The Terrifying Times…
Putting an end to all speculation, Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine on February 24, 2022. With this, the entire world has realised that a terrible war may break out in near future. The Kremlin has reportedly stationed more than 100,000 troops and stockpiled huge amounts of weapons along Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders over the past two months. As the Global Community has not seen such a massive display of Russia’s military might in recent times, people have started realising the fact that Europe is on the brink of an all-out war. The fear is about to come true.
The question arises here: Why does Ukraine matter to Russia? To have an answer to it, it is important to keep an eye on the events that have taken place in the last nine years. In November 2013, the then pro-Russian President of Ukraine Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych had rejected an agreement on greater economic integration with the European Union (EU), sparking widespread protests across his country. After being ousted from the Presidency, Yanukovych fled Ukraine in February 2014, and took shelter in Russia. This development irked Moscow.
In March 2014, the Russian troops occupied the southern Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine, after the Crimean people voted in favour of joining the Russian Federation in a controversial Local Referendum. At that period of time, Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin stressed on the need to protect the Rights of Russian-speaking people in Crimea and southeastern Ukraine. Many believe that this crisis exacerbated ethnic divisions in the region. Just a couple of months later, pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Luhansk held another referendum to declare Independence from Ukraine.
Violence between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine has claimed around 10,300 lives since April 2014, while nearly 24,000 people have received serious injuries. However, Moscow has always denied any involvement with the separatists, and opposed the decision of Kiev to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). At the same time, the Kremlin stockpiled military equipment near Donetsk, and stationed troops.
A tragic event in July 2014 had turned the situation in Ukraine into a Global Crisis, with Russia locking horns with both the US and the European Union (EU). A Malaysian Airlines flight, with 298 passengers onboard, crashed in Ukraine on July 17, 2014. In 2015, investigators came to the conclusion that the aircraft had been attacked by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile. They also confirmed in September 2016 that Moscow had sent the missile system to eastern Ukraine before the incident, and took it back after the crash. The Russian involvement in the crash angered NATO.
Since the beginning of the conflict between the two former Soviet Republics in 2014, Ukraine has also been the target of a number of cyber-attacks. Such a cyber-attack created trouble for nearly 0.25 million people across Ukraine in December 2015. Another power outage occurred in various parts of Kiev in December 2016, following a similar attack targeting a Ukrainian service provider. According to many, Russia was behind those cyber-attacks in Ukraine.
Russia’s actions prompted NATO to announce in April 2016 that the intergovernmental military alliance between 28 European and two North American countries would deploy four battalions in Eastern Europe (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) in order to counter Russian aggression in the Baltic Region. In addition to these battalions, the US Army also deployed two Tank Brigades in Poland in 2017.
In 2018, the US made it clear that it would provide all sorts of help to Ukraine in order to counter Russia. In January (2018), Washington DC imposed sanctions on several Russian officials, and nine Russian companies for their alleged involvement in Russia-Ukraine conflict. A couple of months later, the US State Department approved the sale of deadly anti-tank weapons to Kiev. Within a few months, Ukraine, the US and other NATO member-countries took part in a large-scale air defence exercise in western part of the former Soviet Republic. It may be noted that the NATO exercise took place within a month of Russia’s Annual Military Exercise, held in September 2018. Hence, many are of the opinion that NATO wanted to send a strong message to Russia by conducting air drills in Ukraine.
Under pressure from the US and other NATO members, President Putin has been saying for years that he considers Ukraine’s desire to join NATO a major threat to Russia’s Border Security. Five of Russia’s neighbouring countries have either joined NATO, or declared themselves as NATO allies. Ukraine’s NATO membership would increase that number to six, boosting the overall strength of the US-led military alliance near the Russian border. Naturally, the Kremlin is worried about NATO’s heavy presence in its backyard.
In December 2021, President Putin made it clear that Russia was seeking “reliable and long-term security assurances” from the US and its allies. He urged the Joe Biden Administration not to move NATO forces towards east, and to stop stockpiling weapons near the Russian border. However, Washington DC has rejected President Putin’s request. Although neither side has issued a statement in this regard, experts have opined that the US is eager to welcome Ukraine as the new member of NATO.
Finally, Russia started stationing troops near its border with Ukraine in January 2022, apart from sending warships to the Black Sea, and on February 24, the Kremlin launched military operation in Ukraine. In other words, Russia’s move is not at all a sudden one. Instead, the script of this conflict has been written by many over the last nine years. After the preparation of the screenplay, it’s time for action.
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