In recent times, the tension between Russia and Ukraine has been at its peak since the conflict caught the attention of the world in 2014. At the moment, Ukraine and world leaders have expressed their concerns over possible invasion by Russia on Ukrainian soil. Western powers have warned Russia against any aggressive move against Ukraine. US has started supplying military aid to Russia’s neighbouring nation and authorized its employees in the US embassy in Ukraine to leave the country if they wish to.
On the other hand, Russia has categorically denied any plans to invade Ukraine. It has also been argued that NATO’s support to Ukraine, including weapon supply and military training, poses a threat to the western side of Russia.
The current situation at the Russia-Ukraine border
There are as many as 100,000 Russian armed forces troops stationed at the Ukrainian border. The United States and NATO have called the military moment around the border unusual. US President and European leaders have repeatedly warned Russia against the possible invasion of Ukraine. In December, US intelligence reported Russia might begin a military offensive in Ukraine in early 2022.
In late 2021, it was revealed via satellite photos that Russia was moving heavy military hardware, including battle tanks, self-propelled guns and more, across a 300 KM long border between Ukraine and Russia.
As per the latest intelligence assessment of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Russia has deployed over 127,000 troops across the Ukrainian border. The West tried to deescalate the crisis between the two nations, but three rounds of the diplomatic talks yielded no result. Notably, the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on the east side of Ukraine have been under Russian-backed separatist groups since 2014. Ukraine claims Russian troops are present in these areas, but Russia has denied it.
It is believed the recent aggression from the Russian side is the result of the deployment of a Turkish-made combat drone in October from Ukraine to strike pro-Russian separatists’ position. A massive naval base of Russia has also come up in Crimea, a Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia in 2014 via referendum. The Crimean peninsula and mainland Russia are now connected by a road bridge giving Russia unhindered access to Ukraine’s territory.
The history of the Ukraine-Russia conflict
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine started when in 2013, the then-President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, decided to reject a deal for greater economic integration with European Union. A series of protests and conflicts erupted as a result of his decision. The administration tried to stop the protesters forcefully, but it backfired. As a result, President Yanukovych had to flee the country in February 2014.
Following the unrest in Ukraine, Russian troops took control of the Crimean region that is located in the south of the Ukrainian region of Kherson. Though Crimea has been under Russian control since 2014 internationally, it is still considered to be a part of Ukraine. After taking control of the region, Russia held a local referendum and formally annexed the region as its part.
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. Two months after the annexure, pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine held another referendum and declared independence from Ukraine.
In 2014, things escalated further, and the conflict drew international attention after 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 shoot 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.
Since the conflict erupted, Ukraine has accused Russia of repeated 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.
Russia has categorically denied any plans to invade Ukraine. Also, Russia sees NATO’s support to Ukraine as a threat to itself, especially when NATO is providing support in terms of weapons, training and personnel. Vladimir Putin, President Russia, had said the West did not live up to the verbal assurances. He also questioned NATO’s deployment of sophisticated weapons in Ukraine, including missile systems. Putin called it “crossing the red line” for Russia.
Ukraine, in reply to Russia’s objection over its ties with NATO, said Russia could not prevent it from building closer relations with NATO. Foreign Ministry of Ukraine told CNN, “Russia cannot stop Ukraine from getting closer with NATO and has no right to have any say in relevant discussions. Any Russian proposals to discuss with NATO or the US any so-called guarantees that the Alliance would not expand to the East are illegitimate.”
NATO’s stand on the Russia-Ukraine conflict
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.
Since then, Ukraine has also held joint military drills with NATO. Recently, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, NATO, had said, “there will be a high price to pay for Russia” in case it decides to invade Ukraine, a NATO partner. In an interview with CNN, Stoltenberg said, “We have a wide range of options: economic sanctions, financial sanctions, political restrictions.”
The US authorized govt employees to leave Ukraine
the United States government authorized the departure of the US government employees and ordered that the family members of US government employees at the US Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine leave the country amid escalating tensions. The authorized departure gives the govt employees an option to leave the country if they want to, however, their family members must leave Ukraine.
The US government clearly told its citizens that in case Russia moves ahead with the military action against Ukraine, it would not be in a position to evacuate American citizens. It said, “As President Biden has said, military action by Russia could come at any time, and the United States government will not be in a position to evacuate American citizens in such a contingency, so US citizens currently present in Ukraine should plan accordingly, including by availing themselves of commercial options should they choose to leave the country.”