While it may be too late in the day to state that the war or military operation in Ukraine was completely avoidable outlining the trajectory of escalation may provide scope for avoiding intensification of violence be it in the Donetsk People's Republic [DPR] and the Lugansk People's Republic [LPR] or in the main Ukrainian territory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in an urgent address on February 23 called for military operations in Ukraine as per the Tass. The purpose was to seek the "demilitarization and denazification" of Ukraine.
President Putin said, "Its purpose is to protect the people who have for eight years been exposed to humiliation and genocide by the regime in Kiev. For this we will seek demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, and also press for bringing to justice those who have committed numerous bloody crimes against peaceful civilians, including Russian citizens." [i]
He called for Ukrainian army to lay down weapons. A number of explosions occured in a number of Ukrainian cities, including Kiev and Kharkov.
War As Politics
To explain the present crisis in Ukraine, it may be useful to go back to the Prussian military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz. Amongst his many theses the most famous were on the dialectic of War.
War is continuation of politics by other means an oft quoted maxim by Von Clausewitz and the related, “an act of force to compel the enemy to do our will”.
Clearly the launch of military operations by Russia which has been categorized as “War,” by Ukraine as well as many other members of the UN Security Council in the extraordinary meeting called for on February 23rd [ii] should be seen as an option exercised when other means have failed, why these have failed may be got into deliberately separately, however what these were needs immediate recounting.
Firstly is failure of the Mink Agreements which had set in proposals for negotiations between Russia and Ukraine on resolving the impasse in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine where separatists has raised the specter of incursion in 2014.
There were two sets of Agreements – Minsk I and Minsk II.
As per Minsk I Ukraine and the separatists agreed a 12-point ceasefire deal in the Belarusian capital in September 2014. However, there were violations on both sides thus the Minsk I did not bring a lasting solution.[iii]
This led to MINSK II where in Representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the leaders of the pro-Russian separatist regions signed a 13-point agreement in February 2015 which too remained unimplementable as both sides did not agree on the basics such as withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment from the two disputed regions, Donetsk and Luhansk now the DPR and LPR which Ukraine says has been deployed by Moscow while Russia denies the same. [iv]
The Normandy Format was created in June 2014 for bringing about a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine and comprised of leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France. The main objective was to resolve the differences between Moscow and Kyiv through mediation, these too failed to achieved the desired results and remained stalled.[v]
Additional Russian Demands
Russia placed few demands for resolution in January this year to include assurance that there will be no membership for NATO, removal of NATO troops from Eastern Europe and an assurance that missiles will not be deployed near Russia's borders. [vi]
Russian President indicated that in case these demands were not met there will be a military technical response.
Foreign Policy, Diplomacy and War
Evidently two factors arise leading to the war, military technical response or miliary operation what ever the Russian deployment of force in Eastern Ukraine may be called.
Firstly is Foreign Policy and Diplomacy.
While Foreign policy of the two sides – the West which includes Ukraine clashed with that of Russia that is expansion of NATO, for Moscow being an existential threat active diplomacy was essential.
The main components of diplomacy – the Minsk Agreements, Normandy Format and exhaustive summitry in the run up to the present crisis including video talks between the Russian President Vladmir Putin and the US President Joe Biden and in person summits between the Mr Putin and the French and German heads of government.
This too failed to achieve the desired results – what was required was an assurance to Russia of NATO’s non expansion Eastwards – Russian President exercised the option of politics by other means or war.
Retracing steps back from escalation will be most difficult when emotions are high in Ukraine as well as the West, yet returning to diplomacy and review of foreign policy is the way ahead.
[i] https://tass.com/politics/1409329 [ii] https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/02/1112592 [iii] https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/minsk-agreements-ukraine-conflict-7784444/ [iv] https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/minsk-agreements-ukraine-conflict-7784444/ [v] https://www.csis.org/analysis/understanding-normandy-format-and-its-relation-current-standoff-russia [vi] https://www.npr.org/2022/01/28/1076514277/russian-president-putin-said-the-west-has-not-addressed-russias-main-demands