Politics

Ukraine, Russia, and NATO: War in Europe

Emmitt Wilson ’22

Politics Editor

Eight years ago, in February and March of 2014, a political and military crisis racked Eastern Europe. After years of covertly supporting separatists in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, Russia staged an invasion. Crimea was taken over, completely and formally annexing the region in just two weeks. Since 2014, Crimea has been governed by Russia. While some punitive sanctions were placed in Russia by the inter-national community, their affect was limited. Russia later vetoed a UN resolution calling to affirm the “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity” of Ukraine.

In the years since 2014, tensions between the two countries have increased slowly. Ukraine has drifted closer to Western Europe politically, signing an association agreement with the European Union just months after the crisis in Crimea. Ukraine has also taken significant steps towards joining NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization), even making multiple amendments to the constitution to fulfill NATO membership requirements. During this time, Ukraine has received just over three billion dollars of military aid from the US and has frequently cooperated with NATO states in military exercises.

While Ukraine appeals to NATO for support, Russia has taken an increasingly warmongering position since 2014. Following the same playbook as in Crimea, Russia has supported separatists in the Ukrainian Donbas region, resulting in an ongoing civil war. They have also frequently par-taken in military exercises close to the shared border with Ukraine, seemingly as a show of force.

In November of 2021, military buildups were spotted in western Russia and Russian ally Belarus. While the official line from the Russian government was that the troops were there from military exercises, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of a potential invasion.

In early January, negotiations were held between the US and Russia in the hopes of avoiding a war, and Russia laid out their opening demands: Ukraine being barred from NATO, an immediate halt on NATO expansion, and removal of NATO forces from several other Eastern European countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin has cast these demands as crucial to Russian security. NATO was formed with the explicit purpose of countering Russia, and its expansion into Eastern Europe threatens Russian sovereignty. Regardless of this, the American government has taken a hardline position: they will not accede to any of the Russian demands, essentially killing negotiations before they could begin.

Ukraine, Russia, and their respective allies have been preparing for a war more openly in the early weeks of February. Thousands of US service members were deployed to bases in Europe, and both Canadian and British special forces have been deployed to Ukraine to evacuate embassy staff and help train Ukrainian military units. At the same time, Russian military instalments in Belarus and Crimea are being outfitted with new artillery, armoured vehicles, and soldiers.

On February 21, 2022, Vladimir Putin formally recognized the Ukrainian separatist states of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent and provided them with Russian military support for “peacekeeping.” And on February 24, 2021, Russia launched missiles at Ukrainian cities Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, Dnipro, and Lutsk. The window for diplomacy had closed. War in Europe has begun.

Photo Credit: Ukrainian President’s Office