order. These clashing strategic visions help explain the conflict of interests that led to the war.

Western states have promoted a vision of a Europe “whole, free and at peace”, anchored by liberal values, democracy, human rights, and integration through NATO/EU. In contrast, Russia seeks a sphere of influence and buffer zone from Western institutions, sees NATO as a threat, resists democratization as potentially destabilizing, and uses limited applications of force to defend regional interests and ethnic Russian populations (Baev, 2022).

These divergent outlooks produced conflicting strategies toward Ukraine. To Western states, integrating Ukraine reflects the voluntary choice of a sovereign state seeking greater freedom and prosperity within European structures. But for Russia, Ukraine joining Western blocs represents an unacceptable incursion into its sphere that must be resisted (Lo, 2022).

Neither side has reconciled these competing perspectives. The West did not appreciate Russia’s fundamental security concerns over Ukraine, while Russia grew unwilling to tolerate further Western geopolitical expansion. With no common understanding reached, the gulf in strategic visions widened to the point of violent conflict.

Impact on the Post-Cold War Order

The war in Ukraine represents a watershed moment that will profoundly impact the post-Cold War international order. Russia’s brazen use of military force to invade a sovereign neighbor demonstrates Moscow’s willingness to challenge fundamental principles of European security (Kofman et al, 2022).

Core norms violated by Russia include respect for territorial integrity, national sovereignty, and peaceful resolution of disputes. Moscow disregarded these rules in the name of defending its strategic interests and sphere of influence (Baev, 2022). This sets a dangerous precedent that powerful states can redraw borders through coercion.

The war also signals the failure of efforts since the Cold War to integrate Russia within Western structures and norms. Deteriorating relations from NATO expansion to sanctions following Crimea demonstrate that Russia no longer feels bound by the cooperative European order (Trenin, 2022).

Instead, Russia is reasserting its great power prerogatives regionally and challenging U.S. unipolarity. This war reveals a descent back toward geopolitical competition and the primal use of force (Mankoff, 2022). The post-Cold War order has badly fractured, with uncertain implications.

Reactions from China and Other Powers

The responses to Russia’s invasion from major powers like China and regional states illustrate the wider international implications. China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions, instead blaming NATO expansion as a root cause while limiting criticism to calls for dialogue (Wu, 2022). Beijing’s tacit support reveals its alignment with Moscow against U.S. dominance.

Meanwhile, powers like India, Turkey, and Israel have avoided strong censure of Russia due to economic and security ties. Their stances demonstrate the limits of international opposition that gives Moscow latitude (White House, 2022). However, the wide condemnation and sanctions from the West and partners in Europe, North America and Asia show some unified resistance to violations of sovereignty.

Overall, global reactions underscore both the divides Russia’s behavior has caused in the international order, but also the inability or unwillingness of major powers to directly intervene and halt the conflict. This shows a complex mix of responses that demonstrate the global disorder unleashed.

Conclusion

The current war between Russia and Ukraine arose from the complex convergence of an array of regional and international trends. Key factors include NATO and EU eastern expansion, Russia’s historical ties with Ukraine, diverging Western and Russian security perspectives, waning U.S.-Russia relations, and the fraying of the post-Cold War order. Major power reactions also illustrate the global divides caused by this conflict.

Moving forward, resolving the acute crisis in Ukraine will require grappling with these deeper dynamics. Compromises will be needed on issues like NATO expansion and eastern European security arrangements to address Russia’s core concerns. Rebuilding a functioning European order will also necessitate reconciling Russian and Western interests.

Finding solutions will not be easy, but requires recognizing how regional and international variables contributed to this war. This complex interplay of factors provides context for the outbreak of the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II. Careful analysis of these dynamics will be essential for scholars and policymakers alike as they strive to pull back from violent confrontation and rebuild a stable regional and global order.

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SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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