In the night between the 23rd and the 24th of February we received the news we hoped to never hear. Russia declared war on Ukraine. After years of tension and conflict, intensified in recent months, the Russian invasion of Ukraine began two days ago, when Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the order to attack, explaining that he had authorized a "special operation" in Ukraine to "demilitarize the country" and protect the independent region of Donbass. He then warned that there will be "unseen consequences if anyone interferes".
By air, land, and sea, Russia has now launched a devastating attack on Ukraine, a European democracy of 44 million people. The steps and reasons that led to this decision are many and have their roots far back in time. The relationship between Moscow and Kiev is indeed as old as it is problematic, and in recent years has seen the resurgence of tensions of a historical, geopolitical and strategic nature. Up to transforming Ukraine into the main crisis area between Russia and the West, in an escalation of provocations, threats and accusations that also involved Europe, the United States and China.
Are you wondering why there is a war between Russia and Ukraine? Are you trying to understand what exactly Vladimir Putin wants? And are you scared that there will be consequences in your country? To answer these questions and to explain this conflict to you in the best possible way we have analyzed the situation step by step.
The historic background
If it is true that in recent weeks there has been an escalation in the deterioration of relations between Moscow and Kiev, it must also be considered that the tensions between the two countries have lasted for years. Russia has always viewed Ukraine as a natural part of its sphere of influence - bear in mind that many Ukrainians are Russian native speakers, born when the country was part of the Soviet Union before gaining independence in 1991.
For a clear understanding of the historic background that lead to this moment, it is important to mention the year of 2014 when, after protests, the pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted. In his place was elected Petro Poroshenko, much closer to the West and not appreciated by Moscow. Also in 2014, Putin responded by annexing Crimea and encouraging the rebellion of pro-Russian separatists in Donbass. After the failure of diplomatic negotiations that year, in 2015 Russia and Ukraine signed the Minsk II Accords in Belarus, never fully implemented. The treaty provided for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons on both sides, a dialogue on greater autonomy of the republics in the Donbass region, amnesty for prisoners of war and the exchange of military hostages. Since then, the tensions have always remained present, without however exploding. Until today.
Why is the independent region of Donbass so important?
Donbass - which means "Donets Basin" - is an area of eastern Ukraine divided into three regions: that of Donetsk, which is the main city; that of Luhansk and that of Dnipropetrovsk. Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, is 700 kilometers away from here.
In this area, almost everything is predominantly Russian: from the language to religious practices, to the football championship. There are five million people in Donbass and one million of them have Russian passports. In the Luhansk and Donetsk areas, there are mostly people who feel separated from Ukraine, in fact they define themselves as "separatists".
Putin’s vision of Donbass
After years of indecision, on February 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to recognize the independence of the Ukrainian separatist republics, Luhansk and Donetsk (in Donbass), and then ordered his Ministry of Defense to deploy armed forces "to ensure peace". This move has in fact initiated the subsequent invasion of Ukrainian territory. In his speech to the nation, the Russian president stressed: "Ukraine is an integral part of our history and culture. It is not just a neighboring country, they are relatives, people with whom we have blood ties. Ukraine was created by Russia". For Putin, in his personal reconstruction, it was "a mistake" of the Bolshevik leader to wrest the territories from Russia to create Ukraine. "Ukraine has always refused to recognize historical ties with Russia, and it is therefore no surprise to see a wave of nationalism in this country”, he added.
The economic factor
Putin's vision of Ukraine is not the only reason that prompted the 'Tsar' to choose an armed intervention. As pointed out by several international politics analysts in the last period, Putin finds himself towards the end of his very long journey at the helm of Russia (he has four terms as President), and aims to leave a strong legacy, which reflects his imperialist project.
Moreover, apart from ideological and political reasons, Putin had desperately sought Ukraine’s membership in a Moscow-dominated free-trade bloc which was launched in 2000. The Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC) united several ex-Soviet republics and was widely seen as a first step to reincarnate the USSR. However, Kiev refused to join in an attempt to get closer to the Wester countries - even if Ukraine’s economy sank after severing ties with Russia, its one-time largest economic partner.
How far will Russia go?
Russia has hit airports and military headquarters across Ukraine first, but just a few hours ago, it has been reported that Russian troops have entered Kiev. The night between the 24th and the 25th of February, missile strikes hammered Ukraine’s capital and a Russian rocket crushed into a residential building. According to the reports, Moscow is seeking to topple Ukraine’s (democratically elected) government, and it will negotiate with its President only after its forces stop fighting.
In this regard, we need to understand the role of NATO in the Russia VS Ukraine war. NATO is an alliance of countries from Europe and North America. It provides a unique link between these two continents, enabling them to consult and cooperate in the field of defence and security. The Atlantic alliance was born in opposition to the USSR to strengthen the defenses of the allies and ensure that anyone would receive the help of others in the event of an attack. NATO’s purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means.
Russia feels a sense of betrayal towards NATO since, as early as 1990, US diplomats promised “Not one inch eastward” of NATO expansion. This promise (that was never written) was also not kept by America. Over the years, NATO expanded to take in former communist states of Eastern Europe, leaving Russia feeling betrayed and under attack.
For this reason, Moscow may want to probe the health of the Alliance which may no longer be so solid, although in the last few hours the members have appealed for unity and to choose a common stance. However, NATO secretary general, the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, recently denied a possible direct involvement of the Atlantic Alliance in the war between Russia and Ukraine.
Will the war reach the United Kingdom?
Western apprehension over a Russian invasion of Ukraine has dominated the news cycle recently – but just how will the UK be affected? By being geographically distant from the battlefield, Great Britain won’t suffer from any direct consequence of the attacks. However, indirect outcomes will be experienced around the whole world.
Even if the UK is no longer part of the EU, it is still an integral member of NATO. So it shouldn't be surprising that Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined Western allies in calling for an immediate de-escalation from Putin. He is also hosting an emergency COBRA meeting about the offensive from Putin and will be announcing further sanctions on Russia.
Ahead of the invasion of Ukraine, the UK parliament was sounding the alarm about the potential impact on Britain and calling for the UK to strike back in response to any cyber attacks. The secretary of state for defence, Mr Ben Wallace, responded by mentioning the National Cyber Force, the UK's offensive cyber agency: "I cannot comment on the operations that it will undertake, but I am a soldier and I was always taught that the best part of defence is offence.”
Written by Miriam Tagini