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What Is Happening in Ukraine?

January 26, 2022 by Katie Chandler


President Joe Biden has ordered the Pentagon to put 8,500 U.S. troops on heightened alert for a possible deployment to Europe.1 And the State Department has told the families of U.S. diplomats in Ukraine to leave the country as the possibility of a Russian invasion increases.2 So, what is going on?

Background on Ukraine

Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, after Russia, and gained its independence in late 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It maintains deep ties to Russia, and many Russian leaders regret the separation. Ukraine’s leadership used to be aligned with Russia, but its top trading partner is now China and more than half of Ukraine’s population supports joining the European Union.3

Controlling Ukrainian territory has many advantages. It has some of the world’s most fertile soil and it’s located along the route of Russian oil and gas pipelines to Europe. Russia supplies Europe with 40 percent of its natural gas and 25 percent of its oil.4

In 2014, after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russia, was forced out of office and a pro-Western candidate was elected in his place, separatists in eastern Ukraine began to rebel with Russian military aid. That war has killed over 15,000 people in the Donbas region. Russia also invaded the Crimean Peninsula that year and now controls it.5

The Role of Russia

Russia recently moved 100,000 troops and arms toward Belarus, a Russian ally and a neighbor of Ukraine, for military exercises. Russian President Vladimir Putin insists that he is not planning an invasion of Ukraine. Instead, he claims that the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are trying to destabilize the region by sending in weapons and military advisors.6 Putin has spoken out against NATO before; in 2008, he warned that steps to bring Ukraine into the alliance “would be a hostile act toward Russia.”7

The Role of the United States

President Biden was vice president when the Russian military took control of Crimea, and he has said that Putin may try to “test the West” with another invasion. President Biden sent $650 million in defensive military aid and helped Ukraine procure missiles and aircraft. So far, no one has said the troops on alert would go directly to Ukraine; rather, they would be posted to support NATO members such as Poland or those in the Baltics.8

The United States has imposed economic sanctions on Russia since 2014. However, experts have debated their efficacy, since Russian oil and gas are essential to U.S. allies in Europe. The Biden administration is also considering using the “foreign direct product rule,” which would prohibit U.S. tech companies from exporting goods to Russia.9

READ MORE: This isn’t President Biden’s first foreign policy dilemma; read on the blog about the U.S. exit from Afghanistan

The Role of NATO

NATO was founded in 1949 in response to the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union. By signing the treaty, member states agree to defend each other if any are invaded. After the Soviet Union dissolved, several former Soviet republics began the process of joining NATO, which Russia opposed. Ukraine has applied to be a member, but it is not one yet.10

Putin has demanded assurances that Ukraine will not join NATO and an end to military exercises near its border. For his part, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that Russia has no say over who is allowed to join NATO.11

The Situation in Ukraine

Recent elections indicate that Ukrainians prefer closer cooperation with the West than with Russia.12 Ukraine has criticized as premature the United States and other countries pulling diplomats’ families from embassies. A spokesperson for Ukraine’s foreign ministry said, “The threat of a new wave of Russian aggression has been permanent since 2014, and the build-up of Russian forces on the state border began in April of last year.” Despite this confidence, there is concern that the Russian military build-up is meant to threaten the internal stability of Ukraine.13

Attempts at Diplomacy

Last week, Blinken met with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov in an attempt to defuse the situation. Blinken and Lavrov left the meeting affirming plans to continue speaking, and they said that a talk between the presidents of the two countries is possible. This statement came before the announcement that U.S. troops could be headed to the region or that more severe sanctions could be coming.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why might Russia be taking aggressive steps against Ukraine?
  2. Does the United States have a responsibility to protect other sovereign nations from invasion? Why or why not?
  3. What do you think the United States’ foreign policy priorities should be in the region?
  4. How would you advise President Biden to achieve those priorities?
  5. What factors are complicating the United States’ response to the situation?

Other Resources

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Hannah Dormido
[1] Burns, Robert, and Lorne Cook. “U.S. Puts 8,500 Troops on Heightened Alert Amid Russia Tension.” Associated Press. 24 Jan. 2022. Web. 24 Jan. 2022.
[2] Bowman, Emma. “State Department Orders Families of Embassy Staff to Leave Ukraine.” NPR. 23 Jan. 2022. Web. 24 Jan. 2022.
[3] Masters, Jonathan. “Ukraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia.” Council on Foreign Relations. 2 Dec. 2021. Web. 19 Jan. 2022.
[4] Ibid.
[5] U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson. “Fact vs. Fiction: Russian Disinformation on Ukraine.” 20 Jan. 2022. Web. 21 Jan. 2022.
[6] Cooper, Helene. “U.S. Considers Backing an Insurgency if Russia Invades Ukraine.” New York Times. 14 Jan. 2022. Web. 19 Jan. 2022.
[7] Masters, Jonathan. “Ukraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia.” Council on Foreign Relations. 2 Dec. 2021. Web. 19 Jan. 2022.
[8] Burns, Robert, and Lorne Cook. “U.S. Puts 8,500 Troops on Heightened Alert Amid Russia Tension.” Associated Press. 24 Jan. 2022. Web. 24 Jan. 2022.
[9] Nakashima, Ellen, and Jeanne Whalen. “U.S. Threatens Use of Novel Export Control to Damage Russia’s Strategic Industries if Moscow Invades Ukraine.” Washington Post. 23 Jan. 2022. Web. 24 Jan. 2022.
[10] NATO. “What is NATO?” Web. 24 Jan. 2022.
[11] Lee, Matthew, and Lorne Cook. “US, NATO Rule Out Halt to Expansion, Reject Russian Demands.” Associated Press. 7 Jan. 2022. Web. 19 Jan. 2022.
[12] Masters, Jonathan. “Ukraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia.” Council on Foreign Relations. 2 Dec. 2021. Web. 19 Jan. 2022.
[13] Schwitz, Michael, and Steven Erianger. “NATO Steps Up Readiness in Eastern Europe to Reassure Allies.” New York Times. 24 Jan. 2022. Web. 24 Jan. 2022.

 

3 thoughts on “What Is Happening in Ukraine?

  1. Is it possible Ukraine with historical and cultural ties to Russia mend ties and deescalate tensions and save lives? Ukrainian own citizens as well as Russian compatriots could benefit from continuous mutual cooperation and help in building a more harmonious and prosperous community within their countries and neighboring countries.
    Nikolai Popov had a book called “Why?” which address the futility of war. Is it possible to help see there is no winner when destruction wreak havoc?
    Are the 14 points addressed by Woodrow Wilson in an attempt to bring a more everlasting peace after WWI still be relevant today?

  2. At the end of 1990s Putin became the leader of Russia by staging his first KGB style military operation – bombing Moscow apartment buildings to gain popularity and re-start the war in Chechnya. Putin killed his own innocent civilians, hundreds of Russians in order to boost his popularity and gather more war support. The US, EU and NATO should have seen his true face then, but decided to ignore Putin’s Chechnya war crimes and welcomed Putin to red carpet meetings and Bush even declared his trust in Putin. This further emboldened Putin who had suppressed all democratic processes internally in Russia and has successfully become a dictator and tyrant.

    Putin’s first test run to settle his political goals with military adventures and military operations was in Georgia in 2008. In August 2008 Putin attacked Georgia’s Samachablo and Abkhazian regions and successfully annexed territories of a sovereign country. What did the US and EU do? Obama administration decided to do reset policy with Russia – greatest mistake of President Obama and Angela Merkel, who kept closest relations with Putin and did not want to upset Putin. Russia was not even hit with bare minimum of sanctions for conquering Georgia’s two regions.

    This further encouraged Putin to find more military solutions to his political issues and goals. As Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili said “Ukraine, Crimea will be the next!” the EU leaders laughed at him. In 2014 the new reality sets in – Putin did order and conquered Crimea and Eastern Ukrainian regions. At that time the Obama administration and Angela Merkel received first reality check from Putin, but they made the second greatest mistake with Putin: They set bare minimum of sanctions, did not punish Putin for violating the international laws and let him get away again!

    This has turned Putin into a strong dictator backed by US dollars and EU Euros for the Russian energy exports and every time barrel of oil went above $100, Putin fired rockets and ordered military adventures. In Syria Putin had committed number of atrocities against civilians and used chemical weapons. What consequences did he face? Absolutely nothing, verbal condemnation by the international community.

    And now we are in 2022. As the barrel of oil shot above $100 and Putin ordered massive invasion of Ukraine, suddenly the world woke up to new reality. However, the reality was established during the 1990s when Putin planned and executed the Moscow apartment bombings, the US/EU/NATO decided to ignore the warning signs and tried to welcome Putin into the international community.

    What is happening now in Ukraine should be the wake up call to the entire world. The post World War 2 international system & the world order has been shattered to pieces and international law had been completely ignored without any consequences by Putin again and again.
    What Ukraine needs is the world to come to terms with reality: Putin has to be defeated and the establishment/elite power structure of the Kremlin has to change. Before this happens, the Ukrainian military MUST receive all necessary lethal defensive and offensive weapons as well.

    The Ukrainians need to have anti-air capability to shoot down incoming missiles and airplanes from much higher altitudes, so the S-300/S-400 systems will be much welcome, however this is not enough. The Ukrainian army needs those MIG29s to enforce its own No Fly Zone, since the western powers are too scared to face Putin over even a limited No Fly Zone over humanitarian corridor. So lets give this power to the Ukrainians?
    What the Ukrainian side needs is Patriot missile systems as well and anti-artillery systems: radars, locators and smart artillery systems from the US.

    The above-mentioned weapons systems would have an immediate impact on the ground and will change the formula on the ground by giving Ukrainians much needed upper hand to control the air and protect the civilians from the #1 major killers: incoming artillery shells and missiles.

    Slava Ukraini! Glory to Ukraine!

    David Dzidzikashvili
    Ph.D. Candidate
    Business & Technology University – BTU
    Tbilisi, Georgia

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