Overview of Russia Ukraine Crisis and Escalation


Russia Ukraine Crisis and Escalation: 


The current situation between Ukraine and Russia has deteriorated in the past weeks. Russia has attacked Ukraine in a full-scale invasion, and a few key cities such as Kherson have been taken over by the Russian forces. This conflict was predictable as President Vladimir Putin had long wanted to expand his control over the region. Ukraine was part of the USSR and Putin considers it to be a significant chunk of the ‘original’ Russian territory.

Moreover, Ukraine’s insistence on gaining a NATO membership had further agitated Putin as the power interests clash between Russia and NATO. Putin’s recent move of trying to capture Ukraine was based on his false theories that Ukraine was oppressive to the Russian people, and thus Russia needed to “de-militarize” Ukraine to safeguard the lives and peace of Russian people living in the region. His ideas seem to be a disguise for his intentions of taking over Ukraine anyway.

Furthermore, Ukraine’s democratic nature is a direct threat to Russia’s authoritarian regime. If the international community sees that Ukraine can thrive in a liberal environment, in Putin’s backyard, then Russia’s strong authoritarian bends would hold no ground. It can be said in simple words that Putin’s plan to invade Ukraine was inspired by his desire for more authoritarian control over the region. 

His previous annexation of Crimea also proved the same. Currently, fighting in the major cities of Ukraine intensifies as Russia keeps sending in more forces. Ukraine is resisting strongly, some dialogues are still being held on the side, and the European countries, as well as the United States, have been hitting Russia with massive economic sanctions as a signal of alliance with Ukraine.

NATO forces have also been deployed in Eastern Europe to deter any further aggression from Putin towards other countries.


Now that we know what the situation in Ukraine is like, we can analyze it from the lens of international relations theories. A theory is an explanation of the events happening and how they fit into broader contexts. In other words, a theory answers the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of international relations. The three major theories that are used in international relations are realism, liberalism, and constructivism.

Realism is a very interest-based theory that argues that all nation-states ultimately act to preserve and further their own best interests in the international arena. This theory presumes the self-serving nature of humanity and extends it to the scale of nation-states. It sounds similar to the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and his pessimistic view of human nature. However, it is not pessimism, rather ‘realism’ because that is what has been observed since the early days of humanity. Realism supposes that the nation-state is the primary and unitary actor in the international arena.

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Organizations and pressure groups may exist, but they cannot outdo the role of a nation-state. Secondly, it also presumes that decision-makers within a nation-state would always rationally choose to further the national interests, based on the repetitive patterns of human behavior of securing its own power. Liberalism is the opposite of realism, and is also sometimes referred to as ‘idealism’. This theory is the defining feature of modern democracy. It presumes that the role of the nation-state is to protect its people from aggression and promote collaboration and cooperation on the international level.

According to this theory, the nation-state represents the interests of its people and speaks on their behalf to other nations. Liberalism allows more room for civil society, international organizations, and businesses to intervene in the working of nation-states. Hence, it is opposed to realism in its core assumptions. Lastly, we have constructivism which is different from both of the aforementioned theories. Constructivism can be considered an extension of the subjectivist social construction theories that one finds in philosophy and other disciplines such as sociology.

Constructivism emerged after the Cold War because both realism and liberalism could not explain the situation adequately. Constructivism presumes that the nature of international relations is continually transformed via the intentions, interpretations, interactions, and actions of the individuals and groups (actors) which influence the social and political world.

It is more comprehensive and flexible as compared to the other two theories. According to constructivism, subjective meanings, how they are interpreted by others, and how they are acted upon, actually form the basis of all international relations rather than some strict set of presumptions about the nature of human behavior.  

If we analyze the current situation in Ukraine, it can be concluded that the constructivist theory explains it the best. There are three primary reasons for this. The first one is that Putin has his own vision regarding the world and Russia’s place in it.

It is highly observable that the actions of Russia do not reflect the combined intention of its people, but only that of Putin and his close inner circle. Putin, as an individual actor with his own idiosyncratic aims, dominates and controls the nature of this situation. 

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The conflict has arisen because of this insistence on Russian power, rather than any specific national interest of Russia or any democratic will of his people. Secondly, the way Europe and other countries have reacted to this problem can be better explained by constructivism. Even though liberalism can also be used here as most of those countries exhibit a liberal bend, it cannot account for all the complications of this issue.

Most of those countries already have strong economic ties with Russia and any sanctions have multi-faceted results for the world. Nation-states may be harmed in multiple ways across the globe as everything is deeply connected these days. The situation is not about “capitalism vs. communism” as it was in the older days, it is much more complex and subtler now.

Thirdly, the resistance shown by Ukraine and his courageous leader Zelensky is also a good fit for the constructivist theory. This is due to the fact that the actions of any nation-state are symbolic and convey great meanings to the rest of the world and its opponents as well. The actions of Ukraine are not only about the self-interest of the nation or about endorsing a particular realist or liberal ideal.

They are more complicated than that and Zelensky’s interactions with world leaders have proved his ability of persuasion and resistance. This ties back to the insistence of constructivism on actors and their actions, other than the unitary nation-state. Therefore, it can be safely said that constructivism is the best theory for explaining the current situation of Ukraine.  

The other two theories are not adequate enough for explaining the situation due to the complex nature of the globalized world and the current conflict.

Realism and liberalism are too narrow to account for all that are happening in the world, and how it is shaping future relations. Realism cannot explain the humanitarian actions that Europe has taken to help Ukraine, and liberalism cannot explain the actions of Russia’s Putin. Because the economies of the world are intertwined, no particular or rigid course of action can be taken here. How the actors behave in the current situation will ultimately influence the outcome of this conflict, and decide future relations. 

The views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not reflect the policy or opinion of the youth diplomacy forum.

This article is written by Sameer Sohail, he is a graduate of social sciences from the University of Sargodha, with International Relations and Sociology as majors. Currently, he is pursuing a Master’s in English from the same institute. His interests include applying the theoretical and philosophical frameworks of the social sciences to interpret current global phenomena. 

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