Ukraine is fighting the Russian army since February 24 and the entire nation is a battleground. Europe is having a refugee crisis while the US and its ally countries are imposing heavy sanctions on Russia. In fact, it is one of the biggest events after decades in European history. But what is the background of the war? And what triggered the war between Ukraine and Russia? Let’s check the facts.
Though Russia has always had hostile behavior towards Ukraine, the recent event is a result of Ukraine’s intensified relationship with the EU, and the US-led NATO in 2005. In addition, the repressed revolution in 2014 and the historical review of the conflict between Moscow and Kyiv triggered the Russia-Ukraine war. Furthermore, this has been possible because of Russia’s rhetoric that won the support from its civilians quite similar to the Bosnian War of the 90s.
The Origin Story of the war between Russia and Ukraine
Ukraine is a former Soviet republic nation and it became independent in August 1991. Since its independence, Ukraine has gone through a lot of trouble. But today, it is the most talked-about battleground in Europe. The most interesting fact is, despite being a single country with 44 million people, it is divided into two territories. One with the pro-Western majority in the west, and another with the pro-Russian separatists. The Russian separatists have always refused to join Ukraine and wanted to remain with Moscow. In addition, around 17% of the population in the Ukrainian territory is of Russian origin which lives in the eastern part bordering Russia. Moreover, the population also speaks Russian instead of Ukrainian.
In 2004, some of the neighboring nations of Russia and Ukraine joined the EU and NATO. In particular, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia joined NATO in the US. (Source: NATO)
This collaboration was not a good sign for Russia, because they see this as a national threat from its long-time enemy United States of America. Then in 2005, another lightning bolt hits the Kremlin when Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-Western reformist took the office of Kyiv. It actually marked the beginning of the tie-up of Ukraine with the EU and NATO. Though then-president signed an agreement with the EU, that did not last long after he lost his power in 2010.
Russia Annexed Crimea in 2014
In the national election of 2010, Viktor Yushchenko lost his power to his opponent Viktor Yanukovych became the president of Ukraine. It was a victory for Kremlin because Yanukovych was favorable to Russia. After his accession, he went in support of Putin and ended the association agreement with the EU three years later.
But that was a bad decision for Yanukovych that provoked massive demonstrations in Independence Square (Maidan) in Kyiv. An estimated 200,000 to 500,000 pro-European demonstrators gathered to demand Yanukovych’s resignation and condemned his decision on ending the EU agreement.
A peaceful demonstration turned into a violent revolution because the police acted violently. The administrative repression killed more than 80 and injured nearly 2,000. That was the end of President Yanukovych’s reign and had to resign on February 22, 2014.
Though it seemed like a disadvantage for Vladimir Putin, he played a political game and took advantage of it. He annexed Crimea because it was very important for Russia to have proper access to the Black Sea. Though it was part of Ukraine, now it is a separate republic in Russia.
The annexation of Crimea is one of the most important events in the Russia-Ukraine conflict which many international communities have condemned with a referendum. Even though it is being called annexation, 96% of Crimeans voted to stay with Russia.
Right after Crimea, the Ukrainian government saw a separatist group calling out to become a people’s republic. The separatist group from the parts of Donetsk and Lugansk issued referendums to Kyiv but the Ukrainian government deemed it illegal.
The first fighting broke out when part of the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk, in the Ukrainian Donbas, proclaimed themselves “people’s republics” after referendums which were also deemed illegal.
However, the Russian government recognized the people’s republic of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent states two days before the 2022 war. And that recognition leads the world to see the war between Russia and Ukraine today.
The Escalation of Tension Between Russia and Ukraine in the Late 2021
Since 2014, after the annexation of Crimea, Donetsk and Lugansk keeps fighting against Ukrainian government forces. On the other hand, Russia keeps meddling in Ukrainian territories involving the two. Moreover, since then, there have been several violent encounters between Ukrainian and Russian forces.
At the beginning of this eight yearlong conflict, Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement at Minsk which we know as Minsk Agreements. But it did not stand long and, therefore the collapse of the Minsk agreement. Thus, the then German chancellor Angela Markel and French president François Hollande’s effort for peace went in vain, and in the eight years of war, Donbas has lost 14000 lives and given birth to another bloody war in Europe.
Till last year November, the Donbas crisis continued at its speed. But the situation escalated in November when Russia started mobilizing its army. According to reports by April 2021, they deployed troops near the Ukraine border and Crimea which the US defined as “unusual”. In November, Washington asked Moscow for an explanation
In response to Washington, Moscow replied accusing the west of provocations of Ukraine for a military exercise. Putin has also claimed that the EU and US are delivering weapons to Kyiv. Moreover, the Russian president has also mentioned that the European security architecture is unfavorable to Russia which is technically correct.
Because Russia has always been trying to convince NATO and US not to expand its allies which would definitely put Russia into trouble. But who listens to whom, the US continues to push the boundary of its political allies near the Russian border? In recent years, Moscow has asked for written confirmation that Ukraine will not join NATO. Yet nor NATO, nether Ukraine had a favorable position. They continued to further the agreement. And this might be the reason Ukrainians are suffering a great deal.
Ukraine’s Run for NATO and EU Membership Triggered the War
NATO and EU membership has always been a strategic objective for Ukraine. And it is the only way Ukraine can counter-attack Moscow with the help of the US and its allies. Therefore, Kyiv has always spoken about the prospects of its NATO membership since the cold war. In April 2008, NATO members declared the collaboration with Kyiv, at the Bucharest summit. But unfortunately, it did not happen.
Furthermore, the 2014 crisis intensified the relationship between NATO Kyiv. But there was no agreement. In between, Russia has warned Ukraine and NATO several times to stay away from the agreement. But the present Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky showed his desire in June 2020 for its membership. As a result, Ukraine joined an enhanced opportunity partner interoperability program. In the same year, NATO also announced its opportunity for six new possible members
Like 2014, the NATO issue has given another reason for the Russian government to raise war on Ukraine this year. Moscow is blaming Ukraine for its military practices, aggression on Russians in Ukraine, and the operation of the US’s chemical lab in Ukraine. And there is an information war using propaganda to seek international support. But between this political game, millions of common Ukrainians have been displaced. So, what triggered the war between Ukraine and Russia?
Well, it is clear that the Ukrainian war today is a showdown between western countries and Moscow where Ukraine is the scapegoat. The United States wanted to secure its interest in the European region and NATO is its weapon. Soon after Russia launched attacks on Ukraine, the Biden administration got an opportunity to put heavy sanctions on Russia which will break them economically.
In short, we can say that Russia saw Ukraine’s NATO membership as a threat while the US and its allies considered this as an opportunity. Moreover, the decade-long conflict between Ukraine and Russia is also inflicted by Russia’s expansionist behavior.