What’s Behind Putin Annexation of Ukrainian Territories?
Story Code : 1017255
The Russian leader lauded the referendum results, saying: "They have made a choice to be with their people, their motherland, to live with its fate, and to triumph with it. They will remain Russian forever."
Reiterating that Russia will use all the powers and means at its disposal to defend its territory, Putin called on Ukraine to declare ceasefire "immediately" and return to the negotiations. He continued that the West seeks to colonize Russia and enslave the Russians. It matters to the West that all countries surrender their sovereignty to the US. The West does anything to save the neo-colonial system, he went on.
Putin pointed to the West reneging on its premise not to expand NATO eastward, telling the Western leaders that their promise is now a "dirty deception." He maintained it was the West that "trampled the principle of inviolability of borders and now decides at its own discretion who has the right to self-determination…. The West has broken its promises to Russia and has no moral right to talk about democracy."
Russia's decision to annex four regions in eastern Ukraine was made after a referendum was held last week, in which residents of Russian origin in these regions overwhelmingly voted in favor of joining Russia. These four regions, which are currently under the control of Russian forces, will henceforth be part of Russian territory. With the separation of these regions, which made up 15 percent of Ukraine's territory, Ukraine will lose its status as largest European country and this will mark a big defeat for the country.
What is behind Putin's annexation of eastern Ukraine?
The annexation of these regions to Russia, in the current situation, is done with many goals the Kremlin leaders had in mind since the onset. With this action, Putin is trying to show the West that he is a staunch supporter of Russians in any part of the world and will not allow these minorities to be under the pressure of their governments, and this issue is clearly mentioned in the new Russian doctrine. This provides optimism for the ethnic Russians in other European countries to set heart on Moscow backing.
On the other hand, Putin knows very well that the US and the Europeans intend to make the conflict a war of attrition and increase the costs of Moscow. So, Putin intends to annex these areas to Russian territory and, if the Ukrainian government accepts, declare the end of the war so that the world does not suffer more. The main goal of Moscow behind its military campaign was to control the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine and save the ethnic Russians, a goal the Kremlin achieved. In recent days, the Kremlin officials have repeatedly said that in the case of the annexation of these regions, they will be part of Russia's territorial integrity, and any attack on these areas will result in a severe reaction from Moscow. By annexing these regions, Putin is trying to block any attack by the Ukrainians, and he has also warned that he will use all his power, even nuclear bombs, to counter any attacks by the Ukrainians. Therefore, this action is a prelude to the end of the conflicts, and the Kiev leaders have taken Putin's warnings seriously and will likely have to resume peace talks because they are not capable of taking these areas back from Russia. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, who had vowed to recapture these territories from Russian hands immediately after signing the annexation document by Putin demanded the fast membership of this country in the NATO in order to, at least, save the rest of Ukrainian territory.
Additionally, the annexation is a domestic triumph for Putin as he leads a Russia standing alone in the face of the West and solidified his gains in Ukraine war after seven months. The fact that the Russians managed to capture 15 percent of the territory of Ukraine and enlarge their country, which is already the largest in the world, is considered a privilege for the Russian people. This victory, which was achieved due to Putin's policies, will record his name in the history of Russia as a national hero who was able to revive the power of Russia three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a powerful man who not only did not pay ransoms to the West but also wrested privileges from them.
Annexing the four regions, Putin has now put the ball in the Western court asking for end of war and immediate ceasefire. From now on, the responsibility for escalation of tensions lies with the US and Europe that push for perpetuation of war with their modern arms supplies to Kiev. Russia is determined to maintain these areas by calling up 300,000 reserve forces and deploying more of them in annexed areas and saying that it will defend these areas with all its might. Therefore, the continuation of the war is not in the best interests of the Ukrainians, because Russians may occupy new areas with large forces, and instead of liberating the annexed areas, Ukraine will lose new territories, realizing the statements by the Russians officials who have repeatedly said in recent months that Ukraine will be removed from the world map in the next two years.
Blocking NATO's eastward drift
According to a pact signed with Russia in 1997, the West promised commitment to not expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the former Soviet republics with the aim of containing Moscow, but it broke its promise in practice and sought to expand NATO to Russian borders under various excuses. Although Moscow leaders have repeatedly warned against this scenario, Washington continued to stir tensions with the Russians and tried to drag Ukraine into the NATO camp. Therefore, the Russians thought that the only option left to punish the West was a direct military action in Ukraine, and the annexation of the four regions is also with the aim of firmly warning the White House officials and European leaders that if they continue their warmongering policies on the Russian borders, Moscow's response will be firmer than before.
The Russians consider the presence of NATO in Eastern Europe as a threat to their national security, and before the war in Ukraine, they had constantly warned that they would even resort to the military option to distance NATO threats from their borders, and by attacking Ukraine, they showed to the West that they are serious when warn. But, by annexing four provinces, Putin permanently blocked NATO's way of expansion to the east, so that the Americans and Europeans would take into account all aspects before implementing their anti-Russian plans. In the 2008 war in Georgia, Russia decisively showed that it resorts to military option if NATO expands to Central Asia and the Caucasus republics, and since then, frustrated NATO members have been reluctant to expand this military bloc to these regions. However, they tried Eastern Europe for expansion to move closer to Russia and deal blows to their traditional but this approach, too, met its failure, making the West incur damages.
Annexed regions' geopolitical position
The West insists that the four annexed regions are Ukrainian and must return to Ukraine but the fact is that their residents are ethnic Russians with strong tendency for being Russian citizens. Though only 38 percent of the residents of Donetsk are of Russian origin, about 75 percent of the people of Donetsk province speak Russian and only 24 percent speak Ukrainian, something showing that there is a strong disposition to join Russia in this region. In Luhansk, it is the same and 90 percent of the voters voted in favor of joining Russia.
After the Soviet collapse, Kremlin kept the regions of Russian majority within Ukraine territory, hoping that Kiev will always remain a Moscow ally. But the rise of the pro-Western forces after 2014 coup in Ukraine changed everything. In the meantime, the ethnic Russians, who have had occasional skirmishes with the central government since the Soviet fall, found the opportunity ripe to separate but Moscow officials, due to some considerations, did not allow referendums similar to that of Crimean Peninsula. But from the beginning of this year, when Russia and the West faced off, Putin came to the conclusion that due to the warmongering policies of the leaders of Kiev and its Western supporters, it is not good for the Russians to remain under the Ukrainian flag and steps need to be taken to fast save them from the oppression of the Ukrainian government, dubbed "Nazi" by the Russians. Therefore, the attempt of the ethnic Russians to join Russia is not a new thing that the West is maneuvering over and this project was on their agenda for years.
Another important point is that the four regions are important geographically for Russia and link Crimea to mainland Russia eight years after its annexation. Its link means that the Russians can travel to the peninsula easily and by land without need for circumventions. Moreover, Kherson and Zaporozhye have access to the Sea of Azov and their separation will end Ukraine's access to this sea forever. Also, Donetsk is connected to the important and strategic port of Mariupol, and this area is also practically under the control of the Russians. Kherson, which is connected to the Black Sea, is of particular importance to the Russians, and while the European borders are closed to Russia, the Russians can do a large part of their maritime trade from the Black Sea.
By adding 15 percent of Ukraine's territory to its own, Russia, in addition to saving the ethnic Russians from the military and political pressures of Kiev leaders, demonstrated its power to the West and challenged the world order the US crafted after the Cold War and paved the way for a new one.