Russia’s long-feared invasion of Ukraine continues fiercely after Vladimir Putin announced his “special military operation” against the country in the early hours of February 24. The neighboring state after eight years of war in the Donbas.
Drawing on the example of the streets of Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tirelessly rallies the international community for support, while the people put up impressive resistance and hold back Russia’s armed forces as best they can.
The aggressor, meanwhile, continues to employ brutal siege warfare tactics by subjecting the country’s cities to intense bombardment campaigns, a strategy previously seen in Chechnya and Syria.
While the likes of Kharkiv and Mariupol have been battered by Russian missiles pursuing gradual territorial gains in eastern and southern Ukraine, the targeting of residential buildings, hospitals and day care centers has led to angry accusations of deliberate targeting of civilians and the commission of war crimes. promised.
Zelensky’s initial calls for NATO to impose a no-fly zone went unanswered, as the West feared that such an action would be interpreted as a provocation by Russia and would plunge the alliance into a much larger war over Eastern Europe.
However, US president Joe Biden, UK prime minister Boris Johnson, their European counterparts and UN secretary general Antonio Guterres have condemned Moscow’s “unjustified and unjustified” attack, and vows to “take account” as the West launches several tough rounds of economic attacks. they gave. Sanctions against Russian banks, businesses and oligarchs while providing Ukraine with additional arms, equipment and defense financing.
However, the Allies also faced criticism for not doing enough to support the more than 5 million refugees who fled the conflict to neighboring countries such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova.
Rising tensions in the region, which began in December with the massing of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, really escalated in the last week of February, when Putin took action to formally recognize the pro-Russian separatist areas of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) as independent states.
This enabled him to move military resources to these areas in anticipation of the impending attack, under the guise of providing protection to the Allies.
This meant months of frenzied diplomatic negotiations by the likes of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in hopes of preventing disaster.
But what are the key issues behind the conflict, where did it all start, and how might the crisis unfold?
How did the crisis begin?
Going back to 2014 adds more context to the current situation.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula that year after the country’s Moscow-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted from power by mass protests.
Weeks later, Russia put its weight behind two separatist rebel movements in Donbas, the industrial hub of eastern Ukraine.
More than 14 thousand people lost their lives in the conflicts that have continued for years and devastated the region.
Both Ukraine and the West accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support the rebels, but Moscow denied the allegations, stating that Russians who joined the separatists did so voluntarily.
The 2015 peace deal – the Minsk II agreement – was provided by France and Germany to help end large-scale wars. The 13-point agreement would force Ukraine to offer autonomy to separatist regions and amnesty for rebels, while Ukraine would regain full control of its border with Russia in rebel-held areas.
But the deal is rather complicated, as Moscow continues to insist that it was not a party to the conflict and therefore not bound by its terms.
Article 10 of the agreement calls for the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment from the disputed DPR and LPR. Ukraine says it refers to forces from Russia, but Moscow has previously denied having its own troops in those provinces.
Last year, a spike in ceasefire violations in the east and a concentration of Russian troops near Ukraine fueled fears that a new war was about to break out, but tensions eased as Moscow withdrew most of its forces after April’s maneuvers.
How is the situation now?
In early December 2021, US intelligence officials determined that Russia plans to send up to 175,000 troops to the Ukrainian border in preparation for a possible invasion, which they believe could begin in early 2022.
Kyiv similarly complained that Moscow had deployed more than 90,000 troops on the two countries’ border, warning that a “massive escalation” was possible in January.
Additionally, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces said that Russia has about 2100 military personnel in the rebel-controlled east of Ukraine, and that Russian officers hold all command positions within the separatist forces.
Moscow has repeatedly denied the presence of its troops in eastern Ukraine, did not give any details about their troop numbers and locations, and said that their deployment on its own soil should be of no concern to anyone.
Meanwhile, Russia accused Ukraine of violating Minsk II and criticized the West for not encouraging Ukraine to abide by its terms.
Amid this bitterness, Putin refused a four-way meeting with Ukraine, France and Germany, saying it was useless in light of Ukraine’s refusal to abide by the 2015 agreement.
Moscow also harshly criticized the United States and its NATO allies for supplying Ukraine with weapons and holding joint exercises, saying it encouraged Ukrainian hawks to forcibly retake rebel-held areas.
Putin is known to deeply resent what he sees as the gradual eastward shift of NATO since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, and is determined to block Ukraine from accessing its ranks.
What could happen next?
With Mr. Putin’s announcement of February 24, the worst scenario has now come true.
The Kremlin, which few claim to believe, has routinely denied any previous invasion plans.
Even after the Russian president’s declaration of war, a Russian envoy at the UN has denied any complaints from the Ukrainian people, which Moscow insists will not be targeted, but only those in power.
This has been proven completely wrong.
Western leaders, united in condemnation, have turned Russia into a pariah state on the world stage, whose sanctions promise to crash the Russian economy, and this may ultimately put new pressure on Putin at home, despite their best efforts to silence critical media and the nascent protests. movements.
Meanwhile, Mr. Biden moved to reassure the international community that Russia would be held accountable for its actions.
“Only Russia is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its allies and partners will respond in a united and determined manner,” he said.
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