Ukraine: five keys to understanding the conflict on the border with Russia | High tension between Washington and Moscow

With the deployment of some 100,000 Russian troops denounced by NATO, and the expansion of the Western military alliance near Russian borders and a possible entry of Ukraine into NATO, the conflict in Ukraine reached moments of maximum tension.
These are some keys to understanding the conflict on the border between Russia and Ukraine:

1. Why is there conflict between Russia and Ukraine?

The recent escalation of the conflict between Kiev and Moscow, mainly in the border area between the two countries, has to do, on the one hand, with the sending about 100 thousand Russian troops to the border with Ukraine and, on the other, to the growing expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe with the entry of countries from the former USSR and specifically Ukraine, which is not part of the military alliance but in recent years its authorities have indicated their intention to join. In 2008, NATO invited Ukraine and Georgia, two former Soviet countries, to join NATO.. At the end of 2013, when President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Putin, decided not to sign Ukraine’s entry into the military alliance, as well as a Free Trade Association Agreement with the European Union (EU), opposition mobilizations began that led at the departure of Yanukovych in February 2014, which became known in the West as the Orange Revolution and in Russia as a coup. In March of that same year, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula after it declared its independence from Ukraine. In June 2014 the new president Petro Poroshenko signed the economic agreement with the EU, ratified in 2017.

Map published on the NATO website.

2. When did Ukraine separate from Russia?

Behind the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) Ukraine gained independence in August 1991. The region was strategic for the USSR due to the port area on the Black Sea. Furthermore, the historical link between Ukraine and Russia also plays a role in the conflict. The Rus’ people settled in what is now Ukraine and founded the first major Rus’ center in Kiev in the 9th century. In this sense, President Vladimir Putin claims this link, ensuring that a “true sovereignty of Ukraine is only possible in association with Russia”. “Together we have always been and will be stronger and more successful. Because we are one people.” Putin wrote in a Article about “historic union between Russians and Ukrainians”.

3. Why is Ukraine at war?

With the mobilizations that led to Yanukovych’s departure in 2014, two regions of Ukraine sought independence. In 2014 Crimea became independent from Ukraine and joined Russia, a fact condemned by the United States that implemented economic sanctions against Moscow. However, for a part of the Crimean population, the annexation meant Russia’s recognition of the newly created Republic. A few months later another conflict broke out in the Donbass region, located on the eastern border between Ukraine and Russia, where protests began against rapprochement with Europe and in April demonstrators proclaimed the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR).

Since then in that region the Kremlin has supported the pro-Russian separatists in the east with weapons. It also conducts military exercises in the border area. Although on the other hand, NATO also conducts military exercises in the Black Sea and in allied countries that border Russia, as well as the shipment of weapons to Kiev denounced by the Kremlin.

4. What part of Ukraine could join Russia?

Russia’s lower house decided to hold consultations in February to recognize the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR). The president of the Duma (lower house) Viacheslav Volodin, indicated that the proposal has broad support in congress. On Tuesday, Ukraine declared that an eventual recognition of the breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine by Russia would mean the end of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014 to end the conflict in Donbass. “It would be an obvious step that they abandon the Minsk agreements, a demonstration that they reject those agreements,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said.

5. What happened in the last hours?

The conflict on the border between Russia and Ukraine continues to rise and US President Joe Biden said he would consider imposing economic sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin. On the other hand, Biden assured that Washington has no intention of sending troops to Ukraine, although he warned Russia that it will face severe sanctions if it attacks Ukraine. While, the US State Department stated that there will be no surprises in its response to the guarantees requested by Russia from NATO. This week Biden put 8,500 US troops on alert in the event of a “Russian aggression”, NATO also continued to expand patrolling to the Russian borders in the Black Sea and the Baltic, as well as with Lithuania. Meanwhile, more countries follow the American initiative to withdraw its diplomatic staff from Kiev. Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada announced their decision to evacuate their embassies.

Within NATO there were also disagreements. Croatian President Zoran Milanovic accused the United States of the current crisis in Ukraine and announced that in the event of an escalation it will withdraw Croatian soldiers from the conflict zone. “In case of escalation, Croatia will withdraw every last soldier. We have nothing to do with this or we will not have it. I guarantee that”He stated at a press conference. “This crisis has nothing to do with Ukraine or Russia, it has to do with the dynamics of the internal politics of Joe Biden and his administration”added the Croatian president.

Meanwhile, the deputy spokesman for the Russian Senate, Nikolay Zhuravlev, said that if European countries disconnect Russia from the interbank system of SWIFT transfers they will not be able to receive gas, oil and metals from Moscow. “If Russia is disconnected from SWIFT then it will not receive (foreign) currency, but the buyers, mainly European countries, will not receive our goods: oil, gas and metals and other essential components in their imports. They need it? I’m not sure,” he said quoted by the TASS agency.

The spokesman for the US State Department affirmed that this week it will send the response to the security guarantees that Russia demanded in December of last year, although he warned that there will be no surprises in a response that was coordinated with NATO, Kiev and others. partner countries of the military alliance. “Not only have we informed them of what will be in that response, but we have explicitly asked for their comments and incorporated those comments,” he said. “So there will be no surprises for NATO. There will be no surprises for European partners. There will be no surprises for Ukraine”, specified Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department.

The guarantees requested by Russia include the non-inclusion of Ukraine and Georgia in NATO, the withdrawal of weapons and troops in the allied countries that joined the military alliance after 1997 (including Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), as well as the request that the signing parties not consider themselves adversaries. Although the Kremlin denies that it intends to launch an offensive against Ukraine He assured that he would launch a de-escalation once NATO complies with the requested guarantees.

On the Crimean peninsula, annexed in 2014, the Russian army launched a new series of military exercises involving 6,000 men, fighter planes and bombers. For its part, the Ukrainian security service (SBU) announced that it had arrested a gang that “was preparing a series of armed attacks against infrastructure” and noted that the group “was coordinated” by the “Russian special services.” While the military chief of the Lugansk People’s Republic, Yan Leschenko, stated that the situation in Donbass “is on the verge of war”. “Everything indicates that the Ukrainian army is preparing for an active war,” he said quoted by the TASS agency. Donetsk and Luhansk, located in the Donbass region, declared themselves in rebellion against Ukraine and each formed an independent republic.

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