Feb 2022, a replica of the Russia-Ukraine conflict has been analysed in the light of various spectrums aiming at unfolding the multi-dimensional nature of the said conundrum. One of the important lenses one can apply to reach out to this very conflict might be Neo-Realism. Realists advocate survival through security which is ensured via the maximization of powers.
The core essence and basis of this approach are how to survive in an anarchic world. Its belief lies in the protection of national interests through power maximization. The Russia-Ukraine conflict can easily be looked into through the prism of neo-realism with the purpose of unveiling the degree of importance of Ukrainian soil to both parties (West and Russia).
What is Realism?
A set of rules and regulations, perceptions, assumptions and presumptions and beliefs is badly needed to guide the rolling and functioning of a thing. If there is an internationalism, it needs proper guidelines to move on. There are two prevailing, most eminent ones, concepts governing internationalism right now: realism and liberalism. The former paradigm has been in existence for a long. Sun Tzu in his well-known write-up, The Art of the War, explains the ways to live in surroundings full of power politics.
Following that, Machiavelli’s The Prince unfolds the method to sustain in power which is very much power-oriented. Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan is considered to be a sole sovereign entity in his state of nature. The nineteenth-century Napoleon and twentieth-century Hitler and Mussolini and the twenty-first century’s Modi, Trump and almost all the narrow populists fall under the umbrella of realism.
Realism is broadly categorized into two categories: classical realism and neo-realism. Classical realists consider the nature of a man whimsical and selfish longing for gaining and maximizing his power thereby achieving his personal goals mostly to hold to power. Neo-Realists term the international system an anarchic one where there is no sole-sovereign authority to provide the rules of business for conducting international affairs.
Therefore, in such an anarchic system each state tries to realize its survival by ensuring security which might be gained by power maximization. Thus, power politics is the ultimate scene in international arena in accordance with the neo-realist approach.
Russia-Ukraine Standoff and Neo-Realism
The Ukrainian soil has been a battleground between warring parties, Russia, Ukraine and the West, since the 2010s. This is just by virtue of its attractive nature and liability to the conflicting outfits.
Ukraine As a Buffer State
The geographical location of Ukraine laying very much to the next-door neighbor towards West of Russia is perceived to be acting as a buffer state for Kremlin since it is going to block the eastward expansion and penetration of the West in either form. The erstwhile Cold War skirmishes all over the world to detain, reduce, uproot, expel the rival and increase personal influence came to a celebrated end with the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1989 and 1991 formally.
This historic end triggered the unipolar world order led by the sole superpower the U.S.A. All the newly independent states broke out of the former soviet Union celebrated their entrance into a new and much-exaggerated order of liberalism. Russia emerged as the strongest successor of the USSR. Initially, it was potentially weak to uphold its lost and forgone glory thereby entering into a number of initiatives like the Nato and Russia Founding Act among others to ensure its core interests. Kremlin kept harping on being ensured with territorial security by stopping the enlargement of Nato( an outdated organisation as it was made to counter the westward expansion of Communism whose end has made it useless).
The US-led West kept pushing Nato towards east in 1999 via opening the doors of Nato for Poland, Hungry and Czech Republic all of which fall in the areas of Russian influence. The 2004 move of Nato made seven more members from the territories of Russian influence enable to join Nato. All this made Moscow infuriated, but succeeded in keeping itself away from adopting a retaliated posture unless it made its economy strong and stable. It was 2008, when Georgia sought the NATO’S membership which formally experienced the resurgent and retaliated response of Russia by invading Georgia.
The Ukraine episode opened in the 2010s following that of the Georgian one
The internal political rift and polarisation of Ukraine have given birth to the pro-western, pro-Russian and pro-neutral political hordes. The pro-western political horde seeks Nato’s as well as EU’s memberships against the mounting Russian concerns. The 2014 friendly move of the pro-Russian President of Ukraine toward Moscow inflamed the agitation across the country as a result of which Russia annexed Crimea and extended its support to the separatists in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine. The recent episode in this conflict arose as a result of the repetition and unveiling of Ukraine’s desire to throw itself into the Western orbit of influence by joining Nato and the EU.
Moscow has been warning the West including the US against extending NATO or EU towards the East, especially towards the countries falling in the Russian sphere of influence for a long time. The West is persistently ignoring it while stretching its organizations eastward. This is just because of the West’s interests to encircle resurgent Russia and clip its feathers. The perpetual and even momentary existence in the Russian surroundings are categorically threatening the regional interests of Moscow by limiting its sphere of influence.
The Possible Existence of West in Russian surroundings Posing a threat to Putin’s Russian Order
Realistically, Kremlin’s response to the possible and repeated discourse of Ukraine’s Nato membership has been triggered by another startling fact. The western existence in the Eurasian region or the region that falls under the influence of Russia will introduce the Western liberal political and economic system in the adjacent and regional countries of Russia from where it may also infiltrate into Putin’s Russia thereby undoing and replacing Putin’s authoritarian regime.
A number of regional countries, recently Finland and Sweden, are galloping towards Nato’s membership and throwing themselves ahead of the western order which is going to be a serious existential threat to the regional influence and interests of Moscow. To some observers, the aggressive mode of Russia has pushed the non-NATO members of Eurasian to throw per se into the lap of Nato.
However, this might not be the wholesome perception as to some others the aggressive Moscow was made belligerent by the unilateral expansion of Nato towards the East especially the areas of Russian influence. Such an anarchic and disordered regional setup, the core concept of neo-realism, most challenging and threatening the regional position of Russia has made Russia invade Ukraine as a move to keep the West back.
- Demographic Transition
Ukraine has a long history of connectivity with Russia. Notwithstanding, Kiev’s geographical contiguity with Moscow, Ukraine had remained a part of the Russian empire and the former Soviet Union. In the post-Soviet fall, Russia pours out with a considerable number of the Russian population, Russian language speakers and Russian ethnicities living in Ukraine. Kremlin has constantly let it be known to all that the Russian ethnicities in Ukraine are facing harsh ethnic prejudices which are going to turn them into minorities.
The alleged ethnic cruelty unleashed on Russian speakers particularly has woken up Russia to respond for which Moscow took its way to Ukraine. Russia kept uttering for ensuring political room to the eastern part of the Ukraine—Donbas whose participation in Ukraine’s power corridor may halt Ukraine’s long-awaited and desired bid for gaining the membership of Nato and EU. Realistically, this is also counted as one of the pushers of Russia to Invade Kiev.
- The Putin’s Doctrine
Putin’s Russia has embarked on restoring the long lost glory of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Despite being the strongest state that emerged as a result of the fall of the former USSR, Russia initially struggled with its declined economic status and demoralised militarily position. Putin’s Russia in the 2000s onwards periods left no room unexplored to grow economically thereby restoring the former undeniable position of Russia.
Though Moscow showed serious concerns over the periodic eastward expansion of Nato in 1999 and 2004, Russia restrained from being aggressive until 2008, when it, after realizing that it had grown economically, retaliated via invading Georgia soon after the latter made its wish to join Nato, public. All the military assignments not only in the Eurasian region, but also across the world help in unmasking the Putin’s Doctrine which aims at restoring the already lost glory of Russia whereby Russia would be deemed of being a key player in international arena and its say must not only be listened to, but also respected.
- Russia is also forcing the West to provide written guarantees about its stationed troops and weapons in areas of Russian influence. Hilary Apple a well-known author and Professor takes on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine skirmish while being interviewed arguing that Moscow craves for more than the blockage of Ukraine’s Nato membership as it has already been done. She holds that Kremlin wants a written guarantee about the stationed Western arsenals and troops in Eastern Europe and areas of Russian influence. However, for a while according to her, the West is not ready to pull its troops and weapons out of them. Rather, for now, Germany and France have extended weaponry and artillery support to Ukraine.
- A well-known written piece in Foreign Affairs a couple of weeks ago repeats the renewal of Helensky 2.0 Accords, the successor of Helensky Accords concluded somewhere in 1975, which provided for a comprehensive security framework for both the West and the then USSR. This very absence of security insurance has realistically pushed Russia to take some tangible steps to ensure its security thereby realizing its survival.
Summing up this write-up, realism especially its neo-realist concept is fairly applied to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia has realistically reached out to Ukraine to avert the problematic existence of the West not only in Ukraine but also in the whole areas of Russian influence thereby protecting Moscow’s regional interests. The US-led West is also driven by the neo-realist approach to squeeze and encircle Kremlin thereby diluting the resurgent posture of Russia and extending its liberal politico-economic order worldwide.