On February 21st, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech in which he stated that a ‘special military is necessary’ in order to prevent the West, whose “goal is to weaken, divide and ultimately destroy our country”.
The issue here lies within the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation further into Eastern Europe; the Kremlin claims that the Western powers “violated promises” that were made to the Russian government shortly after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991. In 1990, the US Secretary of State, James A. Baker reassured the former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev that the expansion of NATO will not exceed the border of Eastern Germany. In Putin’s view, the special military operation was a necessary step towards protecting the motherland of the Russian civilians. Russia’s decision to launch a military invasion on the 24th February 2022 was centered around a substantially larger issue; the legitimacy of Russian claims to the disputed region of Crimea.
It is noteworthy that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine was undoubtedly expected. The deep-rooted and intertwined history shared by the two neighboring nations indicated the possibility of a future political conflict. In essence, there are two factors which enabled conflict forecasters to predict that a dispute will occur between the two nations. The first factor is the expansion of NATO, which was viewed as a threat by the Kremlin; the second factor is the legitimacy surrounding the disputed region of Crimea, which was viewed as a cause for concern by Realist theorists.
The enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has been a source of tension between the US and Russia for decades. Over twenty years ago, in the book ‘Power and Purpose’, Russian officeholders expressed their apprehensions in regard to NATO’s growing influence. In 1996, “Russians began seeking a pledge from NATO that it would neither deploy troops nor station nuclear weapons on the territory of new members” and the presence of US military installations would increase significantly following Ukraine’s acquisition of NATO. Russia’s security concerns would thus become reality. Ukraine would become bound by Article 5 of NATO’s legislation which states that “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all“ (North Atlantic Treaty, art. 5).
Polticial scientist John Mearsheimer made the argument that the expansion of political influence of Western nations would result in substantially problematic outcomes, undermining the fundamental geopolitical divisions that have been established in the 1990s. The Realist theorist claimed that “attempting to turn Ukraine into a Western stronghold on Russia’s border… would be an even greater mistake”.
Conclusively, the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian crisis was foreseen by political forecasters during the 1990s when the Atlantic Treaty began to overlook the pledges made to the Russian leaders. Moreover, Realist theorists were alarmed by the annexation of Crimea which reflected Russia’s uneasiness towards the spreading influence of the West, accurately claiming that a conflict was lingering in the air.