Ukraine Issues De-facto Declaration of War Against Russia, As United States Seeks Peace

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III participates in a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders)

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s National Security and Defense Council has published a decree, known as Decree no. 117/2021.

The order outlined the start of a process of reintegration of Crimea into Ukrainian government control. The decree reads:

1. To put into effect the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine’s decision of March 11th, 2021, “On the Strategy of de-occupation and reintegration of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea’s temporarily occupied territory the city of Sevastopol” (attached).

2. To approve the Strategy of de-occupation and reintegration of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea’s temporarily occupied territory and the city of Sevastopol (attached).

3. Control over the implementation of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine’s decision, enacted by this decree, shall be vested in the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine.

This Decree shall enter into force on the day of its publication.

President of Ukraine V.ZELENSKY

Though the decree falls short of a declaration of war, it has lain a clear challenge to the Russian presence in Ukraine, which Putin will be hard-pressed to ignore. Moreover, Zelensky has taken vital steps towards involving the Western world. On April 6th, President Zelensky tweeted, “@NATO is the only way to end the Donbas war. Ukraine’s MAP will be a real signal for Russia.”

Before 2014, 60-70% of the population was against NATO membership. Following the Euromaidan protests, anywhere from 50-70% of the population has supported joining NATO. Russia has long opposed Ukraine’s NATO membership, with Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Dmitry Kozak warning that any escalation or change in Ukraine’s neutrality would mean the “beginning of the end of Ukraine.”

Currently, Crimea has been occupied by Russia for six long years. Recently, Russia has announced 15 new warships entering the region, an escalation on Biden’s recent move to send two warships. Following Biden’s withdrawal of the warships, Putin closed off access to the black sea for foreign navies, a precarious move as he continues to deploy more troops to the Crimean area. Putin has amassed 80,000 vaccinated troops, ready to pour into Ukraine alongside armored vehicles and missile fire. However, Ukraine’s fate is not yet sealed.

On April 15th, the U.S. announced a massive wave of sanctions and restrictions against Russia due to a history of election interference, political repression, and belligerent behavior. These sanctions will strain Russia’s already weakened economy, combined with internal dissent following Navalny’s potential second poisoning and Europe’s standing alongside Ukraine. Recently, Turkey, a nation with long-held dubious allegiances regarding NATO and Russia, has thrown its support behind Ukraine after a meeting between President Erdogan and President Zelensky.

The United States has recently taken a more passive stance than anticipated, with a senior official saying, “We do not seek a downward spiral. We can and think we can avoid that”. Biden would surely take a massive hit to his own support, given he has only just announced the end of America’s longest war. But Russia has remained belligerent, refusing Biden’s offer on a peace summit. Whether or not Biden wants to involve the United States, he will evidently need to side with NATO in defending Europe should fighting escalate.

With the latest sanctions, pressure has been put on Russia to act decisively as Ukraine continues its campaign of garnering international support. With internal conflicts and an imminently besieged economy, Putin may seek to use war in Ukraine to distract from his crumbling hold on Russia. All eyes are on the Western world, as NATO and Russia test the limits to how far their escalation will go. Though Ukraine and Russia will both pay a heavy price if war breaks out, only one government will remain intact when the dust settled.

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