Russia and Ukraine have been at the top of headlines intermittently for the past few months but now, the tenuous situation has escalated into a much bigger conflict, threatening to pull more nations into the struggle. To understand how we have arrived at this point and what the possible outcomes look like, we need to look back at where all of this began: the fall of the Soviet Union.
In 1991, the Soviet Union broke apart, bit by bit, as new nations established their sovereignty and the Cold War came to a close. Ukraine, one such nation, became independent in August of that year and the government quickly got to work setting up a democracy and developing ties with other nations. Even though the Soviet Union collapsed, the tension between Russia (and its allies) and “the West” (most notably NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) still persisted and Ukraine was caught right in the middle.
This tension was most clearly seen in Ukraine’s presidential elections. Oftentimes the presidency would go back and forth between a pro-NATO president and a pro-Russia president. Ukraine submitted a request to join NATO in 2008 but was denied, with the promise that Ukraine could join one day but that no formal action would be taken at that time. This denial was prompted by heavy pressure from Russia, which didn’t want NATO’s influence so near to the country. Further turmoil erupted in 2014 when the Ukrainian president fled protests and a new government was established. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, did not recognize the government as legitimate and used the opportunity to attack. In the aftermath, he annexed Crimea, a southern part of Ukraine that has access to the Black Sea, into Russia.
All of this brings us to the current plight. Putin has been sending troops to the Russo-Ukrainian border for several months. He denied having any invasion plans until a few weeks ago. Many world leaders, including United States President, Joe Biden, and French President, Emmanuel Macron, tried talking with Putin. The US even threatened to impose heavy sanctions on Russia. Nothing stopped Russia from launching the invasion.
Putin initially sent his soldiers into Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, two pro-Russia separatist regions in Ukraine “as a peacekeeping force”. He also began joint military exercises with Belarus, a nation just north of Ukraine. This immediately garnered international condemnation towards the Russian president. The US has officially placed its heavy sanctions on Russia, with the threat of more if Putin continues. This, however, has not stopped Russian forces from pushing into non-separatist Ukrainian territories such as Chernobyl and the area around Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Explosions have been reported across the regions dominated by Russian forces and the Ukrainian government has reported military casualties.
As for why Putin is doing this, it is the same reason as his attack in 2014: NATO. In fact, during his “peace talks” with Biden and Macron, he kept bringing up that he wanted NATO to stay away from Ukraine and other countries neighboring Russia. It seems like he has now decided that an invasion is the best way to ensure it. But this doesn’t mean that all the Russian citizens are in favor of this move. Many have protested the decision in the capital, Moscow, and been arrested by Russian police. There is even a social media movement to post a black square showing citizens’ disapproval of the military effort.
At the moment, the situation looks incredibly grim for Ukraine. A military force is closing in on its capital and other key cities and there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop the oncoming soldiers, at least without help from its allies. The citizens have deserted the streets, most of whom are prepared to hide out the violence. Ukraine’s fate, whether that be thoroughly invaded by Russia, successfully pushing back Putin’s military, or some compromise, is yet to be seen.