The deployment of Russian troops and military equipment on a large scale to the Ukrainian border, geopolitically, cannot be underestimated. The crisis that occurs, especially if it erupts into a war, is not only a matter between the two countries, because it must have serious implications and have wide ramifications. What is feared is that uncontrolled developments will have implications for international security, including in the Southeast Asian region.

After the Cold War ended in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union (US), the map of Eastern Europe has changed significantly. The position of ex-US countries and their satellites (Ukraine and Belarus) is very strategic for both Russia and the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Since 2000 President Vladimir Putin has tried hard and systematically to reverse the situation created 30 years ago. The indications are that the US and NATO have started placing their military advisors in the Baltic countries, such as Latvia and Estonia. While Russia in 2014 Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, followed by supporting pro-Russian groups in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk (Donhas region) in Eastern Ukraine.

New Cold War

Apart from the controversy regarding the New Cold War, current indications show the same pattern as the previous one (1949-1991) which ended in a "defeat" of the US. First, in the past, in order to withstand US and NATO threats, the US made the Warsaw Pact countries (Albania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and East Germany) a buffer zone. Currently all ex US countries (plus Slovakia, and East Germany which became Germany) have become members of NATO.

Second, Russia gets a kind of "blessing in disguise" because the countries that were broken up by the US then became a kind of new "buffer zone" on their borders. That's why these countries were immediately “embraced” in the Commonwealth of Independent States/CIS (1991); and in the Collective Security Treaty Organization/CSTO (1992) - consisting of Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Georgia -, which does not allow its members to join other military alliances.

More broadly, together with China, Russia formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization/SCO (1996) consisting of 5 countries (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), which now reaches South Asian countries (India, Pakistan and Uzbekistan) and finally Iran ( 2021). In addition, there are observers (Belarus and Mongolia) and dialogue partners Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, as well as Turkey, which is a member of NATO.

That's why Edward Lucas in his book "The New Cold War" (2009) says "uneasy confrontation between the West and the Kremlin" as a new Cold War, marked by "the return to the Soviet-era methods". In this case Russia has been provoked and NATO has been “meddling” in the “Russian backyard”; and seen in US policy in Kosovo and Russia's actions in Georgia. This is what Lucas called “tit for tat”, where NATO attacked Serbia (an ally of Russia) and supported the establishment of Kosovo; while Russia attacked Georgia (a NATO friend) and supported the separation of Abkhasia and Ossetia.

Even in the same book, since 1998, General L. Ivashov, President of the Academy for Geopolitical Problems, stated that a new Cold War in Europe was inevitable if NATO took tough steps (read: military) without UN support, or if it positioned itself as a “ European Policemen". Meanwhile, Giorgi Arbatov, Director of the ISKRAN Think Tank, is of the view that the new Cold War was caused by NATO's "indifference" towards Russian interests and its aggressiveness has had a bad influence on relations between Russia and the West.

NATO developments

Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, NATO (founded 1949) has grown rapidly from 16 to 30 countries, of which 7 of the 8 Warsaw Pact countries (founded 1955) are now members of NATO, namely the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and East Germany (which merged with West Germany). Meanwhile, NATO itself since the dissolution of the Iron Curtain country has imposed an "open door" policy against its former splinter countries.

The results of the 1994 NATO summit in Brussels confirmed "expect and welcome the expansion of NATO which will reach out to the democratic countries of the East." Even in 1998 this defense pact agreed on a Membership Action Plan (MAP) to help countries interested in joining. Currently, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine are reported to be interested in joining this military alliance.

In accordance with the contents of the NATO Charter (Washington Treaty 1949), especially article 5, the principle of collective defense is at the core of the formation of NATO, which binds its members and emphasizes solidarity to protect each other. Based on this principle NATO has taken collective defense measures on various occasions, for example in response to the war in Syria (which borders Turkey) and anticipating the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

It is recognized that Ukraine has aspirations to join the US-led alliance, which is why around 150 US military advisers are already at the Lviv training ground, in the west of the country, which is far from the front line. This group includes special forces (Green Berets), as well as National Guard trainers from the Florida 53rd Infantry Brigade combat unit. In addition, military advisers from around a number of allied countries are also in Ukraine, including the UK, Canada, Lithuania and Poland (NYT, 23/01/2022). Ukraine's entry into this organization will make it the largest and most important NATO country directly bordering Russia, after Estonia and Latvia. Ukraine will also replace Turkey, which is no longer a leading member of NATO, because it is "obstructed" by Georgia, which since the 2008 war has been "controlled" by Russia and "neutral" Azerbaijan.

Russia's suspicions about NATO's motivation to "withdraw" new members from Eastern Europe, according to Prof. J.L. Black in his book "Russia Faces NATO Expansion" (2000), has a long historical tradition. The Russian Federation inherited everything from the US, except for its territorial integrity, secure borders, and the feeling of being an impregnable power. The large buffer territory obtained by force of arms by St. Petersburg and Moscow over a period of 150 years (since World War I) disappeared in an instant. Hence the prospect of expanding NATO to the East will never be accepted by Russia, and is a threat to its national security.

Russian Leverage and NATO Constraints

However, Russia has several advantages (leverage), namely: First, Ukraine is very dependent on Russia for gas supply and the pipeline network through this country is also used to supply gas to a number of NATO countries, such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Second, about 50% of the population of Ukraine in the East is of blood or Russian-speaking. Third, "de facto" Ukraine has been "under siege" from 3 directions, namely from Moscow (North), Donhas Region (East) and the Crimean Peninsula (South). Fourth, there is the Nord Stream-2 pipeline that connects Russian gas supplies directly to Germany, which can reduce NATO's solidity.

President Putin has made clear his bottom line is wanting to stop Ukraine from joining NATO and getting assurances that the US and the alliance will never place offensive weapons in the country that threaten Russia's security. Putin also hopes to restore his influence in the region, according to the European strategic map that was not changed in the 1990s. The same thing was seen when Russia sent CSTO coalition troops to resolve the upheaval that occurred in Kazakhstan in early January. According to John Daniszewski, senior AP analyst, for Russia what happened in Ukraine reflected the spirit of the Cold War and the re-emergence of hope stemming from the 1945 Yalta Conference that “the West should respect a Russian sphere of influence in Central and Eastern Europe” (AP, 25). /01/2022).

The Kremlin has so far denied it will carry out an attack on Ukraine, while US President Joe Biden has insisted it will promote diplomacy, balanced by sanctions. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the same thing. "We have a wide range of options: economic sanctions, financial sanctions, political restrictions." (CNN, 22/01/2022), and emphasized that Russia would bear a high price if it attacked Ukraine. For the Kremlin, if the US and NATO do not change their stance on Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned that Moscow has "the right to choose the means to ensure its legitimate security interests." (ABC7, 01/26/2022)

War of words, indeed often occurs between the leaders of these two superpowers; The problem is, the "echoes" of this crisis are already being felt in other areas. The US has involved NATO (as well as Japan and Australia) in military exercises in the South China Sea (SCS), to show its readiness to China and Russia, in facing challenges in the Black Sea, Mediterranean, South China Sea and East China (Global Times, 05/08/ 2021). Meanwhile, the SCO countries (Russia, China and Iran) have already held military exercises in the Middle East, which is far from Europe. It was recently reported that President Putin had called the leaders of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba (NYT, 01/24/2022) to discuss “a 'military-technical' response to the Ukraine crisis”. That is, even a minor military incident can set the fires in Ukraine and the international community will be exposed to the sap. Now!***