By Isabel Pulgarin
On Feb. 19, President Joe Biden announced he had reason to believe Russia will invade Ukraine any day now. Currently, Russia has 190,000 troops surrounding Ukraine built up since March 2021. These troops serve as intimidation to have their demands met against the eastern expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The U.S. sent 80,000 troops to Poland and neighboring countries in defense of Ukraine.
Ukraine is surrounded by Russian troops and tanks with support from Ukraine rebels— the pro-Russia separatists in Crimea and the eastern industrial Donbas region—and the military of Moldova. Despite the steady increase of military, Russian officials have denied allegations that they plan to invade.
The increase of troops comes after tension began in March 2021 when both sides accused each other of violating a ceasefire that had been in place since July 2020 in Donbas. As a result, Ukraine pleaded for membership into NATO, leading Russia to mobilize.
NATO is an international political and military organization including the U.S., Canada, and allies of Western and southern Europe, created after World War II to protect the freedom and security of its members.
The U.S. and allied countries have supplied Ukraine with arms and a promise to impose sanctions in the occasion of war. These sanctions would hurt the Russian economy and defend Ukrainian independence.
However, according to Dr. Leah Blumenfeld, professor of political science, “China’s economic relations with Russia can off set the impact of any sanctions imposed by the U.S.”
A concern economists have is that Putin is a gas and oil provider to Europe, especially Germany. Russia recently finished a project that would eliminate Ukraine as the middleman for the Germans’ supply, claiming the pipeline a “geopolitical” weapon, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
There have been numerous attempts at diplomacy by other countries for Ukraine and Russia, though all summits and proposals have ended unsuccessfully.
“In short, there has long been disagreement over whether Ukraine has a separate identity and political destiny from those of Russia,” said Blumenfeld.
The Collapse of the Soviet Union into Russia
According to Dr. Sarah Riva, a history professor, “The Soviet Union established the Warsaw Pact, so they had their allies to protect them from western European invasion.”
This Warsaw Pact, included Eastern European communist republics like Eastern Germany, annexed from the West by Soviets to keep Germany from NATO.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, a deal was made between the Soviets, Germany, and NATO members to unify Germany. In this deal, there were financial compromises the struggling Soviet Union couldn’t refuse, but the Soviet Union was never promised NATO membership.
“There's this residual bitterness afterwards,” said Mary Sarotte, a post-Cold War historian. “Still, to this day, Putin is saying, 'Look, there was this other offer on the table, right?' And that's sort of factually accurate in a narrow sense, but it doesn't reflect the reality of the treaty."
After the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, Ukraine gained independence along with the rest of its surrounding countries. Despite this, Putin still believes that all former Republic land is rightfully Russia’s, which is why he feels threatened by NATO’s expansion and why he lashed out by invading Georgia in 2008 and parts of Ukraine in 2014.
History Repeating Itself
A trade deal made by the European Union (E.U.) was formally offered to Ukraine in 2012, preventing a Russian deal. The E.U. is an economic and political union of countries that promotes human rights and fair trade.
In November 2013, former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, rejected this greater integration with the E.U. He was met with protests which he violently ceased with Russian support. He blamed Russian pressure for this issue.
The following February, when protests ran Yanukovych out to Russia, Putin invaded and took Crimea—a peninsula full of Russianspeaking Ukrainians—and supported an April insurgency of Russian-supported rebels in the Donbas region. The rebels shot down a Malaysian Airlines flight the following July, killing 298 people. A Dutch-led investigation found Russia also liable for supplying the missile used, which they denied.
In August 2014, Russian troops invaded Ukraine in support of the rebels. Sanctions from countries allied with the U.S. were taking a toll on the Russian economy.
Ukrainian officials and Russian-backed rebels called a truce, the second Minsk Peace Agreement, that failed to stop the fighting in the Donbas region, until July 2020.
Fast forward to current times, in March 2021 there were deadly treaty violations and an eastern buildup of Russian troops.
Further, the death toll in Donbas reached 14,000 deaths.
To this day, NATO and the E.U. reaffirm their “open-door” policy, and Russia continues to show their frustration with military practices and cyberwarfare on Ukrainian banks.