Russia-Ukraine Conflict Explained - On the Precipice of a Full-Scale Invasion
Updated: Mar 1
Currently, Ukraine is in the first stages of being invaded by the Russians, facing one the largest military armies in the world, positioned in and around its borders. To make matters worse, the Belarussian forces have joined the Russian attack from the north, adding up to the Russian attacks from the east and the movement of troops in the south. In 2022, after 70 years of peace and security, Europe is on the verge of war.
The crisis has brought together the political powers of the West – political leaders are pointing toward the same direction. Joe Biden warns that Putin has decided to invade the country completely. During the Munich Security Conference, Kamala Harris describes the Russian-Ukraine as “a decisive moment in history.” Boris Johnson believes Russia is planning a war, which the world has not seen since 1945.
Meanwhile, Russian officials are saying that there is no plan for Russia to invade Ukraine, and the estimated 150,000 Russian troops massing near Ukraine’s borders are there for military exercises and to support Russian-backed Ukrainian leaders facing excursions.
Here is how Ukraine ended up at the epicenter of an international conflict.
How did this start?
The current crisis situation in the region is not new. Moscow was unnerved when an uprising in 2014 replaced Ukraine’s Kremlin-leaning president with a Western-facing government.
Russia reacted by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula – a strategically vital region in the Black Sea – and supporting separatist rebellion groups in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine.
The warfare between the Ukrainian government and separatist groups has been continuous ever since 2014 taking more than 14,000 deaths to date. To many civilians, the risk of a larger-scale Russian attack in Ukraine is not more than another stage of an ongoing eight-year conflict.
This conflict is not likely to stop regardless of Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine in the upcoming days or not.
The geographical location marks Ukraine as the buffer zone between the European Union and Russia. Many Ukrainians are Russian speakers, which is the result of being part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union until 1991 when Ukraine gained its independence.
Vladimir Putin has been focused on Ukraine for years – it holds a central role in his vision to reclaim the Soviet borders and, in his view, Ukraine and Russia have a common history, therefore, should be united as one:
“It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people.”
Europe and the United States see Ukraine as a pacesetter for their own influence and for foreseeing Russia’s further steps in Europe – if Russia attacks, Kremlin might feel less restricted to intensify security concerns in the other post-Soviet countries, which have become part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the European Union.
Changes in the global political dominance system are also on the cards. Russian invasion would affect the United States' current level of authority and influence around the world and reactivating the role of NATO would be beneficial for securing the influence of the West.
At the moment, Ukraine is in a vulnerable situation – it is surrounded not only by Russia but also by Russian allies and proxies. Despite receiving Western aid for weapons, the country cannot rely on military support from the United States and its allies because it is not part of the NATO alliance.
Joe Biden has made it clear that Ukraine does not meet the criteria yet to join NATO, whose key section is Article 5 – if a member nation is attacked, the others will join in the response. Russia sees Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO as an imminent threat.
What does Russia want and what can be done to stop the invasion?
In fact, Putin requests a ban on Ukrainian NATO membership, expansion of NATO as well its prohibition of any military activity in Eastern Europe and most of the former Soviet Union. Political analysts have expressed that these ultimatums are unrealistic and rather serve as a scheme designed to gain concessions.
President Biden remains dedicated to NATO's ‘open door policy’ and the idea that every nation should be able to select alliances independently.
There has been much talk on consequences for Russia should Putin decides to invade. The United States and European countries could put numerous severe sanctions on Russia while also possibly bringing negative effects to the global economy. The Biden administration is considering sanctions to cripple the Russian economy, such as an export ban on technologies and financial sanctions on Russian banks – a path which the Obama administration did not choose to take in 2014.
If Russia escalates tensions, Germany could kill the Nord Stream 2, a major new pipeline transporting Russian gas between Germany and Russia. The United Kingdom might place sanctions on Russian oligarchs with property, resources and assets in the United Kingdom.
Russia provides about one-third of Europe’s gas and ships some of it through Ukraine. Any disturbance of this gas supply chain would push European countries to look for fuel elsewhere, which would possibly raise world oil prices.
What happens now?
As of Thursday 24 February, the situation has peaked into Russian troops entering into Ukraine and starting to fire the first shots. The Russian military denies attacks on civilian sites.
Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky wants the West to stop the Russian ‘appeasement’ policy and wants to convene with the leaders to agree on new security guarantees. On Sunday, Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, has called Putin and Biden to join a summit intended for de-escalating the imminent crisis.
In recent weeks, many countries around the world have withdrawn the embassy staff and diplomats’ families from Ukraine due to the continued threat.
Putin has the power to dictate what will happen next. Ultimately, he has two probable leading scenarios – one, to withdraw the military, which would make Putin be seen as weak in Russia and leave the United States and Europe in a leading position, or two, he goes forward with the attack.
Perhaps it is a matter of whether Moscow can stomach the damage of the economic sanctions and the potential death toll in a country with a population of over 40 million.
Learn more in this blog post on how to support Ukraine by donating, learning, and sharing the right information
Resources to keep you updated on this issue:
> Twitter accounts to follow for real-time updates - https://twitter.com/unixterminal/status/1496692445832167427
> Mapping the Ukraine-Russia crisis - https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60506682
> Facts about Ukraine - https://www.visualcapitalist.com/map-explainer-ukraine/
> What will happen if Russia takes control of Ukraine? - https://twitter.com/DAlperovitch/status/1496862856935251969
> What Vladimir Putin wants-and How Russia's War in Ukraine Could Reshape the World? (Podcast) - https://open.spotify.com/episode/6fRtZEYipvqzHTbBwjmGnU
> Putin's Miscalculation (Politico) - https://www.politico.eu/article/ukraine-war-russia-vladimir-putin-miscalculation/
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References (click the arrow to expand):
https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-europe-60454795 https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2016_07/20160627_1607-factsheet-enlargement-eng.pdf https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/twenty-questions-and-expert-answers-about-whats-happening-with-ukraine-and-russia/ http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66181 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/1/25/five-things-to-know-about-russia-ukraine-tensions https://www.crisisgroup.org/content/conflict-ukraines-donbas-visual-explainer https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_110496.htm https://abcnews.go.com/International/russia-makes-sweeping-demands-security-guarantees-us-amid/story?id=81821816 https://www.vox.com/22881709/nord-stream-2-russia-ukraine-germany-united-states-cruz https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/20/eastern-ukraine-front-line-civilians-shelling-russia
https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/02/1112202 https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/kremlin-says-no-concrete-plans-summit-with-biden-over-ukraine-2022-02-21/ https://www.nytimes.com/article/ukraine-russia-putin.html https://www.aljazeera.com/program/inside-story/2022/2/19/whos-telling-the-truth-on-the-ukraine-conflict https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-joe-biden-united-states-europe-vladimir-putin-0bf64906713725d75535cf8912e0b9ee
Kristiana Nitisa is an investigative journalist based in Sweden. She is also a research journalist at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Sovena Ngeth.