Thanks to a Ukrainian transport plane being shot down and the killing of a man inside Russian territory from shelling, the conflict between Kiev and Moscow is once again forcing its way into the spotlight instead of deescalating. Although no one knows who actually shot down the Ukrainian plane and who shot into Russian territory, the unfolding events are leading to a shoot-first, ask-questions-later scenario. Whether pro-Russian rebels which the Ukrainian government believes includes Russian troops, are provoking Russian intervention, Russia set in motion these events, or these events were inevitabilities, the Ukrainian Crisis will eventually escalate out of control unless the broader interests of the parties involved are addressed.
Clearly, Russia’s involvement in Ukraine is murky, yet Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Ukrainian territory Crimea, which makes Russia’s complaints that Ukraine is violating Russian sovereignty unreasonable, demonstrates Russia is playing a role in this ongoing conflict. Considering Russia’s apathetic response to the fact militants are violating their borders to ship weapons into Ukraine, it is clear Moscow is, at least, passively supporting the separatists while accusations that Russia is arming the rebels may well be valid. Given all of this, it is safer to assume Russia is impeding Ukraine’s efforts to reassure control over its own territories; therefore, ending the conflict starts with understanding Russia’s goal.
Although the potential that Russia was trying to reclaim Ukraine in order to rebuild the Soviet Union has largely been ruled out based on the costs associated with doing such a thing, which hints that Russia’s annexation of Crimea based on history was just a rationalized opportunity Russia seized upon, Putin certainly wants political influence over Ukraine. While the militants in Ukraine will eventually prove to be a liability for Russia, they are a useful tool Russia can use to justify an attack on Ukraine and/or help delegitimize/weaken the Poroshenko government. Advances by the Ukrainian military, which has managed to cut the amount of territory held by militants in half, may have been tolerable to Putin, but it is certainly within his interests to ensure a limited insurgency continues to exist.
Assuming something like this to be the case, it seems likely Putin is simply waiting for an opportune time to re-escalate the conflict. Even though Putin may have been willing to wait until European demand for Russian natural gas to began to tighten with the approach of winter, thus making Europe less likely to pursue sanctions against Russia, continued progress by the Ukrainian military would have probably lead to the dismantling of the separatist movement and Putin’s influence over Ukraine would have been even weaker. With all this in mind, it is becoming ever more clear that Putin will not allow the Ukrainian Crisis to be resolved without Russia gaining significant political leverage over the new Ukrainian government. As such, Western powers should seek out any evidence they can find on Russia’s involvement and act in accordance while they still have the upper hand.
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