The policy measures of the West (the United States and some of its European partners) have always been designed for the sustainable maintenance of their geopolitical, economic, and military hegemony in the areas where Russia has had specific interests for decades. The current Russian policy, on the other hand, is based on the legacy of its historical setting as the center of the only other mighty superpower (the USSR), a status it desperately tries to re-achieve and maintain. This conflict of interests between Russia and the West ensures the opening of new geopolitical, economic, and military battlegrounds, one of which is now Ukraine, causing a re-invention of the old cold war rivalry.
During the time of the Cold War, especially after 1945, a balance of power has been sustained with both superpowers maintaining power equilibrium on the basis of the notions like MAD and detente. After facilitating the decline of the Soviet Union ultimately ensuring its disintegration and thereafter segregating the former Soviet republics from the Russian sphere of influence, economically by prompting them to follow the liberal economic paradigm with the offer of full economic cooperation with the European Community and assistance from the West and its financial institutions and militarily by drawing them to the band of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), the organization which the US once agreed to dissolve or at least ensured not to expand to Eastern Europe, the West has clearly waged a diplomatic war to encircle the Russian federation, weakening its political and economic power structure and the ability of that country to have an independent say in world affairs while cautiously keeping it from becoming an unruly state.
With the joining of 12 of the old Warsaw Pact nations including many of its neighbors (Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia) in NATO and most of those enjoying close economic ties with the west, Russia has the fear of losing its influence on Ukraine, its largest neighbor in Eastern Europe. The loss of Ukraine meant NATO at the doorstep of Russia. The US had earlier tried to take NATO military systems to the Russian sphere by proposing a Missile Defence System to be put up in Poland and a Radar Monitoring System in Turkey, clarifying that the aim is only to shield its European partners from possible nuclear strikes from Iran and North Korea. The proposal invited stiff objections from Russia and was then withdrawn.
Objectives of the West
The west wants a weak Russian State which will not object to their plans to preserve their domination. Unlike what has now become a common belief that the US is facing setbacks around the world whether, in Afghanistan or Libya, it is argued that the US has succeeded in sustaining and expanding its power throughout the world more vigorously than it had done in the past decade. The conflicts and crises in different parts of the world necessitate a world supervisory body and to the role of which the US has appointed itself. On the other hand, Russia, after the economic and political setbacks in the 90s, tries to reassert itself as a greater power, claiming the past legacy of the mighty Soviet Union and wanting to defend its interests in the areas where it traditionally has an interest. Russia, under the leadership of Putin, tries to thwart all measures of the west to dominate its sphere of interest.
The current crisis in Ukraine began in 2013, with the failure of an authoritarian, corrupt but democratically elected, and Russian-backed regime of Victor Yanukovich to control the popular uprising against his unpopular (especially in Western Ukraine) decision to not to have economic cooperation with the European Union. Within three months, Yanukovich found himself a refugee in Russia while another autocratic, NATO-backed, and unelected government-controlled Kyiv. Ukrainian leaders, it seems under direct orders from the US policy advisers (there was a flurry of US diplomats visiting Kyiv after the regime change), issued provocative statements and pledged to “prevent a national breakup” by readying the armed forces in full alert against potential aggression from Russia.
It is argued that the west (the US and its European allies) facilitated the Russian takeover of Crimea, interestingly ‘without firing a shot, in a multipronged diplomatic maneuver. After the breakup of the USSR, Russia leased the Sevastopol Naval facility in Crimea from Ukraine until 2042. Ukraine supplied 80% of Crimea’s water and electricity and 65% of its gas. With its naval base, security force presence (till 2042), and a population of 60% of ethnic Russians, Crimea was already in an indirect Russian sphere of influence. This west, through their new Ukrainian partners, provoked and thereby facilitated Russia to take over Crimea. The Crimean takeover is seen as a Russian success. But actually, the occupation of Crimea prevented further Russian claims on Ukraine, it put Russia in a defensive position, it portrayed Russia as an aggressor or an invader, it provided a fine excuse to the west to impose economic sanctions and it brought another economic burden to an already reeling Russian economy.
Moreover, after the downing of the MH17 aircraft, the US, EU, and Ukrainian authorities have vehemently tried to put blame on Russia and the rebels, who fight the Ukrainian army with Russian military assistance. Russia was totally taken aback, it achieved nothing new by the Crimean takeover except the elevation of Putin as a decisive leader, allowing him to portray himself as invincible, uncompromising, and able, re-achieving his almost lost image. But the west accomplished its strategic goal of neutralizing future Russian policy decisions regarding Eastern Europe. The Russian aggression is a fine excuse for NATO to boost its military ties with the Baltic states and to have US arms just miles away from Russian territory.
The west tries to neutralize the Russian opposition to its policies by gradually reducing the Russian sphere of influence, encircling it militarily and imposing economic sanctions which would eventually put an already stumbling Russian economy to further financial ruin. The Russian aggression in Ukraine has provided the US with its military presence all around Russia, practically encircling it and gradually reducing Russian influence in Europe. Russia has sought to increase ties with China and South Asia, clearly demonstrating that it is losing its grip in Europe.
The Present Crisis
The United States wants Russia to attack Ukraine. An attack on Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia unless it takes over the entire Ukrainian state without damaging its trade ties with Europe. This is almost impossible. An attack on Ukraine by Russia will be military, diplomatic and economic victory of the United States over Russia.
But even after this, Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin considers itself as a great power and continues to resist. Russia fights for its survival as a sovereign nation. It wants no NATO presence in its neighborhood and thus provides assistance to the rebels in Eastern Ukraine in their fight against the Ukrainian army to establish a pro-Russian government in Eastern Ukraine. The current situation is a success for Russia as it does not allow the Ukrainians to get near the European Union or NATO. Hence Russia wants the status-quo to continue as long as possible. Russia will not want to ease itself into the trap set up by the United States in Ukraine. A resurgent Russia in company with an emerging China is a nightmare for the Western ambitions in the region.
The Cold war was basically an ideological conflict between the Communist and Capitalist blocks. The rivalry then developed into a power race in political, economic, scientific, and military spheres. The war now emerging in Ukraine is no less than a power race to assert political control. One side wants to expand and the other wants to survive and resurge. This may well become a global power struggle which may even lead us to a catastrophic regional or world war.
It is assumed that the rivalry between the West and Russia is not new; both have always treated the other with suspicion and tenacity and always tried to make gains at the expense of the other. It is assumed that foreign policy of the US and its European partners towards Russia is articulated in such a manner that it will facilitate a Russian decline to a certain level, politically, economically, and militarily, to make it compromising if not obedient on the decisions and actions were taken by the west in world affairs and at the same time preventing it from becoming a lawless state. It is also assumed that even though weaker, Russia will certainly resist the forceful advance of the west in its sphere of influence, creating a new power struggle that will be viewed as a new Cold War.