The world was roused to the shocking reverberation of bombs dropping on cities in Ukraine on Thursday as Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, finally sounded the long-touted invasion of the country. At least 137 people are said to have died as Russian bombs continue to cascade down the sky of Kyiv, Dnipro and other cities in Ukraine.
After months of heightened tension which saw Russia deploy over 100,000 troops to surround its ex-Soviet neighbour on three sides “like a sickle,” according to observers, Putin jacked forward the machinery of war, sending the world into jarring disbelief.
Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, condemned the invasion as a “blatant violation of international law”. Joe Biden, the US president, described it as “an unprovoked and unjustified attack” while Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, declared that the country and its allies “will respond decisively”.
A global showdown is brewing, and an adamant Putin has damned the rest of the world with his action, and it seems he will not leech the war dog any time soon.
As the situation between Russia and Ukraine deteriorates beyond diplomatic reconciliation and hits the shrapnels of a full-fledged war, we take a trip down memory lane to understand the origin of the conflict.
History of the tension
The tension between the neighbours has been bubbling for a while. The protracted conflict first brewed over in 2014 after the widespread Euromaidan protest in Ukraine forced the parliament to remove President Viktor Yanukovych from office. The removal of Yanukovych, who was regarded as pro-Russia, vexed the leadership in Moscow, and they thought the best way to strike back was to reclaim Ukraine’s region of Crimea, which used to be under Russia’s control from 1783 to 1954.
The Kremlin then kicked off operation ‘Returning Crimea’, and it engineered a series of pro-Russia protests across several areas in the city. The invasion of Crimea followed as the “little green men” — masked soldiers without insignia but with distinctly Russian weaponry and equipment — took to the city. Russia then launched a referendum in the city, and in the infamously skewed plebiscite, a staggering 97 percent of the population voted for the integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation.
The annexation of Crimea by Russia was a blow to Ukraine. But the onslaught had not reached an end for Ukraine as Russia began to secretly provide weaponry support for separatists in the country’s eastern region. This violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty helped the rebels claim control of the eastern city of Donbas with over 14,000 lives lost in the region.
To end the bloody crisis, an agreement was hammered out in Minsk, Belarus, in February 2015. The resolution tagged the ‘Minsk agreement’ was monitored by United Nations, and it proposed a cease-fire with all parties signing to power down their machinery of war.
Despite a ceasefire agreement, both parties have not been at peace, and the Russia-backed rebels have claimed further swathes of land in the east of Ukraine.
NATO and its eyes on Ukraine
After the collapse of the Iron Curtain and subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has never been subtle in its mission to bring into its fold the majority of countries that used to be in the eastern bloc. NATO won over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 2004.
However, NATO has always had its eyes on Ukraine, a pursuit that has provoked Russia deeply over the years.
With the persistent Russian invasion and support for rebels, Ukraine finally tilted toward the Atlantic bloc. In 2019, the constitution of Ukraine was amended with the addition of parts indicating the country’s imminent membership of NATO and the European Union (EU).
For Russia, the move was a red line in the sand as it sees Ukraine’s romance with NATO as a bombardment by its Western enemies across numerous sides. And when the topic was raised again at the 2021 Brussel Summit, Russia intensified its move to bring Ukraine to its knees before it walked into the arms of NATO.
Putin said Kremlin will not allow “any further NATO moves eastward and the deployment of weapons systems that threaten us in close vicinity to Russian territory”.
He insisted that Russians and Ukrainians “were one people – a single whole,” adding that the crisis is the “result of deliberate efforts by those forces that have always sought to undermine our unity”.
In December 2021, Putin warned NATO that deploying weapons or soldiers into Ukraine would cross a “red line” for Russia and trigger a strong response from the Kremlin.
The tension boiled over with the new year, and it erupted into a war on Thursday, February 24, 2022.
What does Putin want from Ukraine?
Putin has described the West’s mission with Ukraine as “the overarching goal being to divide and then to pit the parts of a single people against one another”.
He added that “step by step, Ukraine was dragged into a dangerous geopolitical game aimed at turning Ukraine into a barrier between Europe and Russia, a springboard against Russia”.
In his bid to bring Ukraine back under Russia’s influence, he openly backed and recognised the government of rebels in the eastern part of the country and quickly sent in troops for “peacekeeping” in the region.
He wants to stop Ukraine from being, in his own words, “a puppet” of the West.
What can the West do?
The leaders of the West have been airing their condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine since it began. But, at the moment, NATO countries haven’t unfurled plans to send combat troops in Ukraine’s defence.
Instead, they’ve offered the beleaguered country weapons and medical aids. But NATO already has about 5,000 troops in Poland with other troops across the Baltic territory ready to swing into action when called.
NATO has made it clear that it will deal with Russia; using economic and financial sanctions to strangulate it to back out of the invasion.