Russia vs Ukraine: The backstory

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On 30th June 1922, The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR for short, was created by Russian Bolsheviks. They envisioned a world governed by socialism, and this was their starting point.

At its peak, the USSR included what was to become 15 countries:

  • Russia
  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Estonia
  • Georgia
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Moldova
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan
  • Ukraine
The USSR and the countries it would split off into

The USSR fell to its knees in 1991. Whilst Ukraine declared ‘de facto’ independence on the 24th August, the USSR officially dissolved into its 15 separate republics on the 26th December.

Ever since, however, ties between Russia and its former territory has been rough, and the two have been at war since 2014.

But why Ukraine in particular?

Why Ukraine and not one of the other 13?

Ukraine in particular has been in Russia’s iron sights since its departure from the USSR. This targeted aggression can be put down to three main factors, which answer our previous question:

  • Ukraine acts as a geological bridge to the rest of Europe. Therefore, taking Ukraine could be seen as a strategic move for further expansion.
  • 17.3% of Ukraine’s population identify as Ethnic Russians, the largest community of its kind worldwide. Therefore, Russia may view the annexation of Ukraine as being in the interest of its population.
  • Ukraine is not in NATO, meaning aggression towards it will be met with less consequences

Of these, the second factor is by far the most prominent.

The 2014 Crimean Crisis


Between February and March 2014, Russia invaded and subsequently annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Russia was able to do this with no international opposition and very little backlash for their actions. This is mainly because Ukraine is not a part of NATO, the anti-Russian military pact between 27 European countries, 2 North American countries, and 1 Eurasian country.

Created in 1949, this alliance ensured political protection from the USSR, as if any member state was invaded the rest would come to its aid.

In response to NATO, the USSR created the Warsaw pact in 1955, a reactionary military alliance between the USSR and most of the other communist states in Europe.

NATO members

By 2004, however, all of the countries originally in the Warsaw pact other than Russia had joined NATO.

Unfortunately, Ukraine has faced difficulties in joining NATO. Due to its geographical proximity to Russia, and the explicit intentions of Russia with Ukraine, the nation is not exactly being invited into the pact with open arms, as NATO’s member states want to avoid being dragged into war. Furthermore, Ukraine, just like many other bordering nations with Russia, is very dependant on Russia for its resources, and so does not want to act against Russia’s wishes due the the threat of sanctions.

For this reason, Russia was able to sweep in and reclaim a chunk of Ukraine, facing few consequences as no one was bound by treaty to oppose them.

Many are speculative however that Russia’s current aggression towards Ukraine will see a similar global response, or rather a lack of one.

Current conflict

In March and April 2021, Russia started to mass thousands of soldiers and military equipment on its border with Ukraine, the largest mobilisation since the Crimean crisis of 2014.

This of course makes many anxious that Russia is planning a repeat of 2014, yet at a larger scale.

Russian troops in training

In December 2021, by which point over 100,000 Russian troops were stationed at the border, Russia laid out two draft treaties to NATO. The requests included a legally binding promise that Ukraine would not join NATO, and for NATO to reduce its military hardware stationed in Eastern Europe. Both proposals were rejected.

This time around, NATO have gotten much more involved with the conflict. Member states have threatened ‘swift and severe’ economic sanctions if Russia decides to follow through, and Bilateral US-Russia diplomatic talks were held in January 2022, although it failed to defuse the situation.

More recently, member states such as the US and UK have been sending troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border. The White House announced that its first support package of ‘lethal aid’ had arrived in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, on January 22, and more has been sent since.

In recent talks, however, Vladamir Putin has made clear that he will not shy away from his mission despite the threat of sanctions and conflict. He even threatened the use of nuclear weapons to get his way if needed.

Russia also has a huge leverage due to the ongoing fuel crisis in Europe. The continent is 35% dependant on Russia’s vast natural gas reserves for energy, and as it is already speculated that Russia cut its gas exports to Europe to 1/5 of its pre-pandemic levels for this reason, there’s nothing stopping them from cutting it more.

Closing remarks

It is clear that the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict has its roots in a long history of tense relations.

It is also clear that Russia, driven by its belief that it is acting in the interests of the large community of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, is committed in its goal, and is willing to spark international conflict to achieve it.

Whether Russia is truly acting in the interests of the ethnic Russians in Ukraine, however, is up for debate.

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