Omer Onhon

Ukraine Celebrates its Independence Day Fighting Off an Invasion

On 24 August, Ukraine celebrated its 31st anniversary of independence while fighting off an invasion by the country (even though under a different name and form then) from which it gained its independence from.

On this independence day, Russia hit the train station in the city of Chaplyne in central Ukraine with rockets, causing the death of at least 25 Ukrainians and wounding many others.

After the demise of the Soviet Union, there was a period of setting the new stage. This era also included settling of old scores all over the territories of the former Soviet Union. Among them, the Caucasus was the most active volcano. Baltics, Ukraine and Central Asia all had their unique cases and sooner or later they all faced crisis.

Historical and strategic factors as well as the presence of the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal and the presence of the Black Sea fleet of the USSR made Ukraine particularly important.

In 1994, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States of America signed the “Memorandum on security assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)”.

With this agreement, the nuclear arsenal in Ukraine was moved to Russia and Ukraine joined the NPT as a non-nuclear state. In return, signatories committed to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.

Albeit a number of excuses such as being threatened and breach of promises in terms of NATO’s eastward expansion, 20 years after the signing of the agreement, Russia, the guarantor nation, occupied the guaranteed nation Ukraine. Another 8 years and the guarantor moved to expand its occupation.

At the time of the USSR, Crimea was within the boundaries of Russia until 1954 when during the Presidency of Nikita Khrushchev a resolution was adopted to transfer it to Ukraine.

Years later in 2014 Russia occupied Crimea and based on “the choice of the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants in a referendum”, annexed Crimea.

It became almost an undisputed conclusion that Crimea has become Russian forever. The fact that the majority of the international community rejected Russia’s annexation did not impress President Vladimir Putin. He considered the reactions as a “react but don’t act” kind of thing. He even chained the Peninsula to mainland Russia in 2018 with a 19-kilometer bridge which cost around 3.5 billion dollars.

Different from 2014, Ukraine is fighting back and the West is supporting it in a way that Putin probably did not expect.

The Ukrainian leader makes a point of the Ukrainians’ determination to take back all occupied territories, including Crimea. Attacks on targets in the Peninsula are getting frequent. The attack on Russia’s Saki air base left many dead and caused serious damage including fighter jets destroyed. The Ukrainian President has threatened to hit the Kerch Bridge.

The US leads the campaign to support Ukraine with military hardware. The Biden administration came up with 10.6 billion dollars of military aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the year. A couple of days ago President Joe Biden announced a new aid package worth 2.9 billion dollars which included air defense systems, missiles and drones. The German Chancellor announced that his country is going to deliver another arms package to Ukraine worth more than €500 million. The United Kingdom, Netherlands, France, Poland are among the countries who have engaged in Ukraine’s war effort.

The rate of supplying Ukraine seems to be more than the rate of replacing used and lost weapons and ammunition on the Russian side. This, as well as high numbers of Russian soldiers lost in the war, must be issues of discomfort for Russia.

A recent shock was the killing of Darya Dugina, daughter of ultra nationalist Alexander Dugin, who has fully supported Putin’s Ukraine policy. The shock must have a lot to do with the fact that someone was able to conduct this operation in the midst of a secure Moscow.

On the other side of the war, Russia is putting in place measures to counter western sanctions and retaliating with whatever it has. Cuts on gas deliveries to Europe under the pretext of maintenance requirements, and threatening statements from Russian officials oblige the European recipients to take measures to minimize adverse effects. Germany is now implementing energy saving measures in preparation for the winter.

The EU may be in agreement in rejecting the invasion of an independent state by Russia and the need to react. But member states seem to have different views on which measures to take and to what extent to push the line.

For example, Finland and Estonia have come up with the idea to stop issuing tourist visas to Russians. In fact, they have already begun to implement this and are now seeking joint EU action. Not all EU countries agree. The EU is expected to discuss the issue in a few days.

The United Nations is also trying to be active. It is helping the 6.5 million or so Ukrainians who had to flee their country. Then there is the food crisis issue as well as a risk of a nuclear disaster.

Russia has captured the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant which is the biggest in Europe. Now, under the protective shield of the nuclear site, it is using it as a base and ammunition depot. There is fear of a second Chernobyl. French President Emmanuel Macron called Putin and tried to secure his agreement for a visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency to check the plant. This issue was also on the agenda during the visit of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to Lviv where he met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelinsky. Despite all the attention, the nuclear watchdog visit has not been materialized as of now.

One thing that seems to be in order is the international agreement signed in Istanbul in July to allow grain exports from Ukraine. On his way back from Lviv, the UN Secretary General visited the Joint Coordination Centre in İstanbul that oversees the agreement. There are 71 personnel working in the Center, among them, 14 from Türkiye, 22 from Russia and 12 from Ukraine. On 20 August, the Turkish Minister of Defense stated that since the first day of August, 51ships have been operational to and from Ukrainian ports carrying 656,349 tons of Ukrainian grain.

The hope is that other deals in other areas could eventually lead to something other than war.