A Reflection on Tensions in Ukraine
Tuesday, 15 February 2022
Ukraine and Russia have a complicated history and relationship. With tensions rising in Eastern Europe, Jessamy gives her thoughts on this current issue.
By October 2021, Russia had an estimated 80,000 troops amassed along the border of Ukraine, rising to 125,000 in January. Russia has also been suspected of destabilising Ukraine using cyber warfare and bomb threats in schools and political offices. Moreover, President Putin claimed on December 9th 2021 that Ukraine’s “actions” against Russian speaking Ukrainians in the Donbas region ‘resemble… a genocide’, suggesting he may be looking for a possible pretext for war. These events culminated in President Biden declaring that an invasion was ‘imminent’, until 2nd February when this assessment was rethought.
Drawn out over weeks, there is great uncertainty over whether Russia will order a military escalation. Different news sources appear to speculate on whether Russia will press forward. To me, it seems that everything rests on the whims of a single man; will he be deterred by the risks and sanctions, or, isolated by absolute power, will war-lust overcome him? Without access to Putin’s thoughts, I am unable to conclude.
As a language learner, then, I would like to examine what this conflict reveals about perspectives.
How does the West view the conflict? With Russia as the blatant aggressor, an unprovoked invasion would be an attack on the autonomy and democracy of a “helpless” Ukraine, as well as recklessly endangering the peace in Europe. If Russian soldiers step foot into a NATO country (four of which border Ukraine), the whole alliance would be called to its defence.
In the US, politicians call for the decisive action in the name of democracy, conjuring the black and white divisions of the Cold War. In Britain, it stirs memories of the Salisbury poisonings and strengthens resolve to be tougher on the sinister Russian money that is thought to be stashed in London real estate and elsewhere.
Yet elsewhere, opinions on the international players differ. In Germany, fond memories of ‘Ostpolitik’ - conciliatory relations between West Germany and the Communist East during the Cold War - have manifested in a markedly less forceful response to Russia.
In Ukraine, despite the election of pro-NATO President Zelensky, many have lukewarm feelings towards the US. This may be because they feel that the US emphasizes the threats to European security over the human cost that will inevitably be borne by Ukrainians. They are also resentful and wary of Ukraine becoming a “pawn” in power play between the US and Russia. However, Ukraine has become thoroughly alienated from Russia’s aggression, having lost 14,000 of its people to 8 years of Russian-backed fighting in Eastern Ukraine. They fiercely reject Putin’s claim that Russians and Ukrainians are ‘one people’ when used to justify Russian bullying. Now, 75% of Ukrainians born after 1991 see their future with the West and not with Russia.
Then there is Russia.
I was intrigued by a conversation I had with a Russian friend. Despite being a liberal, having lived in Britain for a few years and despising Putin, her interpretation was that Ukraine had provoked the conflict to try and manipulate the support from the US in order to fulfil the requirements to become a NATO member. It fascinated me that for her, Russia was not automatically “the bad guy”. Perhaps, having grown up in Russia, world powers play different characters in her narrative conception of the world than in my own. Russian state-controlled media and schooling depict Russia as acting defensively and NATO as the dangerous enemy. Western media says the same of Russia.
It is interesting to consider how people perceive their own countries and how the legacy of the Cold-War division continues to affect the global psyche.
To conclude: even though it may be simplistic, I cannot break from the characterization that my culture has fed me. Vladimir Putin places safeguarding his own power and desire for global power status above the lives and livelihoods of Ukrainians. And for all its faults and failures in the West, democracy is a system worth fighting for.
Lovely tasty dish. Try it you won’t be disappointed.
Very tasty and cheap. I often have this for tea!
Being a bilingual family (French mother and British father,) living in France I thought your article was extremely interesting . Have you research on bilingualism ? It seems that when the mother is British and the father French and they both live in France their children seem to be more bilingual than when the mother is French and the father is British . This is what we called mother tongue , isn't it ?
Such an interesting article!