Russia says it will annex conquered regions in Ukraine

The Russian news agency TASS revealed last week that Moscow intends to annex the Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to Russian territory – following a formula similar to the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

This not only rules out the possibility of a ceasefire in the Ukrainian war (as President Volodymyr Zelensky has already stated that he does not agree to cede national territory), but also calls into question an international norm that had been established after the World War II: that no nation would use force against the territorial integrity of another country.

This idea began to take shape after the United States stopped seeking more territory and was practically consolidated in the Charter of the United Nations, after the end of the Second World War.

Still, the armed conflict was used on some occasions. For example, when North Vietnam took South Vietnam, when Argentina tried to take the Falklands Islands from England (called Falklands by the Argentines) and in the processes of occupation and annexation of lands carried out by Israel against its neighbors.

But practically since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, no nation has tried to conquer another internationally recognized state using force.

With the globalization process, the international community understood that it was no longer necessary to annex territories to have access to neighboring resources.

The strongest states understood that opening borders was a way of imposing their will. to other peoples, while maintaining stability and avoiding armed conflicts. This is the logic of imperialism in international politics, according to political scientist Marcelo Suano, from the consultancy Center for Strategy, Intelligence and International Relations.

“You can control people as long as you submit the economy that governs the place where these people are located, without the need for weapons and without the need for territorial annexation, which is even more expensive”, said Suano.

However, according to him, the expansion from the NATO (western military alliance) to the east, since the fall of the Soviet Union, made President Vladimir Putin stop seeing the scenario through the prism of international politics and starting to use the geostrategic vision. In other words, he started to think about the territories close to Russia from a military defense perspective.

And what is the role of Crimea? Why did Russia annex the peninsula in 2014 but not the Donbas region?

The Crimean peninsula, which has Russian military bases in Sevastopol, has a high strategic importance for enabling control of the Sea of ​​Azov and a large part of the Black Sea. This facilitates the defense of Russian territory and guarantees Moscow a “warm port” – that is, one that does not freeze and can be used in the winter months. Since Soviet times, it enjoyed some political autonomy, but it was transferred to Ukraine in 1954.

After the independence of Ukraine (1991), the country signed an agreement with Russia, the United States and Great Britain in which it gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons to Moscow in exchange for the protection of the other signatories and financial aid. from Russia. The same agreement guaranteed Russia the right to use part of the Sevastopol bases and keep troops there.

According to Suano, after the revolution of 2014 that overthrew a pro-government -Russia and installed a pro-Western administration in Ukraine, Russia would have feared losing access to that strategic position. As a result, Russian forces from Sevastopol seized the Crimean Parliament and instituted a pro-Russian local premier. After a controversial referendum, the peninsula ended up annexed by Russia, however, without bloodshed.

About a month later, in April, still in retaliation for the Ukrainian revolution, rebels financed by Moscow took over forcibly part of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – which form the Donbas, Ukraine’s most industrialized area. In 2014, according to Suano, the region was not understood to be as fundamental to Russian security as Crimea, so there would have been no annexation.

But, before starting the invasion of Ukraine in 24 February this year, Putin recognized Donetsk and Luhansk as independent republics. They now form the main scene of the war in Ukraine.

Thus, Russia should hold referendums similar to that of 2014 in Kherson, which is in the north of Crimea, and in the controlling area of ​​the Zaporizhzhia oblast (region), located on the coastal strip to the northeast of the peninsula. These regions, already under Moscow’s rule, could thus be annexed to Russia – if Ukraine is not able to articulate an effective counteroffensive in the coming months with indirect support from the West.

If the annexation takes place , Russia will form a corridor on the Ukrainian coast that will guarantee the domain of the Sea of ​​Azov and the Crimean peninsula. Military analysts also say Moscow could go further, taking over the entire Donbas, conquering the capital of Zaporizhzhia – and eventually invading Kharkhiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the northeast of the country, and Odesa and Mykolaiv, the last ports still in Ukrainian hands. .

The general idea of ​​Russia is to dominate this region to hinder an eventual invasion of its territory by NATO.

How will the West position itself?

One of the lines of action discussed in the West was to try to remove Russia’s veto ability in the UN Security Council or eventually expel the country from the body, in order to stop Moscow’s actions.

This has not happened so far. But, according to Suano, such an action could consolidate Russia’s geostrategic vision (priority for defense and armed actions) to the detriment of an approach through international politics.

The United States and its European allies also can pressure Ukraine to cede territory to Russia in the name of a ceasefire. But this could weaken the international norm of not using force to resolve territorial issues – and thus encourage other stronger countries to annex neighboring nations.

Another option the West has on the table is to step up military aid to Ukraine, with the aim of enabling its Armed Forces to be able to expel the invading army. In 1990, a US-led military coalition expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait and reinforced the norm set out in the UN Charter.

The risk now is that the Russia is not Iraq and a protracted military campaign increases the risk that the conflict in Ukraine will spread across Europe or result in the use of weapons of mass destruction.

But the problem of the non-annexation norm becomes dead letter is that the world can become more brutal. This is because, in general, the processes of conquest and maintenance of territories have a series of violent consequences.

Some of them are the deaths of civilians or the transformation of the local population into refugees. In many cases, the invader tries to reduce the number of people in the territory to facilitate his control over it.

Another consequence is the possible creation of the so-called “eternal wars”, when the invading power spends years fighting against local resistance movements.

Thus, the civilian population is always the loser.

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