Chronicles of the Ukraine war: When might it end?
"Whoever rules the Eastern Europe will rule the Heartland, whoever rules the Heartland will rule the World Island, and whoever rules the World Island will rule the world!" – the "Heartland Theory" of Sir Halford Mackinder (1861 –1947)
The lure of the Eurasian Heartland
Polish-born Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US National Security advisor under President Jimmy Carter, in his 1997 book, "The Grand Chessboard," wrote: "Ukraine is an important space on the Eurasian chessboard, the control of which is supposed to make a domination over the world possible." He identified Ukraine as the state deserving the US' strongest geopolitical support, adding: "While Ukraine's independence affects the nature of Russia's state itself, it is for the US the critical state among key Eurasian geopolitical pivots."
Two decades before that, Moscow got stuck in the Afghan quagmire, which resulted in the breakup of the Soviet Union and the ascendency of the US as the sole superpower.
Washington must control Ukraine if this coveted status is to continue, a strategic goal which is driving everything that is happening in Ukraine today.
US manoeuvres in Kyiv
Fast forward to September 2013. Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), wrote in The Washington Post: "Ukraine is the biggest prize." He argued, echoing Brzezinski, that if Ukraine could be drawn into the Western camp, "Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself."
NED is a US NGO, founded in 1983 and funded by the US Congress, has since been dispensing money to organisations in foreign countries where the governments needed to be toppled. That included Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and, of course, Ukraine. NED proved that the best approach is a combination of covert and overt operations.
In February 2010, a narrowly contested general election made Viktor Yanukovych Ukraine's new president. Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported that the vote was an "impressive display" of democracy and there was no evidence of irregularities.
Having a difficult choice to make between the European Union (EU) and Russia, Yanukovych suspended the ongoing talks for joining the EU in 2013. This triggered street protests, followed by his impeachment and a subsequent election in 2014, implementing what columnist David Ignatius termed "The New World of Spyless Coups" in an article in The Washington Post.
Petro Poroshenko became the next president. His "Army. Language. Faith." campaign was openly against Russia: the army to fight the Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass region; the Russian language to be removed from Ukraine; and the Ukrainian Orthodox Christian church to be separated from its old faith-based ally, the Russian church.
Poroshenko followed through on his election promises and ordered brutal military operations against the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the CIA had been secretly conducting an intensive training programme for Ukraine's elite special operations forces since 2015. Douglas London, a senior officer in the CIA, published an article on the day following the Russian invasion titled "The Coming Ukrainian Insurgency: Russia's Invasion Could Unleash Forces the Kremlin Can't Control."
The choreographed rise of Zelensky
In Kyiv's political scene, Volodymyr Zelensky was still an unknown face.
In 2015, Zelensky began a TV show called "Servant of the People" in which he played Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko, a schoolteacher who woke up to find that his rants against corrupt politicians had gone viral, making him the president. Aired by a TV network belonging to oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, the show turned him into a national hero.
In 2018, Zelensky abruptly announced that he wants to run for the presidency and began his campaign with his newly formed party called, curiously enough, "Servant of the People." Riding on popular sentiment, Zelensky became president in April 2019 with a massive mandate from 73 percent of voters. The same Kolomoisky had recruited Hunter Biden, US president Biden's son, to serve the board of his gas company. Hunter Biden also provided important linkage between Ukrainian dealmakers and the US administration.
In October 2021, the Pandora Papers exposed that Zelensky had received USD 41 million for his election funds from Kolomoisky.
Zelensky's voters gave him three tasks: 1) establish peace in the Donbass, 2) provide economic betterment, and 3) provide a non-corrupt government. But soon he made securing Donbass his top task adding to it Crimea that Russia annexed in 2014. In August 2021, Ukraine formed the Crimean Platform whose stated goal was to "put an end to the occupation of Crimea."
Why Ukraine is important for Russia
The relationship between Ukraine and Russia is long and complex.
The inhabitants of present-day Ukraine enjoyed an autonomous status in the 17th century when Russian Empress Catherine the Great (1729–96) abolished it. In 1917, the empire collapsed, and Ukraine became independent, which the Bolsheviks later turned into a state. The Crimean Peninsula, until then a part of Russia, was transferred to Ukraine in 1954. In 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved, and Ukraine became an independent country. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea.
Historically, Russia has long held Ukraine to be a part of its sphere of influence. But Ukrainians have always tried to move away from Russia, which Moscow vehemently objected to.
In this context, the Ukraine war is shaped by Russia's historical desire to become a Eurasian power. In Russia's struggle against Europe, Ukraine is a central piece without which it cannot remain a superpower.
Russia steps into the trap
Thus, the stage was set for Russia to invade Ukraine, for which CIA-trained operatives were ready and waiting. With an anti-Russia president enjoying huge popularity, the political stage was also set, and it only needed Russia to start a full-scale invasion, which would justify the West's economic and military onslaught against Russia.
On February 20, OSCE reported a surge in the number of explosions in east Ukraine, indicating escalation of military activities. Four days later, Russia walked into the CIA-laid trap, beginning the devastating Ukraine war which soon reached a stage where there is no end in sight. If President Putin had any expectations of a swift victory, that has also evaporated.
Moscow's Afghan adventure had broken up the Soviet Union. Will Russia break up again? However, Washington also needs a sizeable enemy to keep Europe in control.
The current war has brought back Nato with full force, which French president Macron had once termed "brain-dead." Therefore, a total dissolution of Russia is perhaps not the objective, but only the fall of Putin and installation of a more compliant ruler in the Kremlin. However, instead of being compliant, Moscow could also get closer to Beijing.
Meanwhile, the war is not going to end until Washington's goals are achieved, however long that takes.
Dr Sayeed Ahmed is a consulting engineer and the CEO of Bayside Analytix, a technology-focused strategy and management consulting organisation.