On Monday, 26 April 2021, President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Emmanuel Macron of France had a phone call amid rising, international apprehension regarding the Ukraine tensions and the condition of Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny. The phone call between Russia and the Western power has been one of the most recent communications regarding the Ukraine tensions while the Kremlin continues to contain Navalny. The face of the anti-corruption movement’s detainment has caused an internal uproar, an uneasy background to conduct an already alarming subject.
According to the Macrons, Macron insisted on the need to respect Navalny’s “fundamental rights,” Associated Press reports. Macron had urged Putin to “commit in good faith and in a sustainable way toward reducing tensions with Ukraine,” the office said. According to a statement that the Kremlin put out, Putin highlighted the “provocative actions” that Kyiv is committing in eastern Ukraine. However, other Western European powers are not persuaded by Putin’s justifications. Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia’s amassing troops is “unjustified and deeply concerning.” At the Nato HQ in Brussels, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia was “openly threatening Ukraine with war and destruction of [Ukraine’s] statehood,” according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Even so, despite these clear differences, Putin and Macron have confirmed their intentions to continue cooperation in Normandy format to address the Ukraine situation.
Undoubtedly, this is a precarious situation. Should Macron or other Western powers take a non-negotiable stance towards Russia, a war could very easily be incited. However, should other nations passively allow for Russia to continue to exert imperial-like power over a neighbouring country, not only does it allow immediate conflict between the involved powers but it also sets a potentially dangerous, non-interference policy regarding Russia’s actions. The suppression of free elections and convincing evidence of corruption in the Kremlin puts many lives, both of Russian citizens and of others, at risk.
Moreover, there is another complicating factor of the United States. As the new President Joe Biden has taken a stronger stance against Russia than his predecessor, Donald Trump, the current state of Russian-American relations is unsteady. One of the major questions derived from Macron and Putin’s conversation is this: To what extent do foreign powers have a responsibility as members of an international community to ensure the human rights of Russian citizens, the violation of such being a major grievance caused by Putin’s regime? As of now, the increased external pressure of Western powers and Nato are possibly the most immediate dampener regarding the potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. Internally, granting the younger generation of Russians, many followers of Alexei Navalny, an online space to campaign and continue to share news of internal affairs is critical. Foreign powers must continue to support journalists and other reliable news sources both on the ground and in conversation with Russia to best maintain vigilance.
While arguably existing before, the Russian-Ukraine tensions have most noticeably increased since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March of 2014 and the ensuing Ukrainian revolution from Ukraine beginning in the same year. The violent conflict, dangerously poised for an all-out war, has consisted of skirmishes and resulted in more than 13,000 people killed. Recently, pro-Western demonstrations in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv ousted the pro-Russian president, Victor Yanukovych. President Putin has leveraged the population of the conflict zone, Donbas, who are mostly Russian-speaking with Russian passports, as a seemingly righteous motive for the Russian’s part in the conflict. Russia will “defend Russian citizens abroad, if they are seen to be at risk,” Putin said according to the BBC. Grievances in the past year include suppressing the face of the anti-corruption protests, Alexei Navalny, to amassing 80,000 soldiers, half on the eastern border with Ukraine and the other in Crimea, according to the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky. The clear threatening position of the forces, backed by Russia’s past methods of subtle infiltration as was the tactic used in Crimea in 2014, greatly increases tensions between Russia, Ukraine, and the rest of the world. Besides the tit-for-tat sanctions that have been exchanged between Russia and the West, there has been no strong, substantive action yet taken against the Kremlin.
While the Kremlin and western governments assess one another, as well as their own positions, it is important to continue to keep open dialogue within the international community. While Macron’s agreement to continue working with Russia to address the Ukraine situation may have halted further immediate conflict, the future is very uncertain. Within the next few months, the continued dialogue between Russia, Nato, and the western powers will define the future relations between some of the most powerful nations in the world.
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