United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas Greenfield said the war could create up to five million refugees and displaced persons in Europe. President Joe Biden has promised to rally world leaders in swift condemnation for Russia’s “flagrant aggression” in a call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Anti-war protests have broken out in many major European cities today, including in Russia, where marches filled the streets of Putin’s hometown of Saint Petersburg.
First and foremost, are Russia and Ukraine at war?
While the terminology is dicey depending on who’s talking, for all intents and purposes, Russia and Ukraine are at war. The language used by Russia is “military intervention,” while Ukraine and Western powers are classifying the conflict as a full-scale invasion, which is the term most likely to be seen in American media coverage.
At the outset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Wednesday night, cruise missiles targeted military installations before any troops ever actually entered the country.
The Pentagon announced today that General Lloyd Austin has ordered the deployment of 7,000 additional troops to Germany with the aim of protecting NATO allies in the region, which will likely be the main goal of any US forces in Europe for the foreseeable future.
“This would comprise an armored brigade combat team with associated capabilities and enablers,” said the statement from the Pentagon.
Why does Russia want to invade Ukraine in the first place?
Putin’s official line of reasoning behind the invasion has been made clear in his speeches – Ukraine is a non-state in the eyes of Russia, and should be absorbed into Russian territory as it once was. Other factors have been floated, such as peacekeeping between Russian-backed Separatists and Ukrainian unionists in Donbas.
Putin also spoke of an ideological element to the invasion of Ukraine, saying that Russia intends to “de-Nazify” Ukraine. Civilians and media members alike have called out Putin’s statements as antisemitic and a rhetorical smokescreen for the motives behind the invasion.
Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the Wilson Center think tank studying eastern Europe, said in an interview with PBS that Putin’s claims to a Nazi resurgence in Ukraine are largely false.
"We have no evidence of Ukrainian aggression or, as Putin talked about in his speech the other day, of 'genocide' by the Ukrainian army," Jankowicz said.
Why does this conflict matter to the United States?
Ukraine happens to be caught between two great powers with a tense relationship, and has been since the end of World War II. The partition of European territory between Allied nations after WWII left Ukraine as a part of the Soviet Union, and as the Cold War unraveled, the states behind the Iron Curtain became crucial to the American mission against communism. Ukraine’s separation from the USSR forced it to choose whether to align with Russia or with the American-spearheaded West.
In today’s press conference at the White House, President Biden said that the United States will not back down in the face of aggression on the international stage.
“This aggression cannot go unanswered. If it did, the consequences for America would be much worse,” Biden said. “America stands up to bullies. We stand up for freedom. This is who we are.”
What does it mean for NATO countries to sanction Russia?
Sanctions are a commonly used tool by states hoping to avoid armed conflict but seeking to retaliate when provoked by the actions of other states.
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“When the history of this era is written, Putin’s choice to make a totally unjustifiable war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger,” Biden said.
When a sanction is imposed on a good or a trade avenue is closed, prices of everyday items and widely-used resources, like gas or building materials, can be driven up. Russia’s large class of oligarchs may also be a target for sanctions, given that the ultra-wealthy in close proximity to Putin have assets all around the world which could be frozen or heavily taxed.
The member states of NATO are some of the world’s biggest trade powers, and a uniform sanction policy among NATO countries could be incredibly damaging to Russia’s economy.
Is the United States going to declare war on Russia?
In his Thursday afternoon address, President Biden said that additional US forces will be sent to Europe, but not to Ukraine directly.
“Our forces are not, and will not be, engaged in the conflict with Russia in Ukraine,” Biden said. “Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies and reassure those allies in the east.”
A timeline of the Russia/Ukraine relationship:
1991 – The Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic declares its independence from Moscow, sparking decades-long contention over Ukraine’s position with Western powers and former Soviet bloc countries.
2004 – Pro-Russia candidate Viktor Yanukovich is elected Ukrainian president, but election results are rerun due to allegations of vote rigging and pro-Western prime minister Viktor Yuschenko actually wins the election. Yuschenko’s platform centers around aligning Ukraine with the European Union and NATO powers, in contrast with the country’s past.
2010 – Ukraine and Russia make an agreement stipulating that the Russian Navy can continue its lease of a Ukrainian-owned Black Sea Port in exchange for a gas-pricing deal on Russian oil being piped to Ukraine.
2013 – After a change in leadership, Ukraine cuts ties with the EU and recenters its alliance with Russia, causing mass civilian protests.
2014 – As protests turn violent in Kyiv and the president flees, Russian-aligned separatists seize control of parliament in the Ukrainian territory Crimea. Within weeks, Russia annexes Crimea, spurring separatist movements in the nearby Donbas region. Skirmishes between separatists and Ukrainian military forces continue sporadically into 2022.
2019 – Following a visa agreement with the EU in 2017, Ukrainian trade with Western Europe is more fluid and open than ever before. Late-night comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy is elected president and promises to bring Ukraine out of corruption, appealing to western powers to join NATO.
Spring 2021 – After Zelenskyy’s government imposes sanctions on opposition leader and Kremlin ally Viktor Medvedchuk. Russia amasses and then disperses troops on the Ukrainian border in what it publicly categorizes as a training exercise.
Winter 2021 – Russia once again mobilizes troops on Ukraine’s border in response to Ukraine’s use of a Turkish drone in Donbas. US President Joe Biden warns Russia of harsh economic sanctions should it invade Ukraine. Consequently, Russia issues a list of security demands to NATO, including withdrawal of all troops from Eastern Europe and Ukraine.
January 2022 – Russia moves troops to Ukraine’s neighbor Belarus and NATO troops are put on standby in Eastern Europe. Days later, NATO and the US reject Russia’s demands, stating its commitment to its “open door policy.”
February 2022 – Troop movements by Russia edge closer and closer to Ukrainian territory and US troops have been deployed to nearby NATO countries in preparation for conflict. The US State Department advised Americans in Ukraine and surrounding countries to leave as soon as possible.
Feb. 22 2022 – Putin recognizes the separatist enclaves of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent entities free from Ukrainian control, and pledges Russian allyship in these regions against Ukraine.
Feb. 24 2022 – Russia invades Ukraine from the East and is joined by Belarusian forces from the North. Western powers are swift to condemn the attack, and harsh economic retaliation is announced by the United States and the European Union.
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