By Justin Shea
The American media has been in a frenzy due to criminal charges against Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, that were recently announced. Along with this, there is strong evidence suggesting that the Trump campaign was in contact with Russian officials prior to the release of the hacked DNC emails. While these revelations are new and exciting, I’m certain that within the next month or so another story will surface regarding Russia-Trump collusion and larger Russian interference in the election. And again, Rachel Maddow will laugh in disbelief as Tucker Carlson avoids the topic to rant about how child labour laws are political correctness taken a step too far. But in these trying times it is important to remember America is not the only country that has suffered from the heavy hand of Russian interference. Nay, we must do the uncommon thing and begin to think in more euro- centric terms.
A civil war is raging on in Eastern Ukraine; with Russian backed separatist movements fighting against government forces in the Donbass region. Political unrest began in Ukraine in 2013 when the EU offered them an association agreement. The pro-Russian president; Viktor Yanukovich, scoffed at the offer to sit at the cool kid’s table and instead turned to that weird kid in the corner (Putin) who everyone thinks will shoot up the school one day (definitely Putin). This led to large pro-EU protests in Kiev which eventually forced Yanukovich out of office and the country. In turn this led to pro- Russian autonomous groups in the eastern portion of the country attempting to secede (because hey, South Carolina tried it). Russia began to back these groups financially as well as providing them with military arms. As of current, the autonomous groups hold vast swaths of territory in the eastern most part of Ukraine, and two quasi-states have been established; the Donetsk People’s Republic, and the Luhansk People’s Republic. Any cease fire agreements put into place have been routinely violated, with the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) documenting between 1,000 and 1,500 violations per night. (That’s almost equivalent to the number of people who are violated at an Ohio State frat house in a week!). With all this action how is it that seemingly no major news outlets have been talking about it?
It is not rare to hear that there is a conflict transpiring somewhere in the world that is seldom spoken of by the United States Media. Yemen; sure. Democratic Republic of Congo; probably. But this is different. Europeans are fighting and dying in this war. Eastern Europeans, or, as some may say, the lesser Europeans, but Europeans nonetheless.
So how has the international community let this bloody war drag along since 2014? In short; dumbass policies for the Donbass region. In long; it is actually due to a complex web of geo-strategic maneuvering and jousting on the parts of Russia, NATO, and the EU. Russia is incredibly afraid of EU and NATO “double enlargement” into their near abroad, and rightfully so. If I was forced to take a pill advertised to guarantee double enlargement I would be horrified by the possible ramifications as well. And the double enlargement pill has been sitting in front of Putin for a long time now. Since the fall of the Soviet Union nine countries have gained NATO membership (not including East Germany), and three of those share a border with Russia. Along with this two more countries that share a border with Russia, Georgia and Ukraine, are being considered for membership. Seeing as NATO is largely a military alliance it makes sense that Putin would not want any more countries near Russia to join, and prolonging the conflict in Ukraine is a way to guarantee this. (I feel as though I have already been juvenile enough when regarding double enlargement so I shall politely pass up the opportunity to make jokes regarding the word prolonging). This is because Article 5 of the NATO treaty states that an attack against one member country will invoke a response from all member countries, and most member countries of NATO do not want to fight a war with Russia. So if Ukraine is perpetually under attack from Russia, it is unlikely that they will be granted entrance into the organization. The same theory stands with Georgia and the South Ossetia region but thats not in Europe so…….
In response to Russian actions in Ukraine the EU and the US have slapped on… SANCTIONS! Happy birthday there Vlad! Why don’t you take a healthy dose of some good ole’ bald eagle, U S of A sanctions!!!!!!!! The United States loves sanctions. The American government hands out sanctions like Kenya cranks out world class marathoners. Iran has a nuclear program? Sanctions. Who won gold in the 2016 olympic marathon race? Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya. Iran is complying with the nuclear deal but, hey, they’re still Iran? Let’s freeze some assets with more sanctions. To their credit the sanctions have done some damage to the Russian economy. There is evidence to suggest that due to the sanctions Russia has had trouble subsidizing the Belarusian government and economy. But I am almost 100% certain that the goal of these sanctions was not to topple the Belarusian government. Belarus is simply not that important. I bet only a handful of people know who the current leader of Belarus is and they’re all related to him (I assume its a him, I didn’t want anything having to do with Belarus in my search history).
The goal of the sanctions is to punish the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. To that end the sanctions have not seemed to do much. Ukraine still relies upon Russia for more than half of it’s natural gas needs. So if sanctions are not doing the trick what is keeping Russia in check? A balance of mutual fear and threats keeping Russia from interfering with their neighbors and keeping the west from creeping too close to Russia. The problem is that fear can lead to irrational acts and a need to protect ones sense of bravado. NATO currently has forces deployed in Poland and the Baltic states while there has been a Russian tactical nuke buildup in and around Crimea. To make matters worse, President Trump has denounced a deal which limits both NATO and Russia to 1,500 warheads each and has supported greater military buildup in the region. As this standoff is going on the people living near the frontline in Eastern Ukraine are the ones suffering. Since 2014, 1.5 million people have fled the country and that number will only continue to rise until a solution is found.