Eastern Ukraine: Multi-party game leads to uncertain future

China Military Online
Chen Zhuo
2021-05-06 17:24:34

By Peng Xin and Cheng Cimin

It's been seven years since the crisis in Ukraine started and the situation gets tense from time to time. However, the Ukrainian government has never waged a large-scale war against the Eastern Ukraine civilian armed forces. Since February this year, the situation in the Eastern Ukraine region has become tense again. The Democratic establishment in the US has always regarded Russia as its old foe, while Ukraine seemed to see an opportunity to ride on US's coattails and wanted to show toughness against Russia in exchange for the support of the US since Joseph Biden took office.

For the US, the existence of the Eastern Ukraine situation can make the European Union (EU) more dependent on the US for security and create obstacles to Russia-Europe relations. It would be more cost-effective to drive European countries to lead while weakening the strength of Russia and the EU. In other words, it is in the interests of the US that the situation in Eastern Ukraine is constantly fermenting but ultimately remains not resolved. Of course, the US will try its best to prevent the situation from backfiring. A few days ago, the US even cancelled the planned entry of two destroyers into the Black Sea, which was interpreted by the outside world as avoiding frontal confrontation with Russia.

For Russia, it is also in its best interest to maintain the status of "no unification and no independence" in Eastern Ukraine. Under the current circumstances, it is impossible for Russia to swallow the Eastern Ukraine region without a big fight with the West. However, it can use NATO's requirement that the newly joined member states have no territorial disputes to make a fuss about the situation in Eastern Ukraine and obstruct the process of Ukraine's accession to NATO. Therefore, after showing muscles and a tough stand, Russia pushed the boat along the current and gave Ukraine and the West an out.

In contrast, the attitudes of European countries on the Ukrainian issue are more contradictory and divided. On the one hand, Europe has the internal motivation to accept more former Soviet republics in order to expand its security depth and strengthen their overall strength. On the other hand, Europe also fears Russia, who has a powerful armed force and nuclear arsenal. Compared with the US, European countries do not want direct armed conflict with Russia. Within Europe, compared with Eastern European countries that tend to be tough on Russia, the 'old European' countries such as France and Germany are more willing to improve EU-Russian relations due to their different security perceptions and overall consideration of European interests. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for Russia to withdraw its troops to ease the situation during a phone call with Vladimir Putin recently.

Ukraine knows the thoughts of outsiders but it cannot do much. Ukraine knows that it is impossible to regain the Eastern Ukraine region through war without the direct support of the West. Ukraine will lose everything if they are not careful. Its seemingly tough postures such as increasing troops to cater to the will of the US are largely out of desperation; otherwise it will be difficult to obtain substantial support from the US. However, it is precisely by seeing through the two faces of the US and NATO, as well as the true ideas of Russia, that Ukraine can make some bold but safe moves. It seemingly showed loyalty to the US in a reckless manner and relied on the retreat of the US and Europe to ease the tension it provoked without losing any dignity. This may be said to be a strategy, but it also reflects Ukraine's helplessness.

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