Feb. 24 marked the day that Russian troops officially invaded Ukraine. The United States and other countries had expressed concern over tensions at the Russia-Ukraine border where the Russian military had been stationed since late last year. With an official invasion, a war declared, and many predicting World War 3, how did we get here, what will happen and what has been done already?
The obvious question to answer is why has Russia invaded Ukraine? It is a question with plenty of history to its answer, but there are three main reasons.
The biggest reason and the reason that Russia gave in explaining their attacks on their neighbor country is that Russia does not want Ukraine to enter NATO, which it had applied to do a few months ago. An article by Bloomberg quotes Putin as having said the reason for the invasion was “demilitarization,” presumably dismantling Ukraine’s military capability, rendering it incapable of defending itself — and unable to join NATO.”
After the Second World War, the United States and eleven European countries created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which created a firm alliance between all member nations to help each other when needed. Since its founding, several other countries have joined the treaty.
In response to NATO, Russia created the Warsaw Pact with its allies, a grouping of eastern nations. These two treaties effectively split the world into the east and west, with Russia and the United States heading both sides, a factor that contributed to many historical events such as the Cold War.
However, by applying to join NATO, Vladimir Putin— the president of Russia— sees Ukraine aligning with western values- values that have long conflicted with Putin’s reign as president of Russia. A New York Times article titled “The Roots of the Ukraine War: How the Crisis Developed” said, “The Russian president calls NATO’s expansion menacing, and the prospect of Ukraine joining it a major threat to his country.” Thus, Putin does not want Ukraine to align with western allies as he wants buffer states between Russia and western Europe not to have the west interfere with the Russian government.
At this stage, Putin has released statements saying that if Ukraine agrees to withdraw its NATO application, it will cease fire and back out of Ukraine. “Russia presented NATO and the United States in December with a set of written demands that it said were needed to ensure its security. Foremost among them are a guarantee that Ukraine would never join NATO,” said the New York Times.
The second reason for the invasion is not the most obvious, but Ukraine is very geopolitically important. The location of Ukraine has led some people to call it “the breadbasket of Europe” because it has many natural resources.
The Council on Foreign Relations said, “Ukraine was a cornerstone of the Soviet Union, the archrival of the United States during the Cold War. Behind only Russia, it was the second–most populous and powerful of the fifteen Soviet republics, home to much of the union’s agricultural production, defense industries, and military, including the Black Sea Fleet and some of the nuclear arsenal.”
Feeding into both reasons above is the theory that Putin wants to create a neo-Soviet Union. Putin has long been pro-soviet, and Ukraine would be a solid addition for Russia as it has historically been one of Russia’s allies and was the second most powerful nation within the USSR. The New York Times said, “Mr. Putin has long lamented the loss of Ukraine and other republics when the Soviet Union broke apart.”
Bloomberg also said, “Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear that he considers Ukraine’s place to be in Russia’s fold.” As mentioned above, Ukraine is also a buffer state that separates Russia from western Europe and NATO nations such as Poland. The invasion of Ukraine could be Putin’s first attempt at re-building a strong East once again.
What happens next is up to Russia, and if Russia decides to invade or threaten other countries, mainly NATO countries such as Poland, the world response will be very different.