• Polymath Weekly

Russia-Ukraine conflict, explained

Over the past couple of weeks, the world has been closely watching the situation at the Russo-Ukrainian border. Here are the answers to questions about the background of the crisis, what is happening now and how the world has reacted so far.


What caused the conflict?


After the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of ex-Soviet countries in eastern Europe began joining the Western military alliance called NATO (formed in 1949 to protect Western Europe against a possible Soviet invasion). In 2008, NATO crossed a red line with Russia when it revealed its plans to offer membership to Ukraine.


Russian president Vladimir Putin has clearly expressed his disapproval of the idea, calling it an act of aggression and at the same time has pointed out he views Ukraine as a part of Russia and has referenced the two nations as "one people." Still, for the last 30 years, Ukrainians have been showing greater interest in aligning more closely with organizations like the European Union and NATO, but so far Ukraine hasn't joined either.


Protesters in Kharkiv, Ukraine on February 5th, 2022. [Image Credit: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP]

The growing opposition peaked in 2014, when mass protests took place in Kyiv (Ukraine's capital) which resulted in the removal of a Russian-friendly president who refused to sign an EU alliance agreement. In response to that, Russia annexed (added to its own territory) the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and provoked a wave of protests in the east of Ukraine, which also gave Russia control the conflict has remained unresolved.


What is happening now?


According to US and Ukraine's intelligence officials, over 150,000 Russian troops are stationed at the Russo-Ukrainian border.


Since March 2021, Russia has also established new military units in Belarus. Russia's increased military presence around Ukraine has alarmed and thus stimulated many nations across the world, especially the US and members of NATO, to take action. NATO responded by sending in more troops and providing military training and other forms of support. The US, on the other hand, sent troops to Poland (if east European NATO members are attacked) but is not planning to send military aid to Ukraine.

[Image Credit: Henrick Pettersson, CNN]

What does the future look like?


Back in December of last year, Russia presented its list of security demands to the US and NATO for it to reduce tensions in Europe and clear the conflict with Ukraine, which have been rejected.


Since there appears to be no room for diplomacy or negotiations, US president Joe Biden has recently expressed his belief that Russia will begin its invasion of Ukraine in the "coming days." Russia has denied the claims.


If Russia does invade, however, the US and NATO are already crafting a plan for how they will respond. Among the expected consequences are impositions of financial sanctions on Russia's biggest banks and bans on exports of advanced technology. Because there is a lot at stake for Russia, some experts believe that Putin will not take the risk and walk away from what could come at an enormous cost for Russia's economy and its people.





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