The news of the rising tension between Russia and Ukraine has instilled fear across the globe. News and media have alluded to the hostility between the two nations being a catalyst for a World War 3 type scenario, perhaps even a sequel to the Cold War. This doom and gloom storm of hyperbole is enough to have us asking a thousand questions, the first of which being: What is going on?

The Cold War and N.A.T.O

The Cold War saw the inception of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, formed to provide collective security against the Soviet Union. By the end of the war, the Soviet Union collapsed and became the Russian Federation, this is the pivotal moment when an understanding was shared between the Russian Federation and NATO that NATO would not expand further East into Europe.

The Annexation of Crimea

Ukraine, which used to be part of the Soviet Union until 1991, had been wavering between a foreign policy that's pro-Russian and pro-European for years. This wavering finally stopped in 2014, when Ukraine ousted their Pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, causing him to flee the country.

This didn’t work for Russia. The wounds of the dissolution of the Soviet Union still fresh, now coupled with the separation of a nation, long viewed as an extension of their own, proved too much. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, claiming it to be a rightful and historical region to Russia. Despite Russia making this move to be about holding on to shared culture and doing what’s right by the people of Crimea (who are actually, in majority, pro-Russia), it’s hard to ignore that geographically, it is a peninsula in the Black Sea with a location so strategically important that it has been fought over for centuries. Control of the Black Sea would allow Russia to project its power and influence in the Mediterranean, protect its economic and trade links with key European markets, and make southern Europe more dependent on Russian oil and gas.

Since 2014, fighting between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatist rebels who seized some towns in predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine. It has since escalated to outright-if-undeclared war between Russia and Ukraine.

Ukraine’s “Pending” N.A.T.O Membership

So why are Russian troops moving in on Ukraine as of recently? The agitator is believed to be NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe, a betrayal of the Cold War promise. Russia fears that although Ukraine made an application in 2008 that was subsequently rejected, NATO’s rapid expansion is making Ukraine joining the NATO roster, a real possibility. Additionally, Ukraine’s move away from Russia and toward Europe, means the confirmed loss of Crimea, and as a domino effect, loss of control of the Black Sea.

The Heart of the Conflict: Expansionism

It is clear at this point, that this isn’t the classic feud between socialism and capitalism, this is the age old sickness of paternalistic states, expansionism, and on both sides. Whilst it’ll take seconds on a google search to see Russia is a power hungry nation, wanting to throw its weight on Ukraine, the U.S via NATO, have the exact same thing planned, it's just the tactics that vary. It must be asked: How did a Cold War security pact become an international organisation with clear military objectives? At its inception - NATO expressed it had no desire to move further East into Europe, so what has changed? “Enlarging NATO becomes the gift that keeps on giving,” says Joshua Shifrinson, an international relations scholar at Boston University. “It was a way of incentivizing liberalisation in countries that had been in the Communist bloc, showing that the US still has a mission in Europe, and a way of the US projecting power and checking alternative systems like the European Union.

Concluding whether we’re heading into another World War is a tricky one. Whilst NATO nations, including the U.K have deemed Russia’s move into Ukraine as a “violent gesture” and the biggest security crisis Europe has faced in decades, something we must consider is the economic benefits of being on the brink of war. There is little incentive for private forces to provide defence—unless by doing so they can take over the right to extract compensation from the society they protect - this is where the threat of war enters. Being on the brink of war provides states with the necessary rhetoric to hike taxes on imported gas further benefiting the states budget. It also provides the major importing companies (who coincidentally, happen to be based in European countries and invested in by US) a further revenue increase even if that is simply by stock prices increasing from a volatile market.

However, this doesn't take from the fact that violence within the region has been prominent due to the high militarisation. Food insecurity, casualties and displacement have been happening for years, and whether a world war stems from this or not is irrelevant, because an invasion is happening, and this will only further escalate the humanitarian crisis happening in Ukraine.

When we look throughout the history of the world, and the wars it's seen, no matter how things have been framed, expansionism lay at the heart of bloodshed, it’s the cause for attack every time. So the question is, do we just accept this as a given? Is it time to admit that this, although the worst of it, is simply, humanity? As the rest of us across the world are left to witness, we're also left to make a decision, whose expansionism is more legitimate, Russia's or NATO's?

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