With Russia supporting referendums in two provinces of UN-recognised Ukraine, which lie to the east of the Dneiper where people share the Eastern Slavic ethnicity with Russians, the geopolitical game surrounding this part of Europe has just turned riveting. Considered together with the military mobilisation ordered by Vladimir Putin early this week — necessitated by a setback in the war — where he added the not-so-veiled nuke threat, the situation is now as much a battle of wits as it is a war with weapons. The argument that the UN does not recognise the referenda is specious, as the US has not cared for the UN view on more occasions of war than Russia or the former Soviet Union. Those occasions include the morally right American intervention in Taiwan, which is not even that geographical entity’s name technically, as well as the downright unethical spreading of the rumour that Saddam Hussein was stocking weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Even the factor of demographic affinity is not one-sided, as the West is backing Ukraine largely because of a Protestant conflict with the Russian Orthodox Church.
Given the separatist mentality of Europeans — a gross, politically incorrect thing to say, but that is the invariable inference one draws from the ever-changing map of the continent — it comes as no surprise that while Russia is backing the vote in Donetsk and Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions are asking for it too. It is to quell such separatism that Ukraine and Russia had entered the Minsk Agreements where France and Germany were mediators. Russia says the promise of autonomy of these regions, as agreed upon in the said pact, has been dishonoured by the Volodymyr Zelenskyy government while the US-led Nato never responds to this Russian grievance. So, while the greatest provocation for Moscow on 24 February was the dangerous American arsenal landing at its doorstep with Ukraine joining the Nato, it was culturally disturbed too, seeing eastern Ukrainians, whom they consider fellows, get a raw deal.
The conflict also involves commerce and an essential need of humanity: food. The US-led sanctions have found more than their match in the Russian embargo on gas supply to Europe as well as bailouts by exports to China followed by India. Cheap oil will keep alive the Russian economy while India raises its capacity to feed the world the bread it is missing from Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine, the war zone, is poised for a long haul of turmoil, with multiple reasons for strife. If or when the dispute ends, it will be because greater economic sense prevails over the differences shared by all stakeholders.