Russia and Ukraine, along with the west are at the edge of war as military tensions begin to escalate. The current crisis stems from something bigger than just the two countries. It is rooted in geopolitics, global diplomacy and power.
History of Russia and Ukraine
Ukraine and Russia have a complicated history. Putin has a particular interest in Ukraine. Last year in a 5000-word letter, he claimed that both the countries have deep cultural and political ties and he sees them as “one whole”. As Ukraine takes steps to become a member of NATO and deepen its ties with the West, Putin is determined to stop this from happening.
Ukraine has been a part of the Russian empire for hundreds of years and was a part of the former Soviet Union. Upon the collapse of the USSR in 1991, 92% of Ukrainians voted for Independence. For the two decades that followed, Ukraine struggled with whether to align itself with Europe or Russia.
In 2013, after the then Ukraine government rejected the European Union for closer ties with Russia, the country was swept with mass protests that soon turned into violence and revolution. As a result, Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown.
In 2014, amid heightened political tensions between the two countries, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and sent troops into the east, supporting separatist groups and a pro-Russian uprising that sparked an ongoing conflict and has since then killed more than 14,000 people.
After the annexation in 2014, Putin’s popularity in Russia soared. Many experts believe that the recent steps taken by him against Ukraine could be a way of reclaiming his declining popularity and taking the attention away from the slowed economic growth of the country post the pandemic.
What is the current Russia-Ukraine Crisis and what led to it?
In early December 2021, US intelligence warned that Russia was planning to position as many as 175,000 military troops along its border with Ukraine in preparation for an invasion of the country.
In the last few weeks, Russia stationed over 100,000 military troops, tanks, and weaponry along its border with Ukraine, raising tensions to an all-time high and leading to fear of an invasion.
Ukraine, followed by increasing military support along its border and accepting modern weaponry and military help from NATO allies to counter the Russian threat.
What is NATO and what role does it play in the crisis?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a military alliance between the USA, Canada, 27 European countries and 1 Eurasian country. The organisation was set up at the beginning of the cold war to prevent the Soviet Union from invading European nations. According to NATO’s official website, its “purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means.”
When Putin came to power in 1999, NATO had 19 members. Since then, NATO has grown to include 30 countries, including some that used to be a part of the former USSR.
Ukraine is the latest country that is in talks to join NATO, which will expand NATO up to the borders of Russia. Putin sees the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe and up to the borders of Russia as a threat to the country which is why it maintains that it needs to protect itself by stationing military troops along its border with Ukraine.
What happens next?
The situation has now reached a state of intense stalemate as both sides refuse to back down and continue to increase military protection.
The Kremlin continues to deny any invasion plans, while the West has insisted upon the possibility of an invasion and a war.
NATO has threatened huge sanctions against Russia, unlike any before, if it does attack and invade Ukraine.
The US continues to believe that Russia has plans for an invasion. While speaking at the White House, President Biden warned Russia and Putin once again: “I don’t know that he knows what he’s going to do, and I think he has to realise that it would be a gigantic mistake for him to move on Ukraine. The impact on Europe and the rest of the world would be devastating, and he would pay a heavy price.
“I have been very, very straightforward and blunt with President Putin, both on the phone and in-person – we will impose the most severe sanctions that have ever been imposed, economic sanctions, and there will be a lot to pay for that down the road.
“It will affect others as well, it will affect us somewhat, it will affect Europeans. But it will have a profound impact on his economy.”
The UK’s position on the issue
The UK has threatened tough economic sanctions against Russia in the event of an invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking alongside the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in a joint news conference at the headquarters of NATO in Brussels, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Russia and Ukraine crisis is now at its “most dangerous moment” calling it the” biggest security crisis” that Europe has witnessed in decades.
He called on Moscow to engage in meaningful talks to resolve the crisis. “I know that in the Kremlin and across Russia they must be wondering whether it is sensible to expend the blood of Russian soldiers in a war that I think would be catastrophic,” the Prime Minister said. “And all I would say is that this is the moment now to think of another way forward.”