Why is Russia invading Ukraine – and will there be a war?

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Why is Russia invading Ukraine? While no plans to invade Ukraine have been confirmed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin, it’s the question everyone is asking as both UK and US authorities believe that an attack on the country’s capital is imminent.

To try and deescalate the situation, President Joe Biden has agreed to hold a summit with President Vladimir Putin to discuss “one of the worst security crises in Europe in decades”. But the White House has said the talks, which France has organised, will only go ahead if Russia doesn’t invade Ukraine.

In a statement, the White House revealed that Russia was preparing “for a full-scale assault on the Ukraine very soon” and that, should it happen, the US was ready to impose “swift and severe consequences.”

Why is Russia invading Ukraine?

Russian-Ukrainian relations have been fraught since the end of the 20th century, if not before. And while the matter of why Russia is invading Ukraine is complicated, a simple explanation is that Russia does not want Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). 

A group of countries created and signed the treaty after World War 2 in 1949 so they could “consult and cooperate on defence and security-related issues to solve problems, build trust, and in the long run, prevent conflict.” 

As we come together in unity and resolve, we must also show wisdom and moderation, because it is precisely by that unity that we show today that we have the best chance even now, at this 11th hour, of averting disaster and ensuring that good sense can still prevail. pic.twitter.com/UoTth7Bzof

— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) February 19, 2022

While NATO say they are “committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes”, they have the “military power to undertake crisis management operations” if diplomatic efforts aren’t successful.

Russia recently re-established their desire to keep Ukraine out of NATO in a list of security demands, sent to the US in December 2021. Among others, the demands include a stop to any NATO drills in the vicinity of Russia’s border. They also want NATO to completely withdraw from Eastern Europe. 

Russia’s president Vladmir Putin has offered countries in NATO to come to the table in talks on the issue, adding that he would be willing to make “legal guarantees” if the countries agree. 

While US and NATO have responded to Russia’s offer, the details of their replies aren’t publicly open. But one thing is clear. Russia’s main demand that Ukraine never be part of NATO and the organisation won’t expand further in Eastern Europe has been rejected. 

Has Russia invaded Ukraine before?

It’s naturally a very complex topic with Russo-Ukrainian tensions going back to the early 20th century. But the most recent conflict is the result of Russia’s move to forcibly take (annexe) the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. 

To understand the situation though, it’s important to go back a few years. Originally Ukraine was part of the Russian empire (USSR) but it won independence when the empire dissolved in 1991. The country attempted to remove its associations with Russia and create a relationship with countries in the West. 

In 2014, however, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an agreement with the European Union in favour of creating closer ties with Russia. The move led to mass protests through the country and he left office in that same year. 

In response to this, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula. They also provided support to a Ukrainian rebellion that had broken out in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, an industrial heartland. 

Fighting between Russian, pro-Russian and Ukrainian forces is still ongoing in the region. There have been an estimated 14,000 lives lost in the last eight years. While both Ukraine and western countries have accused Russia of sending weapons to back those fighting, Moscow has denied any intervention. They’ve said that the Russians who joined the fighting volunteered to do so on their own. 

In turn, they’ve also criticised the US and NATO for giving Ukraine weapons and holding drills, saying that it’s an encouragement to regain rebel areas by force. 

Putin has repeatedly warned that Ukraine’s attempts to join NATO are a red line for Russia. He also expressed his concerns that some members of NATO are trying to set up a military training centre in Ukraine. This would give the country a military advantage in eastern Europe without Ukraine even joining the alliance. 

What happens if Russia invades Ukraine?

It’s not 100% that there would be a war if Russia invades Ukraine. Some experts on the topic have said that Russia could move forces into Ukraine to claim a quick victory. This would increase the country’s bargaining power in future talks with NATO. And essentially, prevent NATO from reaching further into Eastern Europe. 

As Samir Puri, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies told Al Jazeera, “I think what Russia and Vladimir Putin will be really after would be to defeat the Ukrainian arms forces in the field, inflict a crushing military defeat that humiliates the Ukrainians and by extension create concern that the backing Ukraine has from its allies in the West, the US and UK, is insufficient.” 

For the moment, Russia is denying any plans to invade Ukraine. But nations in the West, including the UK, have offered their support to the country by supplying weapons. Germany has said they won’t offer military help. But they have plans to set up a medical facility in the next month. 

If Russia proceeds with any plans to invade Ukraine, countries have confirmed that Russia will face economic sanctions. As well as measures to personally target Vladimir Putin. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “People will draw the false conclusion that might is right and that aggression pays. And so what we’ve got to ensure is that it doesn’t pay off. And even if a lightning war is initially successful, that over time, through our economic might, through all the pressure we can bring, we make sure that this venture does not succeed.” 

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