On Thursday, February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a military operation in Ukraine, with explosions heard across the country and its foreign minister warning of a “full-scale invasion.” Putin also warned that any country that interferes in the Russian-Ukraine armed conflicts should be ready for the consequences. In his words: “Whoever will try to stop us and further create threats to our country, to our people, should know that Russia’s response would be immediate and lead you to such consequences that you have never faced in your history. We are ready for any outcome”.

Ukraine, which had been a part of the Russian empire for centuries before becoming a Soviet republic, gained independence when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. It sought to shed its Russian imperial legacies and forge closer ties with the West.

The following five points should help you understand what’s going on right now and what might happen next.

  1. What is the source of the conflict?

A decision by Kremlin-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to reject an association agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Moscow sparked mass protests that resulted in his ouster as president in 2014.

Russia retaliated by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and supporting a separatist rebellion in Ukraine’s east, which has been fighting Ukraine’s army since then. Russia has been accused by Ukraine and the West of sending troops and weaponry to support the rebels. Moscow refuted this, claiming that the Russians who sided with the rebels did so voluntarily. More than 14,000 people have died in the violence that has ravaged Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, according to Kyiv.

Ukraine being a former Soviet Republic, has extensive social and cultural ties with Russia, and Russian is widely spoken there, but those ties have deteriorated since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014.

Russia and Ukraine had signed the Minsk peace agreement to put an end to the armed conflict in east Ukraine, including the Donbas region. However, as the violence continues, Russia has said that it will send “peacekeepers” to the region. The West sees it as a ruse used by Moscow to occupy sovereign territory. Moscow, for its part, has slammed the US and its NATO partners for arming Ukraine and staging joint drills, claiming that such actions encourage Ukrainian hawks to try to retake rebel-held territory by force.

Early in 2021, the situation began to spiral out of control and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy requested US President Joe Biden to allow Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in January 2021.

This infuriated Russia, which began sending soldiers near the Ukrainian border for “training exercises” in the spring of last year and boosted the number in the fall. By December, the US had begun to hype the deployment of Russian troops, and President Joe Biden had threatened Russia with severe sanctions if it attacked Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated that Ukraine’s desire to join NATO is a red line, and has expressed alarm over NATO nations’ plans to establish military training centres in Ukraine. He claims that this will give them a military footprint in the region even if Ukraine does not join NATO.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also called the North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 28 European countries and 2 North American countries. The organization implements the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on 4 April 1949. Formed after the Second World War in 1949, it is a military alliance originally made up of 12 countries, including the US, Canada, the UK, and France. Part of its function is to keep global peace, as members agree to come to one another’s aid in the event of an armed attack against any other member state. Its original aim was to counteract the threat of post-war Russian expansion in Europe. In 1955, Soviet Russia responded to NATO’s creation with its own military alliance of Eastern European communist countries, known as the Warsaw Pact. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, a number of these member countries joined NATO. As a result, the alliance now has 30 members, including countries like Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and other countries in Eastern Europe.

Ukraine is not currently a member of NATO, but it is a partner country. This means that there is an understanding between Ukraine and NATO that the country may join in the future.

  • What does Russia want?

It’s more about what Russia opposes. The current tensions between Ukraine and Russia stem from Russia attempting to prohibit Ukraine from joining NATO.  President Putin has maintained for years that the United States betrayed a promise not to expand NATO eastward. NATO, he claims, is being utilized by Western world powers to encroach on Russia’s sovereignty and borders and he, therefore, has repeatedly called on NATO to stop military activities in Eastern Europe. In a list of security demands provided to the US in December, Russia has stated that it does not want Ukraine to join NATO. The demands included a halt to any NATO drills near Russia’s border. It also wants NATO to withdraw from Eastern Europe. The West has criticized several of these ultimatums as non-starters.

Putin stated in December that Russia was looking for guarantees “that would rule out any future NATO movements eastward and the deployment of military systems that threaten us in close proximity to Russian territory.”

Putin invited the West to engage in substantive talks on the issue, stating that Moscow would require “legal guarantees,” not just verbal pledges, that NATO will not conduct military operations in eastern Europe or Ukraine.  Vladimir Putin claims Ukraine is a Western puppet and was never a proper state in the first place. The admittance of Ukraine to the alliance would require the unanimous agreement of the coalition’s 30 members.

The United States and NATO have finally reacted to the demands. While neither Moscow nor the Western countries have made the details of their response public, it is obvious that Russia’s primary demands – that Ukraine be effectively barred from joining NATO and that the alliance not expand east – have been rejected.

When Ukrainians toppled their pro-Russian president in 2014, Russia retaliated by annexing Ukraine’s southern Crimean peninsula, and NATO retaliated by stationing troops across Eastern Europe. The alliance today has four multinational soldier groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, as well as a multinational brigade in Romania.

  • Will Ukraine become a member of NATO?

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but it aspires to be. It is regarded as an alliance partner. According to NATO, Kyiv must eliminate scourges such as corruption before being considered for membership.

In December, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg rejected Russian demands to rescind a 2008 commitment to Ukraine that it would one day become a member.

Stoltenberg maintains that when it comes time to vote on the issue, Russia will not be able to veto Ukraine’s admission.

Analysts believe NATO allies, particularly the United States, are hesitant to expand their military footprint in the region and jeopardize their relationship with Moscow.

While US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed support for Ukraine’s NATO membership, President Joe Biden has been more evasive on the subject.

4.        Will there be all-out war now that Russia has attacked Ukraine?

Following the launch of a demilitarization operation in Ukraine by President Vladimir Putin, Russian forces struck targets across the country early on Thursday, February 24, 2022, in what Ukraine’s foreign minister described as a “full-scale invasion.”

In a nationally televised statement prior to the offensive, Putin urged Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms and return home. He said that Russia does not intend to “occupy” its southern neighbor, but that it must “defend itself against those who have taken Ukraine hostage,” accusing the US and its allies of breaching Russia’s “red line” by extending NATO.

In his address, Putin said the aim was to “protect people who for eight years have been suffering persecution and genocide by the Kyiv regime.”

According to state-run media, TASS, Russia’s defense minister stated the strikes were aimed at Ukrainian military installations and did not represent a threat to civilians.

  • Responses so far

Responses from Ukraine

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy declared martial law throughout the country, warning that Russian forces were targeting cities and urging civilians to seek refuge in shelters to avoid missile attacks on Kyiv. He said he spoke with President Joe Biden, informing the nation “the U.S. has started to prepare international support.”

“Russia attacked our military infrastructure and our border guarders,” Zelenskiy said in a video address on the telegram channel. He urged people to stay calm and stay at home if possible. “We are working. The army is working.”

In response, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated in a tweet: “This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win.”

In his address, Putin said the aim of the strike was to “protect people who for eight years have been suffering persecution and genocide by the Kyiv regime.”

He added: “For this we will aim for demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, as well as bringing to justice those who carried out multiple bloody crimes against civilians, including citizens of the Russian Federation,” he said. “Our plans do not include occupying Ukrainian territory.”

Responses from Other Nations and blocs

Western countries have put their weight behind Ukraine, although some have been more forceful than others. The United States and the United Kingdom have provided weapons, while Germany has promised to send a field medical center next month but will not contribute military equipment.

Biden called Putin’s move “an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces” and said the “world will hold Russia accountable.” Biden went on to say that he would meet his Group of Seven counterparts on Thursday before addressing the American people to announce additional sanctions against Russia. 

“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” Biden said in a statement. “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way.”

Ben Wallace, UK’s Defence Secretary, described Russia’s actions as “naked aggression against a democratic country” and said no one had been fooled by the Kremlin’s “false flags and fake narratives”.

“The Russian Federation has today further violated Ukrainian sovereignty,” he said. “Despite the efforts of the international communities, Russia has chosen conflict. No one has been fooled by the Kremlin’s false flags and fake narratives.

“This is naked aggression against a democratic country which had dared to express a different aspiration than being a supine neighbour to Russia. No one should forget this day. Putin thinks this land grab is about securing his legacy – it will be, but not the one that he wishes.”

Boris Johnson has promised that the UK and its allies will respond “decisively” to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, as he prepares to chair a Cobra emergency meeting on the crisis, with additional economic sanctions likely to be considered.

The prime minister also condemned Vladimir Putin, saying Russia’s president had “chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction”, and was expected to update the public and MPs shortly after the meeting.

In a statement posted on Twitter at 4.53 am, Johnson said he had spoken with Volodymyr Zelenskiy to discuss “next steps”.

He said: “I am appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine and I have spoken to President Zelenskiy to discuss the next steps. President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The UK and our allies will respond decisively.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who held several calls with Putin and visited Moscow in an attempt to ease the tensions over Ukraine, denounced the Russian attacks as “a blatant violation of international law” that was unjustifiable. “This is a terrible day for Ukraine and a dark day for Europe,” he said

UN Security Council members have urged Putin not to worsen the situation, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres making a rare direct appeal to Putin.”I have only one thing to say, from the bottom of my heart: President Putin, stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. “Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died.”

While NATO officials have stated that Russia does not have a veto over the bloc’s membership, the organization has long been split on whether or not the country should be admitted. The Biden administration has frequently stated that it will not send US or NATO military into Ukraine, preferring instead to support NATO allies in Eastern Europe.

According to the Kremlin, separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine have asked Putin for assistance in fighting Ukrainian forces. The two self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk sought assistance under treaties signed by Putin with their leaders on Monday. However, since Ukraine’s military has not moved against separatist forces, it is unclear what Putin is protecting them from.

There has also been a lot of debate about imposing penalties on Moscow. If Putin sends his military into Ukraine, the US and its European allies have publicly committed to hammer Russia financially like never before. Leaders have revealed few details, reasoning that it is best to keep Putin guessing, but both Washington and London have mentioned personal actions aimed at Putin.

In recent weeks, the US has dispatched almost 3,000 additional troops to Poland and Romania to fortify their borders in the face of escalating tensions, with another 8,500 troops on standby.

Similarly, the United Kingdom has provided Ukraine with 2,000 short-range anti-tank missiles and has dispatched 350 additional troops to Poland and 900 further troops to Estonia, with 1,000 more on standby.

The alliance today has four multinational soldier groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, as well as a multinational brigade in Romania.

Excluding Russia from the SWIFT banking system, which transfers money from bank to bank around the world, would be one of the toughest financial acts they could commit, causing immediate and long-term economic damage to Russia.

As a result of the move, Russia may be cut off from most international financial activities, including overseas revenues from oil and gas production, which account for more than 40% of the country’s revenue.

If Putin invades Ukraine, the United States has one of the most potent financial weapons at its disposal: blocking Russia’s access to the US dollar.

With trillions of dollars changing hands every day, the dollar remains the dominant currency in global financial transactions.

Finally, the US is considering imposing export restrictions, which could cut Russia off from high-tech that, among other things, allows warplanes and passenger flights to fly and powers smartphones.

The growing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which shares a border with the European Union, has implications for the EU. As a result, the EU has joined the United States in announcing sanctions against Russian entities, the vast majority of which are NATO signatories.

Only a few weeks ago, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to defuse tensions.

India has pushed for a diplomatic solution to the current Russian-Ukraine conflict.

Markets plummet

As a result of Putin’s decision, U.S. equities futures and stocks fell on Thursday, while bonds rose and oil skyrocketed. Both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 equity contracts both fell by around 2%, indicating that the latter, tech-heavy index is headed for a bear market. European futures slumped 3%, as an Asia-Pacific share index plunged to its lowest level since 2020.

Crude prices soared on fears that Russian energy exports could be jeopardized, with Brent hitting $100 a barrel. The 10-year US Treasury yield fell to 1.90 percent as investors sought safer options. Gold reached its highest level in early 2021. The dollar and the yen both rose in value, while the euro and the ruble fell.

For weeks, the US and its allies have warned of a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv, with Putin reportedly massing 150,000 troops on the border.

Sentiments in Russia

It would seem however that Putin does have his sympathizers who feel that the Kremlin is trying to show the West that they do not have the monopoly to do as they please. Henaco Blazer shared the sentiments below: “I quite understand Vladimir’s perspective. When it comes to bragging rights Russia and countries like  Germany and China are beginning to stand toe-to-toe with the US (due to economic and military prowess). Needless to say the underdogs are now playing in the forefront and “big brother” USA is not happy to share bragging rights”.

Tomsco Odeyvic, our correspondent in St. Petersburg shares with us the sentiments of Russians encapsulated in these words: “They thought Putin wouldn’t dare. If it escalates more than this then the whole world will feel the impact. It’s already happening. Cutting Russia off oil exports as a sanction has already begun to have effects on the market. Both America and Europe will suffer as prices are spiking north. Russia is the second-highest supplier to the US. Germany is more than 70% dependent on Russia’s supplies through “Nord Stream”, Turkey through “Blue Stream” and other countries”.

He added;” By the way, if a proper war breaks out, not NATO nor America will deploy troops to fight for Ukraine. All they’ll do is support with weapons and helmets as the Germans have donated. It’s Ukraine that’ll have to fight its own war.

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