Map of Eastern Europe with relevant places to Ukraine conflict bolded
Since 1991, when Ukraine declared independence from Russia, the two have had a complicated relationship. Prior to World War I, the Russian Empire had control of Ukraine, suppressing their culture by criminalizing the teaching of children to read in Ukrainian, and banning printed books in Ukrainian. In 1918, Ukraine declared independence from Russia and the two countries signed a peace treaty. When the Communists defeated the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution, Ukraine and Russia became the founding members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. As the USSR started to disintegrate in the 1990s, Ukraine and Russia formally signed a treaty to disband the USSR and recognize each other as independent countries.
However, in 2014, Russia seized control of Crimea, a peninsula along the southern coast of Ukraine, using unmarked paramilitary troops to create the pretense of respecting Ukrainian independence and their various treaties. Crimea was a source of nationalistic pride as well as of great military and economic value to Russia, because it provided Russia easy acess to a southern port on the Black Sea leading to the Medditeranean.
At time of writing, Russia has stationed around 130,000 troops at its border with Ukraine, and has moved tanks, rocket launchers, and other military equipment westward. Russia has moved troops into Belarus, which neighbors Ukraine and several NATO countries, as well as moved ships near Ukrainian shores. Russia has also started to fund a seperatist movement in Eastern Ukraine, using Russian mercenaries. Putin has defended this troop buildup with claims that it is simply a military exercise in response to Western aggression. However, Putin has issued a list of demands he wants the West to agree to before he works to diffuse the situation. Among these demands is a ban on Ukraine joining NATO, and a limit to NATO’s expansion east. Whether Putin will actually invade Ukraine is unclear, as he has not shared his true intentions and it may just be an attempt at increasing popularity within Russia with a strong action against the West, or an effort to intimidate other countries and make NATO back down.
President Biden says he “has made it clear to President Putin that if he makes any more moves, if he goes into Ukraine, … there will be a heavy price to pay for it”. In his joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the two leaders agreed on a series of severe sanctions they would impose if any Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine. Most importantly, they would prevent the completion of the multibillion dollar NordStream 2 Gas Pipeline which Russia desperately needs in order to export its excess natural gas to the West. Furthermore, since Russia is a plutocracy, NATO has vowed to personally target Putin and 180 of his allies, by freezing the ill-gotten assets which they are hiding in the West. The US would also add restrictions on the exportation of US technology. Russia would then be limited not only in defense items, but also for phones and other major appliances.
America and its allies stand united to stop the invasion of Ukraine. However, as the supreme ruler of Russia, it’s difficult to predict Putin’s decisions. Russia has a sad history of exploiting Ukraine's resources and quashing the ethnic and cultural aspirations of the Ukrainian people. We can only hope that the proposed sanctions are sufficient to deter Putin from continuing in this vein.
Photo Credit - Vox.com