Ukrainian Crisis 2022
As international concern grows, analysts say Moscow’s goal in Ukraine is to create « permanent internal chaos. »
Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation – On Monday night, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin recognized two breakaway regions held by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine as independent states and ordered troops into the territories, escalating the tense standoff between Russia, Ukraine, and Western governments.
“I deem it necessary to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago – to immediately recognise the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR),” he said in a televised speech.
Western countries denounced the move at a marathon United Nations Security Council meeting, during which many speakers warned of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Other allies, like the United States, responded by prohibiting citizens from doing business with the rebel territories and threatening further sanctions.
Putin’s announcement came as more than 100,000 Russian soldiers remain stationed on the Ukrainian border, with tens of thousands more taking part in training exercises in Belarus, amid accusations of Ukrainian military attacks on rebel positions, raising fears that Russia will intervene on the rebels’ behalf and launch a campaign beyond the separatist-controlled areas.
Ukraine has denied it is behind the attacks.
Although the Federation Council, Russia’s upper chambers of parliament, has yet to pass a law officially recognizing the DPR and LNR, the matter could be resolved as early as Tuesday.
Putin also ordered the Russian army to act as peacekeepers in the newly recognized « republics, » which he had previously described as a « genocide. »
To make matters even more complicated, the two self-proclaimed « people’s republics » claim the rest of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as their own, in addition to the areas they already control. It’s unclear whether this means Russian forces will try to push deeper into Ukraine, past the pre-existing front lines.
“Essentially, this represents a much less apocalyptic option than the kind of full-scale invasion the West has been predicting,” security expert Mark Galeotti told Al Jazeera.
“However, the key question would be whether this means recognising the pseudo-states, which would be politically aggressive but not necessarily lead to wider war, or whether Moscow would assert that they have a right to all of the Donbas region, including government-held areas,” Galeotti added.
“That would mean war.”
Despite serving Russian soldiers fighting on the separatists’ side, Russia has denied it is a party to the east Ukrainian conflict until now. The 1975 Helsinki Accords, which include clauses on the « inviolability of frontiers » in Europe, and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which Russia agreed to uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty, would be violated if the army was deployed openly on their behalf.
To some extent, the DPR and LNR are now in a similar situation to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The two breakaway areas on Georgia’s border with Russia declared independence during the civil wars that raged across the country in the early 1990s.
The Georgian army attempted to return them by force in 2008, launching an assault on the rebel stronghold of Tskhinvali, only to be met with Russian military forces pushing them all the way back to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.
Russia claimed to be acting as peacekeepers in the face of Georgian aggression, and shortly after the war, it recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
Only a few countries, mostly Russian allies like Syria and Venezuela, as well as the tiny Pacific island of Nauru, recognized their independence, while Georgia denounces what it calls an illegal Russian occupation of its territory, where Russian forces remain stationed.
Georgia was accused of starting hostilities by a European Union report in 2009, and the Georgian leadership made reclaiming its territory a top priority. Despite this, many people see parallels between Moscow’s support for Georgian rebels and its support for Ukrainian rebels.
From Tbilisi, Georgian security expert Mariam Tokhadze told Al Jazeera, « This is all happening according to the playbook and the scenario we saw here. » « It’s startlingly familiar – the bombing of a sleeping town, the threat of genocide – we’ve heard it all before. » The goal is to destabilize a country to the point where it is permanently engulfed in chaos. »
Volodymyr Ishchenko, a Ukrainian sociologist, agrees that the goal is chaos rather than conquest.
According to Ishchenko, who spoke to Al Jazeera, The Kremlin’s recognition of the separatists stems from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s failure to carry out the terms of the Minsk agreements, which ended the heaviest fighting in eastern Ukraine in 2015 and would have entailed compromise with the rebels; as well as the shutdowns of Russian-language TV stations and the arrest of Viktor Medvedchuk, an oligarch and politician widely seen as pro-Russian.
“Putin hoped for the Minsk accords’ implementation,” Ishchenko said. “He lost his hope starting with Zelenskyy’s repression against Medvedchuk a year ago, and ending with the dissatisfying reactions of the West and Ukraine to Russian coercive diplomacy recently. It’s a part of the strategy of gradual destabilisation of Ukraine, a much smarter strategy for Putin than the all-out ‘imminent invasion’.”
According to Ishchenko, while Russia says it is ready to return to the Minsk accords’ framework, Ukraine “is shortsightedly relieved to proclaim it’s dead”.
“Russia will continue to raise the stakes in its strategy of coercive diplomacy in order to destabilise Ukraine and force it to a more enforceable ‘Minsk-3’ or gradually dismantling the Ukrainian state or revising its borders,” Ishchenko said.
Apart from Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have recognized the DPR and LNR, and Syria’s government said on Tuesday that it supported Putin’s decision to recognize them and would work with them.