Twenty Minute Topic Episode 62: Ukraine – Will Putin Invade?

The situation on the Russia – Ukraine border is becoming more serious by the day. There are now 130,000 Russian troops on the border, but what’s it really all about?

In this new episode of Twenty Minute Topic, Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins try to make sense of the situation.

Marcus Stead Greg Lance-Watkins
Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins

The history, politics and demography of Ukraine is complex and bloody. We’re being told by the mainstream media that Russian president Vladimir Putin could be about to invade Ukraine.

President Putin is many things – a bully, a tyrant and an egotist, but there is very little evidence that he is mad. There is a lot more to this story than the simple cliches we’re seeing banded about on our TV news bulletins.

Neither President Putin nor President Zelensky of Ukraine say an invasion is coming, so why are there so many Russian troops on the border? An understanding of Ukraine’s history and population is vital when assessing the current situation.

A significant minority of the Ukrainian population are Russian-speaking and identify culturally with Russia, particularly in the area around Donetsk.

Donetsk 2016
A pro-Russian crowd in rebel-held Donetsk in 2016

During the collapse of the USSR, Russia surrendered a great deal of land in Europe and Asia, mostly without violence, and it consented to the reunification of Germany.

Documents in the George Washington University show that at the time, agreements were made that NATO would not expand towards the Russian border in return.

George Kennan, the greatest anti-Soviet diplomat of the immediate post-Cold War era, warned against the expansion of NATO towards Russia’s borders. He said: “The expansion of NATO right up to the Russian borders is the greatest mistake of the post-Cold War period.”

Yegor Gaidar, the former Prime Minister of Russia, liked in the West because of his economic reforms., contacted Canada’s ambassador, Chris Westdal, in Moscow in 2004, to say he had come ‘to beg, to plead’ to advise Ottawa against further NATO expansion which would, he warned, ‘bring out the worst of Russian instincts’.

In 2014, President Yanukovych, who refused to sign a political association or free trade agreement with the EU, was overthrown by a mob which included Nazi sympathisers and hardline football hooligans, with the support of the EU and the USA. At the time of the revolution, President Yanukovych was just one year away from facing re-election at the ballot box.

The government that came next was much more friendly towards the EU, and an agreement followed.

The Minsk II agreement, signed by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany in 2015, was intended to pave the way for a federal, peaceful Ukraine, allowing for enhanced rights for the significant section of the population that speaks Russian and identifies with Russia culturally.

Not a single provision of the Minsk II agreement has been fully implemented.

History teaches us that it is far easier to begin a conflict than it is to end it. Should NATO or any Western countries be involving themselves in a complex and dangerous conflict few people outside the region understand?

The podcast is available on the Talk Podcasts website, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Spotify and the iTunes app.

%d bloggers like this: