Russia and Ukraine: What is going on


The countries that are allied with NATO around the map are the only ones who are protected by NATO

Early Thursday morning after years, months, and weeks of tension, Russia invaded Ukraine.

What led to this conflict? 

The main conflict is between Ukraine and Russia and it is a struggle over territory. After the disbandment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), many of the buffer states between Russia and the rest of Europe aligned themselves with the West. For decades, Russia was capable of distancing itself from Western influence. In a televised speech on Monday the 21st of February, Russian President Vladmir Putin claimed that “Ukraine’s aspiration to join NATO … represented a dire threat to Russia,” according to reporting from The New York Times. NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was originally an alliance of 12 countries formed after World War II in order to protect one another against common enemies like Russia. Ukraine is not an active member of NATO, however, Ukraine has reportedly contributed to other NATO missions.

Although the conflict is originally between these two countries, alliances and rivalries are leading to a more precarious situation for the world. 

What is the significance of NATO? 

NATO formed in 1949 had the goal “to counter the threat of post-war Russian expansion in Europe,” according to BBC. The USSR attempted to counteract NATO in 1955 by creating the Warsaw Pact; a counter-alliance with most of the countries in Eastern Europe. However, the Warsaw Pact came undone when the USSR disbanded in 1991 (the same year that the USSR dissolved).

Why is Ukraine not a part of NATO? In order to join NATO, a country must meet a certain criteria. According to NATO, countries must have “fair treatment of minority populations; a commitment to resolve conflicts peacefully; an ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and a commitment to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.” NATO also has an “open door” policy, created in 1949, which states that any country in Europe is free to join the treaty. The only catch is that the membership of a new country must be unanimously decided. Ukraine meets all of these requirements, yet some countries are weary of allowing it to join.

In regards to the potential of Ukraine joining NATO and gaining more allies, the New York Times reports that Putin said, “the degree of military threat to Russia will rise cardinally, by multiple times.” 

Also according to the New York Times, there are four main reasons why countries do not wish for Ukraine to join. First of all, President Joe Biden of the United States is hesitant to expand the military commitments of the U.S. Ukraine also has multiple flaws within their political and legal systems. “In a 2020 analysis, Transparency International, an anti corruption watchdog, ranked Ukraine 117th out of 180 countries on its corruption index, lower than any NATO nation.” 

NATO wants to avoid any further conflicts with Russia. With the invasion of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and support of separatists organizations in Ukraine and Georgia, tensions have been rising significantly between NATO and Russia. Adding countries connected to the West on Russia’s border could be the perfect storm to all out war occuring because of a new Western Threat. Finally, many NATO members believe that the leaders of Ukraine have yet to push hard enough for full membership. Ukraine does still have multiple ties to NATO — Ukraine is one of the world’s leading gas exporters, especially in Western Europe and North America. With most of the airports and ports closed due to the invasion, gas prices are continuously rising and affecting most Americans.

What is the United Nations? 

The other main treaty organization is the United Nations (UN), which includes almost every recognized country in the world. In the aftermath of World War I, the League of Nations (a precursor to the UN) was created in order to prevent another European power from gaining total control of the continent. This organization ultimately failed when Nazi Germany and Facist Italy waged World War II. After World War II, a new security board was created: the United Nations.

 Similar to the League of Nations, the UN is set on maintaining peace and preventing world war. In the UN, there is a Security Council that consists of the five permanent members; the winners of World War II (United States, Great Britain, Russia, China, and France). These countries together have the most power in the UN Security Council. There are also 10 countries that rotate in and out of the council, for a total of six members. In order to pass any universal law or action, all five permanent members must unanimously agree. If one country does not approve, the proclamation is not passed. 

In recent years the council has been split by the countries in NATO (The U.S., Great Britain, and France) versus Russia and China. Each month the council rotates who is the president of the group. This month happens to be Russia’s turn. Even if China, the U.S., Great Britain, and France agreed to punish Russia for their actions, that would not be possible because Russia is a member of the council and is the active president of it.

What is happening on the ground in Ukraine?

According to The Washington Post, Russia bombed cities, towns, and villages on the road to Kyiv (the capital) as Ukrainian forces simultaneously faced an “onslaught of Russian ground forces and air power.” However, as they continue to advance to Kiev they are facing more opposition than they anticipated, a senior US defense official told CNN on Friday. 

According to The Washington Post, “Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said Russian troops were fighting to break into the wider Kyiv region and crossed the regional border, where Ukrainian forces battled to repel them.” The Washington Post reports that people (both Ukrainians and foreigners) fled Kyiv and other cities. As Russian tanks and troops poured across the borders from the north, east, and south, loud blasts rang out in Kyiv and “sirens blared and people lined up at ATMs.” This also caused the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “to break off diplomatic ties with Moscow.” Putin also threatened that there will be future attacks so long as Ukraine fights back against them, according to CNN. 

According to CNN, almost 50,000 Ukrainians have fled in the first 48 hours of the war; the majority have gone to Poland and Moldova. As well, there have been nearly 200 total missile launches since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a senior US defense official told reporters Friday.” 

The Ukrainians are trying to fight back physically and have stopped diplomatic negotiations.

How is the US and the rest of the world responding?

President Biden has vowed to hold Russia “accountable for their actions.” The US is imposing sanctions but not sending troops. The US and European leaders also spoke on the phone Thursday night to coordinate their responses. According to CNN, “the United Nations Security Council was convened to condemn Moscow’s behavior.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was on the phone with Biden an hour after the first attack, reaching out to the White House as his country was coming under siege. “He asked me to call on the leaders of the world to speak out clearly against President Putin’s flagrant aggression, and to stand with the people of Ukraine,” Biden said afterward in a statement. He said the US and its partners plan on “imposing severe sanctions on Russia.”

More Articles and Further Reading:

A map of the different places that Russian troops are throughout Ukraine. (CNN)

What is NATO?

As UN Security Council Met to Stop Military Action by Putin, Russia Attacked Ukraine – The New York Times

About Us | United Nations

The GOP’s vague ‘Biden is weak’ attack about Ukraine – The Washington Post 

Explosions heard in Kyiv as Ukrainian president says ‘enemy sabotage groups’ have entered capital – The Washington Post 

Biden imposes additional sanctions on Russia: ‘Putin chose this war’ – CNNPolitics

Biden condemns ‘Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine’ | CNN Politics  

Liveuamap *For live updates about military progress, not all information is confirmed