What you need to know about the Russian invasion of Ukraine

March 18, 2022 — by Lynn Dai, Andrew Lin and Daniel Wu
The basic rundown on what has been happening in Eastern Europe.

As the world watched, Russian forces, which had been amassing on the Russia-Ukraine border since October, began the initial stages of their military operation against Ukraine on Feb. 23. The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine comes as a result of decades-long tensions that have been building since the end of the Cold War in 1989. 


What sparked the crisis?

According to most American experts, the conflict was largely sparked by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s expansionism. According to Thomas Friedman, an American political commentator and author for The New York Times, Putin views Ukraine’s leave as both a “strategic loss and a personal and national humiliation.” The President of Russia has claimed on multiple fronts that he believes Ukraine’s people are “connected with us by blood, family ties.”

Putin has claimed other factors for instigating war — the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an international organization composed of and established by the U.S., Canada, Britain and other European countries in 1949 to block Soviet aggression in Europe, and more recent military actions by the U.S. 

Despite Putin’s often changing claims, Ukraine’s assimilation to the NATO alliance has been met with opposition and backlash from numerous Western countries, with many citing heightened Russian aggression.

In its propaganda to its people, Russian state media has painted the U.S. as a primary aggressor, reasoning that a Ukrainian invasion was crucial to wiping out Western influence in Eastern Europe and maintaining Russia’s sovereignty. 


How long has the crisis been going on?

The full-scale military invasion on Feb. 24 is an escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, which started in early 2014, when Russia used its military to annex the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Russian airstrikes targeting military buildings eventually shifted their focus to civilian residential areas, prompting a mass exodus of refugees to neighboring countries — including Poland, a NATO country where U.S. troops are preparing to potentially offer assistance.


What does Putin want from Ukraine?

Putin has repeatedly claimed he is liberating the people of Ukraine from a militaristic and Fascist regime, despite Ukraine being a democracy and people, even Russian speaking ones, not wanting Russia to invade. He stated that Russia cannot feel “safe, develop and exist” with a prospective NATO member on its doorstep, according to an article from BBC. He called NATO’s expansion “menacing” and the prospect of Ukraine joining it a major threat. 

Most American experts argue the opposite: The expansion of NATO did not cause Putin’s war on Ukraine; instead, it was merely a “convenient pretext,” according to a WSJ article. Putin has insisted that Ukraine is fundamentally a part of Russia, both culturally and historically, and was determined to reclaim this territory regardless of whether or not Poland joined NATO.


How have world leaders responded to the war?

Reactions to this conflict — which analysts have called the biggest war in Europe since WWII — have been almost universally against Russia; world leaders like U.S. President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg alike have scathingly criticized Russia’s actions as “unprovoked and unjustified,” “egregious” and “brutal.” Especially in the west, Putin’s orders have caused public outrage.

In particular, Biden ordered 3,000 U.S. troops to deploy to Poland and Romania to reinforce NATO borders near Ukraine’s border and reassure NATO allies.

The Biden administration and European officials are also aiming to crush the Russian economy through economic sanctions targeting Russia’s biggest banks and its weapons and energy industry. Imposed on Feb. 24, these sanctions have shut down Russia’s stock market and hammered the ruble — $1 was worth 71 rubles in Nov. 30, 2021, but as of March 5, that number has risen to well over 110 rubles. As of March 7, the Biden administration is continuing to discuss possible sanctions intended to strengthen their economic chokehold on Russia.

Although American efforts have proved effective, the U.S. was only Russia’s fifth leading foreign trade partner in 2021, with the volume of export and import totalling $34 million compared to Russia’s leading trading partner, China’s, nearly $141 million last year. While China said it will not provide Moscow with direct military support, it has aided Russia by bolstering trade primarily through increased imports of wheat from Russia, a move that critics have called an “economic lifeline for Putin.”

On March 4, Russia started calling for mercenaries, according to a U.S. official. The decision reflects Russia’s intensifying assault and plan to “bombard cities into submission” and cause death and destruction among civilians as a way of breaking the seemingly unbreakable Ukrainian national spirit.

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