A couple of days ago, Ukraine was hit by an episode of cyberattacks targeting some of the most prominent government websites including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The attacks also threatened the Ukrainians and warned them of a much more surreal time ahead. While the Pentagon claimed that it was too soon to blame the attack on any perpetrators, the Ukrainian government was quick to ascertain that Russia was behind the attack.
Multiple US officials have come out to claim that according to the Biden administration, Russia could be preparing for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in the epilogue to these cyber-attacks, a trajectory similar to the one Russia followed to regain Crimea. To increase the concerns, three-week-long talks between NATO, European and US officials, as well as Russia, have led to a stalemate with each side blaming the other for non-compliance. Regarding the simmering situation, the Russian Foreign Minister has snapped at the West for knocking down all attempts aimed at de-escalation and has drummed the increased NATO activity alongside the Ukrainian border, while US officials blamed Russia for a lack of diplomacy. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are at an all-time high as the former has mass stationed troops alongside Belarus, north of Ukraine, in the prologue to a possible military invasion.
However, while it’s apparent that the threat of an invasion from Russia is real-time, it is however not as immediate as the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia has explicitly announced that Russia has no intentions of any attack on Ukraine as of now. Nevertheless, this does not rule out the possibility that Russia will eventually reclaim Ukraine, as soon as it is on a firm footing to do so. Ukraine, being a long-disputed land, shares its borders with both the European Union and Russia. Due to historical ties, it shares a cultural affiliation with Russia as Russian remains a widely spoken language in the region. But the tilt of Ukrainian institutions towards the West and its decision to join NATO has prompted Russia to step in to prevent Ukraine from falling into the West’s influence.
Ukraine and Russia have been entwined in a violent conflict for 8 years. In 2014, Russia took over and annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine after a referendum was held which revealed a 97 percent voter turnout in favour of Crimea joining the Russian Federation. Thereafter, Russia has been actively seeking to regain Ukraine too, upon which the former lays strong historical as well as political claims. Ukraine, which has been a part of Russia for centuries, gained independence with the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, to seek closer ties with the West. So much so, it is now on the go for integrating into NATO in a further sway towards the West, a move openly denounced by Russia.
Despite Russia’s military buildup alongside the Ukrainian border, the US has blatantly rejected Russia’s demand to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. Russia has also issued official, written concerns over the expansion of NATO while demanding that NATO to rule out any future possibility of Ukraine joining it. In response, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made the US’ priorities clear by stating that the country is going to support Ukraine’s decision to join NATO and that it will continue to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty.
An unstable Ukraine would not only adversely affect all the immediate stakeholders involved but also have ripple effects spreading as far as Egypt and Yemen. Ukraine is one of the most fertile lands on Earth with highly arable lands towards the Eastern side, which is also more vulnerable to any attacks from Russia. It is a mass exporter of crops like rye, corn, barley, and most importantly wheat. Among the countries that import wheat from Ukraine are China and many other European Union countries.
In addition, many countries from the developing world are importers of wheat for example in 2020, half of the entire wheat consumption in Lebanon was sourced by Ukraine. Egypt is by far the largest importer of wheat from Ukraine whereas Yemen imports 22 percent and Libya imports 43 percent of its wheat from Ukraine. One can only imagine the dire consequences of the squeezed wheat trade especially in the already war-torn and starved Yemen, in case Ukraine comes under attack.
Russia’s long-fought battle over Ukraine has claimed thousands of lives and has incurred heavy losses to international diplomacy. Like every other existing conflict, this one too has ended in a stalemate with the West blaming Kremlin’s harsh policies that have pushed Ukraine towards the Western bloc. Ukraine sees an alliance with the West necessary for its security against Russia. Russia, on the other hand, disputes the increasing NATO presence along regions like the Baltic states, which pose a threat to Russia’s dominance in the region. Whether or not Russia’s claim to Ukraine is justified is an increasingly complex question but in case of an invasion, the world will surely see far-reaching and long-lasting effects.