From bad to worseThe Ukrainian crisis is teetering on the edge of war. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill endorsing the separation and independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) set up by pro-Russian rebels in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine and ordered Russian forces to march on the country. Skirmishes took place in the Donbas region between the rebels and Ukraine government forces. If the Russian Army moves into Ukraine in full force, massive casualties are unavoidable.
The crisis will surely push up international oil and grain prices if Russia shuts down all the pipelines carrying gas to Europe. Gasoline prices in Korea already surged to 2,000 won ($1.7) per liter from 1,800 won.
To make matters worse, there are concerns that an invasion by Russia could be a prelude to another world war. The United States and Europe are sending reinforcements to neighbors of Ukraine while strengthening sanctions on Russia. Due to the possibility of large-scale civilian damages, including over 1 million war refugees, all of Europe is tensed up. As more than 60 Ukrainians of Korean descent still remain in the country, President Moon Jae-in hurriedly held a National Security Council meeting on Tuesday to help protect them or get them to safety.
The Ukraine crisis is not a distant problem. Our government must grasp the essence of it. Ukraine is threatened by Russia because of the confusion and division of its domestic politics, weak self-defense capability and a lack of allies. After being oppressed by Russia during the Cold War, Ukraine lost Crimea to Russia in 2014. As it attempted to join NATO to protect itself against the Russian threat, Russia itself felt threatened. Yet America and France, core members of NATO, are reluctant to provide military aid.
The Ukrainian crisis could set a bad precedent for North Korea. In the post-Cold War period, Ukraine was ensured of its security in return for completely abandoning its more than 5,000 nuclear weapons through the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances it signed with the U.S., Britain and Russia. Watching Ukraine without any nukes being invaded by Russia, North Korea could be even more determined to develop nuclear weapons.
The international community must stop Russia from assailing Ukraine. Given the possibility of North Korea making provocations while the U.S. is handling the Ukrainian crisis, the government must prepare for any contingency. Our geopolitical risks from powerful neighbors resemble those of Ukraine. As we have stressed repeatedly, there is no better way to reduce such risks than a solid Korea-U.S. alliance.