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In the contemporary world, the influence of the cold war is evident when looking at modern day geopolitical conflicts. The cold war was about the conflict between two ideologies (Communist and Capitalist) who were both competing to establish global dominance. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, facilitated the creation of new independent states that were free of their colonial predecessors and independent of American (Capitalist) or Soviet (Communism) ideologies (Averre and Wolzuk, 2016). In recent times, the legacy of the cold war in the contemporary world has began to manifest in the form of modern day geopolitical conflicts. This is particularly evident when analysing the ongoing conflict between the Ukraine and Russia in which it is apparent that historic and cultural ties and gas disputes both stemming from the cold war have been influential components in recent geopolitical conflicts between the two nations, which has subsequently led to the annexation of Crimea. In this essay, I will be analysing the recent geopolitical conflict between Russia and Ukraine, whilst further examining how the cold war continues to shape the geopolitical conflict between the two nations.
The end of the cold war in 1991, sparked discourse among commentators who were trying to make sense of the world. Fukuyama (1992) drew on the works of Karl Marx and developed the argument that the cold war might represent the ‘end of history’. He elaborated on this statement by stating the failure of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union meant there was effectively no more opposition to Capitalism and liberal democracy, thus resulting in the end of history. Contrary to this, we see that there has been new meanings that have been attributed to power, geography and world order (Barber 1996: P.16). Thus, leading a shift from the envisioned geopolitics of territorial presence and spatial blocs to now being dominated by geo – economics, where countries are now competing spatially and politically for economic supremacy and resources (Vihma, 2018). This fight for economic supremacy and resources is particularly evident when analysing the recent ‘Crimea crisis’ where Russia illegally annexed the Crimean peninsula. Where the geographic position of Crimea, and access to the ‘Black Sea’ holds strategic importance due to Crimea’s accessibility to offshore energy deposits (Bebler, 2015). Although historic and cultural ties between the two nations were also influential in the recent Crimea annexation. Ukraine’s more recent desire to strengthen ties with Europe, particularly after the Ukrainian revolution has been a cause for concern to Russia, and has been an influential factor in the recent conflict between the two nations. The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, has been at the centre of recent geopolitical discourse, and has shown how the cold war continues to manifest its influence in the contemporary world.
Crimea was previously within the territorial boundary of the Soviet Union and was under the control of the Russian Soviet federation of socialist republics (RSFSR). In 1954, Crimea was transferred from RSFSR to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (UkrSSR) y soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (Averre and Wolzuk, 2016). After the break – up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia still held control over the Sevastopool naval port in Crimea, that had the fleet of the Russian navy stationed in the black sea. The formulation of the Budapest Memorandum act in 1994, was also agreed to ensure the respect of the Ukrainian sovereignty, and in return Ukraine transferred the former soviet nuclear arms back to Russian territory (Poladian and Drăgoi, 2015). Since Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, a series of on – going conflicts between the two nations, has resulted in the Ukraine not being able to adequately enforce the desired democratic format. Which is in part due to the country’s economic frailties and foreign policy that either tends to be pro – Russian or pro – European (Vihma and Wigell, 2016).
In recent years, the conflicts between the two nations has intensified and has thus led to mass protests in Ukraine and civilians being killed. In 2013, President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an EU trade deal, and instead chose to join Russia’s trading bloc that would assist in the formation of a Eurasian Union. This sparked mass protest throughout Ukraine, and in response to the mass protest, Yanukovych attempted to cease protests by instructing the Ukrainian forces to use violence which led to the deaths of up to 88 people (Bebler, 2015). In the events that swiftly followed after the rejection of the EU trade deal, Yanukovych was ousted out of the country by anti – government protestors, and Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula in an attempt to re- assert its influence in Ukraine. This was subsequently met by hostility among Ukrainian officials who declared it to be ‘illegal’, bringing into question Russia’s practical geopolitical methods. In response, the Ukrainian military was deployed to Crimea to fight against the rebel forces. However, the Russian army invaded Crimea in support of the rebels who were already fighting against Ukrainian army, and ultimately outnumbered Ukrainian forces, thus resulting in Russia claiming Crimea as part of its territory (Poladian and Drăgoi, 2015). This was met with fierce condemnation internationally among spectators who viewed the annexation of Crimea to be violating territorial integrity and showing a complete disregard for international laws (Toal, 2016). This was followed by the imposition of restrictive measures and sanctions from the EU, Nato and the US who were all heavily opposed to the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula (Toal, 2016).
The annexation of Crimea subsequently created a buffer zone. The creation of a ‘buffer zone’ between the Ukraine and Russia has been compared to the beginnings of the cold war, which saw the creation of buffer zones due to the spread of communism, which acted as a protective buffer zone for the USSR (Landovský, 2013). Commentators have used this to formulate the argument that this is a repetition of events that are similar to that of the cold war, thus resulting to commentators referring to the recent Crimea conflict as the start of the ‘new cold war’ (Musiyenko and Abrahám, 2016).). The possibility of Ukraine opening itself up to European influence right on another one of Russia’s borders has partly been used as a justification by Russia to invade Crimea and take over parts of eastern Ukraine. The more recent joining of the DCTFA (Deep and comprehensive free trade areas) in 2016, has emphasised Russia’s justification to annex Crimea (Musiyenko and Abrahám, 2016).
Accompanied with the international scrutiny that followed, also came discourse as to the motives behind Russia annexing Crimea with some commentators believing it was Russia’s attempt to reassert hegemony in the territorial boundaries previously under soviet rule (Bebler, 2015). The former US ambassador to the United Nations echoed this statement, In which he referred to the Crimean peninsula annexation as being an attempt by Vladimir Putin to re – establish Russian dominance in territory that was previously occupied by the soviet Union, He further goes on to state how the Ukraine is Russia’s biggest prize and that the recent invasion of Crimea is a step in that direction (Toal, 2016). The attempt by Russia to incorporate Ukraine into the proposed Eurasian Union demonstrates the Russian intent to Re – Sovietize the former Soviet space. The acquisition of Ukraine would enable Russia to exert economic and political influence further into Europe, thus making the Eurasian Union a more powerful entity (Bebler, 2015). The annexation of the Crimean Peninsula displays further similarities to the cold war due to the use of strategic military tactics in the invasion of Crimea. President Obama referred to the invasion of Crimea as a state that is regressing to the former behaviours that were used in the cold war context to spread communism and invade territory (Toal, 2016). Thus, illustrating how the cold war continues to hold influence in contemporary geopolitical conflicts.
The historic and cultural ties between Ukraine and Russia are significant in understanding
the contemporary geopolitical conflict between the two nations. Analysing the history, it becomes apparent that the Ukraine was an integral part of the USSR, during which Russian culture and language were at the forefront of Ukrainian life (Bebler, 2015). After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine gained its independence, and with this came the formation of the country’s national identity. The national identity is often defined as “belonging to a territory or country with a border or a common political system” (Andreouli and Howarth, 2012). Although this definition of national identity holds truth, it neglects the fact that one’s national identity can also refer to a group that has shared beliefs, language or culture that transcends the borders of nation – states (Jones et al, 2014). When looking at the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia we see how linguistic, cultural and historic ties are all intertwining components that are contributing to the conflict between the two nations. When analysing the linguistic and cultural demography in the Ukraine, it becomes apparent that there is a division between Eastern Ukraine which has close historical and cultural ties with Russia and the rest of the country that identifies to be Ukrainian. This is evident by the Crimea referendum that took place on the 18th of March 2018, where a vote was held in Crimea to determine whether the Crimean citizens wanted to join Russia. The vote showed the vast majority of people living within Crimea were supportive of the idea of joining Russia. Although the vote sparked controversy, with the EU labelling the vote as illegitimate and illegal and the US further emphasising the illegality of the vote. The outcome of the vote further emphasises the close historic, cultural ties between Crimea and Russia (Bebler, 2015). The influence of the cold war in the historic, cultural and linguistic ties between the two nations is undeniable. The break – up of the soviet union, as a direct consequence of the cold war, has resulted in Eastern Ukrainian citizens and Crimean citizens still displaying a close affiliation to Russia, thus supporting the notion that one’s national identity can transcend the borders of nation – states and also highlights how the consequences of the cold war continue to be an influence in modern day geopolitical conflicts.
The ongoing dispute of gas between the two nations has further contributed to recent geopolitical conflicts, and has also had wider implications on the rest of Europe. Ukraine’s current natural transmission gas system was initially built in 1940 – 1941 as part as of a unified gas system for the Soviet Union and was further developed into a gas export to Europe between 1970 -1980 (Randall, 2011). Both the EU and Russia have been highly dependant on Ukraine due to 80% of the EU’s natural gas travelling through the Ukraine (Dalby, 2007). This reliance on the Russian gas that transits through the Ukraine by the European countries, thus means that any potential conflicts between Russia and the Ukraine could significantly slow down the amount of available gas that can be used for each countries individual consumption (Landovský, 2013). This concern led to the recent creation of the nord pipeline system. The pipeline transports natural gas from Russia to Europe through the Baltic sea. Further discussions are now being held about the construction of the nord stream 2 that would transport natural gas from eastern Europe to northern Germany. However, there has been much controversy surrounding the project, both the Baltic states and former soviet states argue that it will increase Europe’s dependence on Russia (Huotari, 2011). The current dependence of Russia on the Ukrainian gas pipelines, has been argued to be the reason as to why Russia will not risk a major war. And thus, commentators have argued that the creation of the nord pipeline 2 could be the catalyst for another cold war (Randall, 2011). The current ‘gas’ conflict between Ukraine and Russia originates from the cold war period (Randall, 2011). The conflict is argued to be a direct consequence of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The construction of natural gas transmission system in 1940 – 1941 as part of the soviet union, and the further development of a gas export to Europe between 1970 – 1980, demonstrates how the construction of the these pipelines during the spread of communism and during the cold war period continues to have an impact on current geopolitical conflicts. As evident by the on – going dispute between Ukraine and Russia over natural gas. The dissolution of the Soviet Union has meant that these two nations that were previously both part of the same socialist state are now engaging in conflict attributed to the break – up of the Soviet Union. Thus, illustrating the influence of the cold war in shaping the current geopolitical conflict between the Ukraine and Russia.
When analysing the motives behind Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Russia’s critical naval base at Sevastopol, accompanied with ‘The Black Sea ports’ quick access to the Balkans, middle east and Mediterranean have been argued by commentators to demonstrate Russia’s intention to exhert dominance over both the former soviet region, and the black sea’s surrounding countries (Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine) (Bebler, 2015). The direct access to the Mediterranean sea the Sevastopool naval base facilitates, will enable Russia to have access to the offshore oil and gas reserves owned by Crimea, thus cementing Russia’s position as being one of the world’s largest energy producers (Huotari, 2011). Similar to Russia’s attempt in creating the nord pipeline 2, the annexation of Crimea illustrates how Russia is striving to gain economic supremacy and resources (Vihma, 2018). Further demonstrating a likeliness to the former cold war conflicts.
The possibility of Ukraine opening itself up to European influence right on another one of Russia’s borders has partly been used as a justification by Russia to invade Crimea and take over parts of eastern Ukraine. The more recent joining of the DCTFA (Deep and comprehensive free trade areas) in 2016, has emphasised Russia’s justification to annex Crimea. The DCFTA will enable Ukraine to have access to part of the EU’s single market, which will facilitate the movement of both goods and the travelling of people into Ukraine, thus subsequently making Ukraine more Eurocentric and less dependent on Russia (Musiyenko and Abrahám, 2016). This further supports the argument made by Vihma (2018) that countries are now competing politically for economic supremacy and resources. Ukraine choosing to join the DCTFA will hinder Russian access and influence on the Ukrainian economy and resources, and thus prevent Moscow from bringing further influence deeper into European territory. The conflict between Ukraine and Russia has illustrated how cold war still continues to shape current geopolitical conflict, and further dispels Fukuyama (1992) theory that the end of the cold war represents the end of history. Contrary to this, we see that the cold war continues to be influential in current geopolitical conflicts.
To conclude, in the analysis of the Ukraine and Russia conflict it becomes apparent the cold war continues to be influential in contemporary geopolitical conflicts. The Historical and Cultural ties accompanied with the ongoing gas conflicts between the two nations, demonstrate how the cold war has shaped the conflict between the two nations. The shift from the envisioned geopolitics of territorial presence and spatial blocs to a focus on geo – economics is evident when analysing the annexation of Crimea which will provide Russia with access to Crimea’s oil and gas reserves, and would enable Russia to become one of the world biggest energy producers (Vihma, 2018). In addition to this when looking at the former soviet state the notion of nationalism is called into question, with Crimea and eastern Ukraine containing a high native speaking Russian population thus enabling Russia to justify the annexation of Crimea.
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