Why is Russia invading Ukraine – and will there be a war?

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  • Why is Russia invading Ukraine? While Russia’s Vladimir Putin insisted for months that there were no plans to invade Ukraine, it’s the question everyone is asking as the president declared a “special military operation” in the Donbas region of the country. 

    Russian military units crossed into Ukraine from multiple locations – including Belarus in the north, Crimea in the south and Luhansk in the east – in the early hours of February 24, opening fire and bombing military targets before sending vehicles across the border. In response, Ukraine’s foreign minister accused Russia of starting a full-scale war. He has urged the United Nations to “do everything possible” to stop the aggression going any further.

    President Joe Biden has condemned the attack, vowing to hold Russia accountable for their actions, alongside leaders from the UK, European Union, United Nations and NATO. While Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who launched the living with Covid plan in England this week, announced a imminent COBRA meeting, accusing the Russian president of choosing “a path of bloodshed and destruction” by launching the attack on Ukraine. “The UK and our allies will respond decisively,” he said in response.

    Why is Russia invading Ukraine?

    Russian-Ukrainian relations have been fraught since the end of the 20th century, if not before. And while the matter of why Russia is invading Ukraine is very complicated, a simple explanation is that Russia does not want Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). 

    A group of countries created and signed the treaty after World War 2 in 1949 so they could “consult and cooperate on defence and security-related issues to solve problems, build trust, and in the long run, prevent conflict.” 

    While NATO say they are “committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes”, they have the “military power to undertake crisis management operations” if diplomatic efforts aren’t successful.

    Russia recently re-established their desire to keep Ukraine out of NATO in a list of security demands, sent to the US in December 2021. Among others, the demands included a stop to any NATO drills in the vicinity of Russia’s border. They also want NATO to completely withdraw from Eastern Europe. 

    Russia’s president Vladmir Putin offered the opportunity for countries in NATO to come to the table in talks on the issue, adding that he would be willing to make “legal guarantees” if the countries agree. While US and NATO have responded to Russia’s offer, the details of their replies aren’t publicly available. But one thing is clear. Russia’s main demand that Ukraine never be part of NATO and the organisation won’t expand further into Eastern Europe has been rejected. 

    Has Russia invaded Ukraine before?

    It’s naturally a very complex topic with Russo-Ukrainian tensions going back to the early 20th century. But the most recent conflict is the result of Russia’s move to forcibly take (annexe) the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. 

    To understand the situation though, it’s important to go back a few years. Originally Ukraine was part of the Russian empire (USSR) but it won independence when the empire dissolved in 1991. The country attempted to remove its associations with Russia and create a relationship with countries in the West. 

    In 2014, however, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an agreement with the European Union. This was in order to create closer ties with Russia. The move led to mass protests through the country and he left office in that same year. 

    In response to this, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula. They also provided support to a Ukrainian rebellion that had broken out in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, an industrial heartland. 

    Fighting between Russian, pro-Russian and Ukrainian forces is still ongoing in the region. There have been an estimated 14,000 lives lost in the last eight years. While both Ukraine and western countries have accused Russia of sending weapons to assist, Moscow has denied intervention. They’ve said that the Russians who joined the fighting volunteered to do so on their own. They’ve also criticised the US and NATO for giving Ukraine weapons, saying that it’s encouraging rebel areas. 

    Putin has repeatedly warned that Ukraine’s attempts to join NATO are a red line for Russia. He also expressed concerns that some members of NATO are trying to set up a military training centre in Ukraine. This would give the country a military advantage in eastern Europe without Ukraine even joining the alliance. 

    What happens now Russia has invaded Ukraine?

    Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has confirmed that several missiles have hit infrastructure and border guards. Explosions have been heard by residents in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa and other cities across the country. However, uncertainty seems to be prevailing in Ukraine as people are being urged to stay at home where possible. But the president has imposed martial law across the country, saying that Ukraine was “ready for everything”.

    Samir Puri, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies told Al Jazeera earlier this week, “I think what Russia and Vladimir Putin will be really after would be to defeat the Ukrainian arms forces in the field, inflict a crushing military defeat that humiliates the Ukrainians and by extension create concern that the backing Ukraine has from its allies in the West, the US and UK, is insufficient.” 

    When announcing the military operation, Mr Putin warned other countries that interfering with the invasion would lead to “consequences you have never seen”.

    Nations in the West, including the UK, have offered their support to Ukraine by supplying weapons and economic aid. Germany has said they won’t offer military help. But last month they confirmed plans to set up a medical facility in Ukraine.

    Now Russia have confirmed plans to invade Ukraine, although Vladimir Putin has said he has no plans to “occupy” the country, various states have confirmed that Russia will face harsh sanctions. The BBC reports that the UK government will utilise recent legislation to impose restrictions on the people and organisations linked to Russia – as well as measures to personally target Vladimir Putin. Other planned measures will impact the banking and finance sectors. The UK will ban hi-tech exports to Russia and sanction people and companies in the defence and energy sectors. Along with other areas for strategic significance to Russia.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “People will draw the false conclusion that might is right and that aggression pays. And so what we’ve got to ensure is that it doesn’t pay off. And even if a lightning war is initially successful, that over time, through our economic might, through all the pressure we can bring, we make sure that this venture does not succeed.” 

    While Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called Russia’s latest move “unacceptable…unprovoked [and] unwarranted” and confirmed that the breakaway regions of Ukraine will face sanctions. This will impact banks, transport, energy, oil, gas and telecommunications, reports say, along with eight wealthy Russian individuals.

    Mr Morrison said, “We will be standing up to Russia. Along with all our partners and all those who believe that it’s totally unacceptable that Russia could invade its neighbour.”

    Russia and Ukraine peace talks:

    On 27 and 28 February 2022, both Ukranian and Russian officials met on the Belarusian border for the first round of peace talks. However, sources have confirmed that no agreements were made and negotiations are set to continue at a later date.

    According to Reuters, Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said representatives were now returning to their respective capitals for further consultation. Russia additionally shared that talks between two will then continue “in the next few days”.

    Prior to the talks, Ukraine officials shared that Russia had dropped preconditions to any peace deal. This was following a number of military setbacks for Putin. However, Ukraine’s foreign minister Dymtro Kuleba added that the Russian president’s announcement that nuclear weapons were now on high alert was a move to put pressure on the country during negotiations.

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