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On February 24, 2022, Russian forces unleashed a wave of attacks on neighboring Ukraine. Given that Russia had been gathering troops on Ukraine's border since October 2021, the full-scale invasion from the north, east, and south was not totally unexpected. However, American and European Union (EU) officials had hoped that the threat of economic sanctions would deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from taking this drastic action. To better understand how we got here, it is essential to know a little about the long, complicated relationship between the two countries.
The tensions between the two countries trace back to the collapse Soviet Union in 1991. Ukraine and Russia were among the fifteen republics that broke free and formed their own governments. But President Putin has always maintained Ukraine should be part of Russia.
In the days leading up to the 2022 attack, he told Russians, "Ukraine is an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space. These are our comrades, those dearest to us – not only colleagues, friends, and people who once served together, but also relatives, people bound by blood, by family ties."
However, the fiercely independent people of Ukraine do not share that sentiment. In 2014, they ousted President Viktor Yanukovych for abandoning a trade deal with Europe in favor of closer ties with Russia. Soon after, Ukraine's interim President Alexander Turchinov signed an association agreement with the EU.
President Putin retaliated by taking over Crimea, a former Soviet republic that had been part of Ukraine since 1954. That same year, pro-Russian militants established a stronghold in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian government gave the separatists self-rule in the region to end the conflict. However, the militants did not get the complete independence they wanted and sporadic fighting between Ukrainians and the Russian separatists continues to this day.
Why did Russia decide to invade Ukraine now?
In his February 24, 2022, predawn address to the public, President Putin asserted that Russia could not feel "safe, develop and exist" due to what he claimed was a constant threat from modern Ukraine. The Russian leader is particularly concerned about Ukraine's desire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), The purpose of the consortium of 30 countries is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means. President Putin believes that Ukraine's acceptance into NATO would threaten Russia's borders and its sphere of influence.
What is the world doing to stop the invasion?
Since Ukraine is not a part of NATO, the members cannot send troops to help them defend against Russia. But the US and its allies are imposing unprecedented economic sanctions against the country. On February 22, 2022, the EU, the US, the UK, and Canada all agreed to block Russia from accessing its foreign reserves. They also made it harder for the country to receive funds from pro-Russian countries like China by cutting out some banks from the international global payments system, SWIFT. Meanwhile, Switzerland, which has historically remained neutral during conflicts, announced it was freezing all assets owned by Russian individuals and companies.
Corporations are joining the effort to end the war as well. Energy giants BP and Shell, global bank HSBC, and the world's biggest aircraft leasing firm AerCap are among a growing list of companies that recently announced plans to exit Russia.
How are the people of Ukraine holding up?
The conflict has been extremely hard for Ukrainians. At the president's request, all male citizens between 18 to 60 have stayed behind to defend their country. Meanwhile, the women, children, and the elderly are fleeing to safety in large numbers. The UN High Commissioner of Refugees estimates that about half a million Ukrainians have crossed into the neighboring countries since the start of the war. More than half of them have gone to Poland, while the rest have crossed over into Moldova, Slovakia, Romania, and Hungary.
Stay Strong, Ukraine! The World Is With You!
Resources: NPR.com, CNN.com, BBC.com, CBSnews.com, Wikipedia.org, AlJazeera.com