- Sam Meyer
History of Russia-Ukraine Tensions
On February 22, 2022, the world was shocked as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, a country that it has deep ties with and a shared history that has lasted centuries. The conflict has led to 6.5 million people being displaced inside Ukraine alone, and there are another 3.5 million that have fled the nation. Russia has been using its vast military strength in the conquests of Ukraine with little regard for its effects on civilians. Bombings of hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, and more key checkpoints have taken place, and the world is watching in fear to see the next card Russia’s going to play. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is ruthless, and many Russians, like the granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, a former Soviet Union leader, have said that he is willing to and will go as far as causing “mass casualties” to achieve his goals. To understand what the New York Times called “Europe’s biggest land war since World War II,” you have to know the history behind Russia and Ukraine, what President Putin did in the leadup to the invasion, and the benefits that Russia will gain from taking back their former territory.
The history of the two nations starts back all the way in 882 A.D. when Prince Oleg captured the now-Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, which was made the capital of the new state, Kievengrad. Kievengrad would then go on to disintegrate, leaving Kyiv to be taken by what would become the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth. Russia would also eventually emerge from the ashes of Kievengrad and take up lots of land to the east, which is where the vast nation still lies today.
The young Russian nation regained control of Kyiv after the Thirteen Years War, which lasted from 1654 to 1667. Kyiv would then go on to serve as the border between Russia and the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth for centuries before Russia expanded west, and it became a part of Russia until the Russian Revolution, wherein 1918 Ukraine had a brief period of independence during the chaos caused by the Revolution. A new government was set up, but was extremely weak and didn’t have much power over the people, which made it easy for Vladimir Lenin and the Soviet Union to take control of Ukraine in 1922 where it became the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic within the communist state. Ukraine stayed there until December 1, 1991, when the struggling Soviet Union was falling apart and the population of Ukraine, which is made up of many ethnic Russians, voted to become independent in a landslide tally.
In just 2014, Russia cruised through and took Crimea, located in southern Ukraine, which held key port cities and trillions of gallons of oil. Russia had held back on taking Ukraine for years because they were not worried that the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych would tap into the Crimean oil and compete with Russia in supplying the European Union with the vital natural resource. The trigger for Russia to take the peninsula in the black seas was when president Yanukovych was voted out of office by parliament after many violent protests in the Ukrainian capital, and they knew that Ukraine would rapidly become more pro-E.U. and NATO. The combination of these two things would have made it virtually impossible for Russia to invade without starting a World War, so they knew that this was their chance to take Ukrainian land.
“Modern Ukraine was made by Russia...we are not just close neighbors, we are one nation” - Putin
Many people were left confused after the original reports of the invasion, and many were left asking “why.'' While the true answer is still unknown, there have been many theories and ideas why this may be happening. One popular theory is that the Russian Government, also known as the Kremlin, wants to recreate the once-great Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a key part. The timing of the invasion would make sense in that case because as referenced earlier, many in Ukraine have been pushing for them to join NATO and the E.U., which would make it nearly impossible for Russia to achieve what might be their dream without waging a world war and losing millions of lives, which it can’t afford. President Putin has also said that “modern Ukraine was made by Russia”, and “We are not just close neighbors, we are one nation”, which makes his thoughts about Ukraine more than clear. This theory also aligns with reports that Russia wants to invade Moldova next, a small nation west of Ukraine that was also a part of the Soviet Union.
Another potential reason for the unfortunate invasion that has left so many in dire condition is because of the advantages the location of Ukraine poses for Russia. If Russia were to achieve its short-term goal of taking Ukraine back, it would massively shrink its borders between itself and the west, which would make it easier to defend the country. Something else that the land in Ukraine offers is oil, which is a necessity to Russia. If Ukraine were to develop their oil and start exporting it, they have the potential to make an economy that relies on oil, like Russia. The only difference is that because of Ukraine’s increasing ties to the west, they would directly take the business that Russia would usually have supplying Europe with oil, which could destroy the Russian economy. Overall, this is an extremely complex issue without one main cause, but these are just a couple of things that likely influenced the Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
In the days leading up to the war, Russia was able to militarize the border of Ukraine from the north, south, and west, and they attacked from those sides. They have tried to take the key cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and the port city of Mariupol, where the bulk of the fighting is currently. The Ukrainian military has rallied and proven surprisingly strong, using equipment from allies along with the encouragement of president Volodymyr Zelensky, who has revived his presidency from his approval ratings that were once near twenty percent. He has proven to be a strong leader in difficult times and has stayed in the capital city, Kyiv, during the war instead of fleeing.
The Russian military has also been brutal in its conquests, with numerous bombings of apartment buildings, maternity and children’s hospitals, and schools. These bombings have led to Zelensky calling for NATO to enforce a no-fly zone in areas on the country, which would mean that NATO would have to come in and defeat the Russian air force to keep the skies neutral. The Russian air force is over 10x bigger than Ukraine’s, and a no-fly zone would help them to hold off Russian forces massively. It would mean that they have less planes to worry about, and less bombings happening in imporatant places throughout the country. The problem, however, with a no-fly zone is that NATO would need to come in and take down the Russian air force, which would be direct military encounters that would escalate the war completely and start what the world is scared of: World War III.
As of late March, Ukrainian forces have remained strong and have held off the relentless Russian forces in most areas, with them making advances in the south, east, and a little in the north. They have taken Chernobyl back, but are failing to do much in terms of any major cities in Ukraine. An interesting thing to keep track of, though, is Mauripol, which is a port city in the south of Ukraine, where Russia has bombed shelters and dozens of buildings in attempts to weaken the Ukranian defense, although no advances have been made on the city.
While Russia is advancing with claims of fighting for Russians living within Ukraine, they are only hurting the civilians of Ukraine. Although NATO countries are doing the best that they can do to help Ukraine and their people, there is only so much that they can do without escalating the situation to unimaginable heights. People around the world are doing what they can to help the Ukranians, but right now all we can do is wait and watch what happens next.