The similar grassroots of Russian and Ukrainian cultures began developing in 988 A.D. when Vladimir I, the pagan prince of Novgorod and the great prince of Kyiv, was baptized to Orthodox Christianity in the city of Chersonesus in the Crimea peninsula. The city of Kyiv was the birthplace of both cultures. Various nations invaded the country throughout the years, such as the Mongols (13th century), Poles and Lithuanians (16th century) and the Russian annexation of Western Ukraine in 1793.
We can draw a parallel to a former Russian-Ukrainian crisis in the Crimea peninsula. In 2014, Russian pressured the Ukrainian government not to follow an agreement with the EU for strengthening mutual political ties, followed by armed demonstrators who surrounded key airfields, occupied the parliament and raised the Russian flag. President Vladimir Putin sent his forces to maintain the safety of Russian citizens in the Crimea peninsula.
As a result, the local parliament voted on separation from Ukraine on March 6, followed by a referendum a few days later. The West did not respond firmly to a de facto annexation of the Crimea peninsula to Russia. The current crisis significantly elevated the political status of Russian-backed separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk enclaves. Putin acknowledged their status as part of Russia independent from the Ukraine, on Monday February 21.
Lately, we witnessed a withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in August, President Joe Biden’s proclamation to conclude a withdrawal from Iraq and culminating with warnings not to invade Ukraine on the one hand, while noting he is not interested in a war on the other. In January, Russian forces intervened in the Azerbaijan crisis. Putin deduced that he could operate without any Western sanctions.
The logic behind the invasion
Putin was born and raised in the Soviet Union. As he witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, he was practically part of a historical collapse of the Soviet empire. In a decision-making process, a leader who has to reach a decision calculates the best outcome according to potential gains. Generally, in a well-organized decision-making process, the leader gives equivalent weight to various opinions. He has a cabinet or council of experts, backed by military personnel, who in turn convey their opinion (fearless of any sanction by the decision-maker).
As president, Putin has the sole power to promote his decision, which are based on personal memories or beliefs of making Russia great again. One may conclude this decision-making process is not rational, according to a coherent discussion, while the outcome may not be the most calculated result of a thorough process.
The outbreak of the war
Putin, who was raised on stories of the Great Patriotic War (WWII), vividly remembers Nazi Germany armed vehicles bogged down in the Ukrainian mud. The snow is melting around the beginning of March, and thus, he could not have prolonged diplomatic negotiations. He had to decide whether to invade or return his forces to Russia. Notwithstanding, there were already two military drills in order to keep these forces on alert.
Following the proclamation on Monday, February 21, Russian forces crossed the border into the separatist enclaves. On Thursday, February 24, at dawn, the invasion began by a formal proclamation of Putin, backed by an attack on airfields, air defense and military infrastructure. Ukrainian President Zelensky recorded an angry proclamation via his cellphone, accusing Russia of annexing his country as a Russian influenced territory.
Media and cyberwarfare
The use of media and cyberwarfare serves as a basis of any war proclamation. Russian and Ukrainian media tried at the beginning of this conflict not to report as much as Western media on mounting tensions between the countries. For example, Ukraine’s Channel 24 carried regular programing on February 15 of talk shows, news and interviews. It was the intention of both countries to portray calm and thus, hinting that both Russia and Ukraine have an effective government. As the crisis worsened, there were pro-separatist reports of Ukrainian artillery, thus preparing public opinion for the necessity of Russian peacekeeping forces.
Throughout February, a series of cyberattacks culminating on February 15 disrupted the operation of central governmental banks, the Ministry of Defense and military forces. The Ukrainian Strategic Communication Center notified that these were DDos (distributed-denial-of-service cyberattacks), yet at this point, it is difficult to pinpoint the identity of the attacker. Reuters news agency also acknowledged it.
As the war in Ukraine is ongoing, we can only draw parallels from past test cases. In April and May 2008, there were a series of cyberattacks on Estonia, following increasing protests due to a decision to relocate a monument commemorating fallen Soviet soldiers from WWII. Following an intensive investigation by Estonian legal authorities, a young student was found guilty and sentenced to a limited fine for blocking the entrance to the website of the prime minister’s party.
This sentence did not relate to a series of attacks on government websites, political parties and prominent newspapers. It is most logical to assume that an individual cannot maintain this sophisticated operation. In addition, the Estonian government requested NATO’s assistance in protecting its computer grid.
How can this crisis be resolved?
As the West prepares to impose economic sanctions on Russia, while not intervening militarily, one should take into consideration that there are already significant consequences to neglecting diplomacy. It will have implications on talks with Iran regarding a new agreement, other global arenas that are war-prone and the Israeli prism, as Russia will want to note that war in Ukraine will not be on the account of its interests.
Israel should take into consideration more Iranian proxy activity in the surrounding countries, as Iran will gain more confidence, should the West and the US not present a coherent global security stance. The reaction of the West should not ignore the sovereignty of Ukraine on the one hand, but cannot and should not overlook President Putin’s beliefs, according to which one cannot post NATO forces on the Russian border, as the memory of the mighty Soviet empire vividly exists.
The writer is a senior researcher at Bar-Ilan University’s Europa Institute and lecturer in the university’s Department of Political Studies, School of Communication and International School.