By Irene Demetriou
Revisiting the historical past of international relations and politics, Cold War terminology comes to mind more vividly than ever before, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For those who remember, and for younger ones that have only read about it, Soviet expansionism in Eastern Europe had fuelled many Americans’ fears of a Russian plan to impose its rule on the world. At the same time, the Soviet Union came to resent what it perceived as American interventionism to international relations and a constant attempt to harm Russian interests.
Back to 2022 and Russia demanded that the West gave a legally binding guarantee that Nato will not hold any military activity in Eastern Europe and particularly, Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin repeatedly claimed that Ukraine is a Western puppet and that his country’s interests were threatened by the interference of the West in the region. The rhetoric has intensified tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the situation getting out of control in early 2021. It was at this point that the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged US President Joe Biden to let Ukraine join Nato.
The argument, just like the proverbial coin, always has two sides. As a leader of a global super-power, was Putin to stay idle while intense security concerns were created because of Ukraine’s potential entry into Nato and the US presence on its border? At the same time, how far can political and economic diplomacy go to ease such concerns? Following months of heightened tensions and warnings about a potential invasion, the Kremlin never stopped pushing for its stance that Ukraine should never be allowed to join Nato. The Kremlin claimed that Nato had supplied weapons to Ukraine to fight in the Russo-Ukrainian War in the Crimea and Donbas region. This could be, according to Putin’s rhetoric, that western expansionism in the area is unacceptable. A matter of broken promises.
The rest is for the history textbooks: Russian shelling began moments after Putin said he had “decided to conduct a special military operation” aimed at the “demilitarization” of Ukraine. The argument goes further than this; Putin presented his attack on Ukraine as a defence of ethnic Russians in Donbas. According to the Russian President, this segment of the Russian population is suffering “genocide” at the hands of the government in Kyiv. Part historical tension, part the securitisation of conflict and part the failure of each side to stay where it (theoretically) belongs, the current invasion seems to be the darkest hour of modern times.
Containment seems to be underway, yet again. There is a global outcry against Russian actions, painful sanctions have been announced by Biden, the UK has frozen assets and imposed travel bans on individuals and companies, including banks, the EU has followed suit while in other news, Gazprom has been removed from sponsorship deals, global athletes have pulled out of Moscow-organised sports events and the world shares its disapproval on social media.
In a televised address, Ukrainian President Zelensky openly asked a rhetorical question which will go down in history: “Who is ready to fight with us? Honestly, I don’t see anyone . . . I’m asking them, are you with us?” The world awaits an answer.
For Cyprus, the current developments create emotional state anxiety to say the least. The escalation of the ongoing armed conflict is certainly more self-evident than we would like to admit: replace Russia with Turkey, and well, that’s a hell of party that will be over sooner than later. In either case, across time and geographies, there is only one tragedy and that is the cost of human life. History always repeats itself.
Irene Demetriou, FamigliaEight