Theorizing the contemporary Russia-Ukraine war, Realism is more pragmatic vis-à-vis liberalism! The concepts of Realism i.e. national interest, power politics, security dilemma, struggle for power etcetera are more evident and applicable than the concepts of liberalism i.e. international law, international organizations, and diplomacy. Why Russia has attacked Ukraine? It is the most buzz question around the globe. The West particularly, the United States is condemning the attack and presenting it as a cruel act of Putin. Is it a cruel act? If it is cruelty then why the US is not condemning the vicious and inhuman acts of Israel and India in Palestine and Kashmir respectively, is a big question mark? It is because of National Interests, which matter in international relations.
The current war between Ukraine and Russia can be traced back to 2014. For centuries, Ukraine has strived to maintain its independence. It get full independence when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. United States (US) is eager to enlarge North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and incorporate more states into NATO. From the very outset, since rising to power in 1999, Putin was against the enlargement of NATO.
Let us analyze the aforementioned buzz question through the lens of International Relations theory, Realism. What are the main reasons for the Russia-Ukraine war, according to realists? A well-known classical realist, Thucydides, had stated that states are unequal in power. Due to this inequality, states struggle for their survival and dominancy, which leads to conflict. Russia and Ukraine are unequal in power the former is very powerful and wants dominancy while the latter is not powerful and striving to ensure its survival through joining NATO, this inequality between Russia and Ukraine pushed them into war.
Likewise, the renowned classical realist scholar, Nicholai Machiavelli, emphasis on power and deception. He chattered that a leader should be brave like a lion and cunning like a fox. A leader can ensure the independence of his/her people if he/she is brave and cunning otherwise other states will pray for it. To relate this assumption of Classical Realism with Putin will not be wrong. Putin attacks Ukraine to contain it from Joining NATO and to ensure his state’s independence and survival. If Ukraine joins NATO, the US will come closer to Russia’s borders, which Putin reckon is the biggest threat to his state’s survival.
Furthermore, Realism argues that National interest will always remain central to state obligations. Russia attack Ukraine because it was in its national interests, Putin wants to put a brake on the expansion of NATO. Contrary, Vladimir Zelensky is striving to gain membership in NATO to pursue Ukraine’s National Interests i.e. security economic, and political.
E.H Carr, a neo-classical realist, stated about power and interest. He chattered that some states are more powerful than other states and they want to preserve their position and status quo. The US is more powerful than other states and it wants to preserve its position and status quo through different means, NATO is one of the means, which reflects the US’ interests. Through NATO, the US wants to increase its influence and preserve its status quo. With the passage of time, the US is striving to enlarge NATO and Ukraine is its recent target because of its geo-strategic importance. Ukraine was also willing to join NATO, which arouse the anger of Putin and he did the attack on Ukraine on 24 February 2022.
On the other hand, liberalists, Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham talk about international law. Kant was convinced that international law could secure peace but in reality, International law is a reflection of the national interests of powerful states. The invasion of Russia on Ukraine in 2022 violated international law. Under international criminal law, invasion is a serious crime. Russia being a powerful state openly violated international law but no one dare to punish Putin. It means that it is just a false promise of liberalism.
Likewise, the advocate of liberalism, Woodrow Wilson, the founding father of the League of Nations, believed that international organizations would ensure global peace. Marxists expose this claim and argue that international organizations are used by the elite states as a tool of exploitation. The pertinent international organization, United Nations, is ineffective so far in ensuring peace because; Russia (an elite state) is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and has a veto power, which she is exploiting for its benefits against the weaker state (Ukraine). It depicts that international organizations are dominated by powerful states and they use it as a tool of exploitation.
Further, liberalism argues that diplomacy is a very effective way of minimizing conflicts and maximizing prosperity. So far, the weapon of diplomacy seems ineffective in the Russian-Ukraine war.
In brief, Putin is following the realist’s teachings and exposing the liberal democratic states’ false promises. Being a follower of liberalism, Ukraine is suffering and no liberal state is taking practical steps to save it from Russia even the supreme institution, United Nations, also seems ineffective to halt mighty Russia. It depicts that the international system is anarchic and every state should need to ensure its own survival. No international organization and international law will guarantee to ensure the survival of the weaker states.