On April 1, President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, accused Russia of the increasing presence of armed forces on the borders. He said, “military exercises and possible provocations along the border are traditional Russian games.” He further said that Russia is creating a threatening atmosphere across the border while Ukraine seeks to resume a ceasefire agreement.
Since 2014, Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, has been facing a conflict with Russian-backed separatists. These separatists are holding control of several territories in Ukraine with the help of Moscow.
The Ukrainian Officials reported that Russia had increased troop movement in annexed Crimea and on the border of these territories. Several reports suggested that Russia broke the ceasefire agreement several times in the last few days resulting in a spike in tension with Ukraine. Videos emerged on social media networks where shooting sounds were clearly heard. As per reports, the Russian Federation violated the ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine 21 times. 20 attacks were against Ukrainian positions while one attack had targetted civilian infrastructure.
Background of Ukraine crisis
In 2013, then-President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, decided to reject a deal for greater economic integration with European Union. His decision led to a series of protests and conflicts that led to a violent crackdown by the security forces. However, the administration’s decision to forcefully stop the protesters backfired, and the number of protesters increased exponentially on the streets. As a result, President Yanukovych had to flee the country in February 2014.
Russia’s control over the Crimean region
In March 2014, Russian troops took control of the Crimean region in Ukraine. Crimea is located in the south of the Ukrainian region of Kherson. It is connected to Kherson by the Isthmus of Perekop and west of the Russian region of Kuban. Though Crimea is under Russian control since 2014 internationally, it is still considered to be a part of Ukraine.
After Russia took control over the Crimean region, a local referendum was done where Crimeans voted to join the Russian Federation. After the referendum, it was formally annexed in Russia. At that time, Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, said that there was a need to protect the rights of Russian citizens and Russian speakers in southeast Ukraine and Crimea.
Soon, the crisis expanded across regions and created an ethnic division among the people of Ukraine. Two months after the annexure, pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine held another referendum and declared independence from Ukraine.
Ukraine-Russia conflict became the International crisis
In July 2014, the situation in Ukraine took the shape of an international crisis when a Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukrainian airspace. There were 298 people on board, including the staff and pilot. No one survived the incident. The incident caused tension between Russia and its western counterparts, including the United States and the European Union.
In October 2015, the investigation into the incident started to answer some lingering questions. According to Dutch air investigators, Russian-built surface-to-air missile was used to shot down the Malaysian aeroplane. In September 2016, the investigators announced that a missile system was provided by Russia. As per the reports, it was moved into eastern Ukraine and then back to Russian territory before it was used to shoot down the plane.
In February 2015, under the Minsk Accords, France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine have tried to broker a cessation in violence. There is a provision of ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the region. Also, it gives full control of the conflict zone to the Ukrainian government. However, the efforts have not been fruitful.
NATO and US armed forces involvement in the crisis
In April 2016, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced that they would deploy four battalions in Eastern Europe and would rotate troops through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland to counter possible future Russian aggression elsewhere in Europe. Two US Army tank brigades joined them in September 2017 to further strengthen the presence of the NATO alliance in the region.
The Russian cyberattacks on Ukraine
Since the conflict started, it has been alleged that Russia has been targeting Ukraine with cyber attacks. In December 2015, it was reported that around 225,000 people lost power due to a cyber attack. In December 2016, another blackout happened in Kyiv due to an alleged cyber attack. In June 2018, the computer systems of government and businesses across Ukraine were hit by the NotPetya cyber-attack, which was attributed to Russia. The crippling attack not only damaged the systems in Ukraine but spread worldwide, causing billions of dollars in damages.
Sense of unease among western countries
European Union, the United States and other western nations have expressed their concerns over the increasing number of troops across borders. Russia has warned that any attempt to restart the war that may cost Ukraine its existence. US’s warning came after Ukrainian ministers discussed the escalating security situation at the borders with Western allies, including Lloyd Austin, US Secretary of Defense.
The State Department show concerns over Russia’s aggressive and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine. Ned Price, Spokesperson, US Department of State, said, “What we would object to are aggressive actions that have an intent of intimidating, of threatening, our partner Ukraine.” Some experts believe that the troop buildup at the borders might be a strategy to test the US under President Joe Biden, who had called Vladimir Putin a ‘killer’ last month.
Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the rise in violence
According to United Nations, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has claimed over 13,000 lives since 2014. Around 24,000 people have injured in the conflicts.
Zelensky said in a statement that so far in 2021, 20 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed, and 57 got injured due to ceasefire violations. Both Russia and Ukraine are blaming each other for the rise in violence between Ukraine’s forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Russian denies sending troops
While there are concerns among intelligence service that Russia may attempt to move “deep into Ukrainian Territory”, Russia, on the other hand, is denying sending troops on the border. On April 1, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russia, said, “The Russian Federation moves its armed forces within its territory at its discretion.” Russia said that it was at liberty to move troops in its territories. Though Russia has denied involvement in the crises, NATO and Ukraine have reported that Russian troops are building up across borders. According to a report published in Eurasian Times, local witnesses have reported a strong military buildup. Russia claimed that it was part of the training exercise, but the scale of the military movement is telling another story. As per reports, it has “disrupted shipments of tractors and other agricultural equipment ahead of the spring harvest season of the farmers.”
Russia warned the west against sending troops to Ukraine
On April 2, Russia issued a warning to the western countries and NATO against sending troops to Ukraine. Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin Press Secretary, said that any deployment of NATO troops in the region would “undoubtedly lead to further tensions” and that the Russian side would then “have to take additional measures to ensure their security,”
Ukraine to hold joint military drills with NATO
On April 3, Ukraine’s armed forces announced that they would begin joint military drills with NATO troops within a few months. Around 1,000 military personnel from at least five NATO member states will take part in the drills. The statement read, “In particular, defensive actions will be worked out, followed by an offensive in order to restore the state border and territorial integrity of a state that has been subjected to aggression by one of the hostile neighbouring countries.”