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Putin’s war with Ukraine

  • March 8, 2022
  • 5 min read
Putin’s war with Ukraine

On the 24th of February, Russia began an invasion of Ukraine. This has resulted in Europe’s largest war since 1945, as well as the continent’s largest refugee crisis since then. But where did this come from and why has Putin thrust his country into a war?

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a number of former Soviet states would join NATO, bringing the organisation’s borders closer than ever to Russia. Ukraine and Georgia were among the last who had been waiting to join with the former becoming a NATO partner in 1994. In 2013, an agreement was reached with the EU, but the then pro-Russian government refused to sign it, opting instead to strengthen its ties to Moscow. This led to 100,000 people protesting with the crack downs killing over 100 people.

As a result, the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, resigned and was exiled from the country. This lost Putin much of his political influence in the country so he opted to use force to exert it, beginning in 2014 with the invasion of Crimea. This was followed by supporting separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, declaring both regions, which are near Ukraine’s border with Russia, as being independent from Ukraine.

Putin has held on to the regions for almost eight years now, and the conflict that has arisen has killed over 14,000, and displaced almost 2 million people. All of this has helped to destabilise Ukraine in order to keep it from forming closer ties to the West.

In November 2021, Putin prepared to go all in. 100,000 troops and military equipment began appearing near the border. The Russian leader denied any invasion plans, giving his demands weeks later; he ordered that NATO stop any expansion into former Soviet states and that it pull its military borders back to where they were in 1997.

NATO responded by keeping its troops on standby and reinforced its military in Eastern Europe, in anticipation. Russian troops continued to gather by the border with Ukraine, while along the border with Belarus, Russian troops began conducting military drills.

Under the pretense of peacekeeping, troops crossed the border into the Russian backed separatist regions. Ukrainian president Zelensky made a direct appeal to the Russian people and announced a state of emergency. 

This has sparked worldwide condemnation with anti-war protests breaking out everywhere. Even in Russia, where protests face the threat of arrest for speaking out, many have taken to the streets in opposition to the invasion. World leaders everywhere have condemned Putin’s actions.

Poland, Hungary, and other neighbouring countries have opened their doors to Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, while thousands of Ukrainian expats have returned home to join in the fight for their country’s freedom.

For the first time ever, NATO’s response force has been activated “for collective defence and deterrence.” This follows from the organisation’s activation of its defence response “amid the biggest security crisis in Europe in decades.” The US has also sent additional troops to eastern Europe but world leaders are treading lightly.

Russia controls the world’s largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and Putin has threatened any who might interfere. Because of this, harsh economic sanctions have been imposed on Russia, while tons of military aid is being sent to Ukraine.

The people of Ukraine continue to fight back despite Russian attempts to push deeper into the country.

It’s also important to highlight one other aspect of the invasion that might seem familiar. Putin hopes to unite ethnic Russians into one nation, as it had been under the Soviet Union.  On the 21st of February, during his national address, Putin addressed the citizens of Russia but soon referred to “compatriots” in Ukraine, highlighting his belief that Russia’s true borders extends beyond that of the current nation.

“In the build-up to the Russian military assault on Ukraine, Russia’s leadership sought to cultivate a picture of ethnic Russians,” the Royal United Services Institute says, “Russian speakers and Russian citizens facing genocidal policies in Ukraine as a result of the rise of Ukrainian neo-Nazis and nationalists to power following the collapse of the Yanukovych regime in 2014.”

It goes on to say that the “idea that Russia has a particular responsibility for the Russian communities outside Russia became a core part of the identity of Moscow’s foreign policy elite in the early 1990s and has been a key driver in the evolution of Russia’s approach to its neighbourhood.”

While the full-scale invasion is new, Russia has been waging war on Ukraine for eight years now. But this act marks a major turning point in the conflict. Only time will tell what the future holds for both the countries involved and the rest of the world. And if past ethnic nationalistic wars are anything to go by, Ukraine and Belarus will likely not be the end of Putin’s ambition.

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