In order to fully grasp why Russia has decided to invade Ukraine, we should take a look back in history to before it all started: the Russian Empire.
The Russian Empire began around the early 18th century and was tsarist, meaning the “tsar,” or emperor, of the Russian Empire, had absolute power. This is important to note because Ukraine was birthed from the remains of the Russian Empire following the Bolshevik Revolution, forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (also known as the USSR or the Soviet Union). Ukraine was independent for a few years before joining the USSR in 1922. Over a dozen modern countries were formed after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the two most notable being Ukraine and the Russian Federation (or, simply, Russia). Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation, is invading Ukraine for two major reasons.
- Putin claims that, because Ukraine was formerly part of Russia and is very similar linguistically and culturally to Russia, it belongs to Russia.
- Putin does not want Ukraine to join NATO.
What is NATO, you may ask? NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is the group of nations that fought the spread of communism post-WWII. NATO was born from the Cold War, in which the primary nation of the organization (the United States) was in stark competition with the Soviet Union (the term “Cold War” referring to the idea that there were no “hot,” or direct, conflicts). The terms of NATO membership include being at the military defense of other member nations, originally to stave off a communist military invasion.
After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, NATO remained. Because modern-day Russia is considered the successor state to the Soviet Union despite not being anything near communist, Putin feels threatened by NATO activity in Eastern and Central Europe – highlighting another crucial point in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine: the 2014 invasion of Crimea.
In 2014, Putin’s government annexed Crimea, which was previously a southeastern part of Ukraine. His reasoning for this was to, in his eyes, protect the largely pro-Russian eastern Ukraine from far-right separatists after the Euromaidan event in which Ukrainian protestors called for the resignation of their former, pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who turned away increased relations with the European Union in exchange for Russian relations.
With talks and desires of Ukraine becoming more involved with Europe, and NATO especially, Putin’s largest demands under both invasions was for Ukraine to never join NATO – essentially putting the military organization on his doorstep. However, with no such agreements being reached, Putin is exercising his own control over Ukraine to keep NATO at bay, which brings us to today.
Ukraine has desires to join NATO for its protection during Putin’s invasion. However, the current members aren’t so gung-ho about this option, and for good reason. Remember that bit about NATO members having to protect each other militarily? That still is in effect, meaning every member nation would be obliged to come into direct contact with Russia, leading to a global conflict – a modern-day world war.
Parties on all sides, including Russian citizens, are calling for peace in the region against all aspects of war. As diplomacy is being pushed to avoid military intervention, one of the best routes available right now is assisting current Ukrainians in seeking refuge in neighboring countries and providing supplies to those currently in place in the country. If you do see an opportunity to assist in humanitarian efforts in the country, consider providing your assistance to help those in need.