Ukraine shares a border with Russia and it was part of the Russian-led Soviet Union for much of the 20th century before it collapsed. Like many former Soviet countries in eastern Europe, Ukraine has drifted ideologically and strategically closer to the West since the Soviet Union’s collapse. Russia has long been hostile to Ukraine’s shift to the West and the invasion last year was not its first move towards occupying Ukraine.
24 February 2022:
On 24 February 2022, Putin declared a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Troops entered and missiles were fired across the country, including the capital Kyiv. Putin claimed without evidence Russia was acting in ‘self-defence’ and to fight “persecution” inside Ukraine.
The course of the war:
Ukraine’s defence, bolstered by Western supplies, has been stronger than many expected. Russia has also made a number of strategic blunders and nearly 200,000 of its soldiers have been killed or wounded in the past year. Though it initially aimed to capture the whole country, Russia has narrowed its focus to eastern Ukraine, though it still fires missiles across the country. There is widely-documented evidence Russia’s attacks have targeted civilians, though Russia denies this. The UN has verified over 8,000 civilian deaths, although it says “the true number is likely to be substantially higher”.
The road ahead:
There is no sign yet of a negotiated peace between Russia and Ukraine. In fact, talks have broken down altogether. Russia has not shown any sign of abandoning its objectives and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has suggested he wants to win back Crimea.
A wider war?:
There are fears the war could spread to other countries. Belarus, a Russian ally, has threatened to enter the war if ‘provoked’ by Ukraine. Moldova, which shares a border with Ukraine, has expressed fears it is “next” in Russia’s sights. Russia has also repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons and accused Ukraine’s Western allies of effectively declaring war by supplying Ukraine with weapons. NATO members have signed an agreement that includes ‘collective defence’, committing them to treat an attack on one NATO member as an attack on all of them. U.S. President Joe Biden has previously called this a ‘sacred obligation’.
As well as supplying weapons, the U.S. has led a push to impose sanctions (financial penalties) on Russia in the past year. Australia, Canada, the UK, the European Union, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Singapore have all joined in imposing sanctions. Other countries have been reluctant to directly condemn the war, including India and China. China has friendly ties with Russia and there are growing fears it may decide to supply Russia with weapons.