Russia’s long-feared invasion of Ukraine continues after Vladimir Putin’s announcement of his “special military operation” against the country in the early hours of February 24.
While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky leads by example from the streets of Kiev and tirelessly calls on the international community for support, his people form an impressive resistance and hold back the Russian armed forces as best they can.
The aggressor, meanwhile, continues to use brutal siege tactics, encircling the country’s cities and subjecting them to intense shelling, a strategy previously seen in Chechnya and Syria.
People like Kharkov and Mariupol have been battered by Russian missiles in pursuit of gradual territorial gains in eastern and southern Ukraine, while attacks on residential buildings, hospitals and nurseries have sparked outrageous allegations of deliberate attack on civilians and war crimes. committed.
Zelensky’s call for NATO to introduce a no-fly zone remains unanswered, as the West fears that such an act would be interpreted as a provocation by Russia and involve the alliance in a much larger war over Eastern Europe.
However, US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have joined other world powers in condemning Moscow’s “unprovoked and unwarranted” attack, promising it “responsible “, with the West launching several rounds of heavy economic sanctions against Russian banks, corporations and oligarchs.
They have also been criticized for not doing enough to support the more than 4 million refugees from the conflict, who have fled their homelands to neighboring countries such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova.
Rising tensions in the region, which began in December when Russian troops gathered on the border with Ukraine, really escalated in the last week of February when Putin officially recognized the pro-Russian breakaway regions of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) as independent states.
This allowed him to move military assets into those areas, in anticipation of the coming attack, under the guise of protecting allies.
That development meant months of frenzied diplomatic negotiations conducted by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, among others, in hopes of averting disaster. which ultimately came to nothing.
But what are the main problems behind the conflict, where did it all start and how could the crisis unfold?
How did the crisis start?
Eight years back in time gives the current situation more context.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 after Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from power over mass protests.
Weeks later, Russia threw its weight behind two separatist insurgency movements in eastern Ukraine, which eventually led the pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk to declare the DPR and LPR independent states, though they were completely unrecognized by the international community. .
More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting that has lasted in recent years and has devastated Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland: the Donbas.
Both Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support the rebels, but Moscow has denied the charges, saying that Russians who joined the separatists did so voluntarily.
France and Germany reached a 2015 peace agreement – the Minsk II accord – to help end the large-scale battles. The 13-point deal obliged Ukraine to provide autonomy to separatist regions and amnesty for the rebels, while Ukraine would regain full control of its border with Russia in the rebel-controlled areas.
However, the agreement is highly complex, as Moscow continues to maintain that it has not been a party to the conflict and is therefore not bound by its terms.
Point 10 of the agreement calls for the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment from the disputed DPR and LPR. Ukraine says this refers to troops from Russia, but Moscow has previously denied that it has troops of its own in those states.
Last year, a spike in ceasefire violations in the east and a Russian troop concentration near Ukraine fueled fears that another war might break out, but tensions eased as Moscow of its troops withdrew after maneuvers in April.
How is the situation at the moment?
In early December 2021, U.S. intelligence officials determined that Russia was planning to deploy as many as 175,000 troops near the border with Ukraine in preparation for a potential invasion that they say could begin in early 2022.
Kiev also complained that Moscow had deployed more than 90,000 troops near the two countries’ borders and warned that “large-scale escalation” was possible in January.
In addition, the Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said Russia has about 2,100 military personnel in rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine and Russian officers hold all leading positions within the separatist forces.
Moscow had previously repeatedly denied the presence of its troops in eastern Ukraine and did not provide details of its military numbers and locations, saying their deployment on its own territory should not interest anyone.
Meanwhile, Russia has accused Ukraine of violating Minsk II and has criticized the West for not encouraging Ukrainian adherence to its terms.
Amid the bitterness, Mr Putin has rejected a four-way meeting with Ukraine, France and Germany, saying it is useless in light of Ukraine’s refusal to abide by the 2015 pact.
Moscow has also strongly criticized the US and its NATO allies for providing Ukraine with weapons and conducting joint exercises.
Putin is known to hate what he sees as NATO’s gradual shift eastwards since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1989, and he is determined to block Ukraine from entering his ranks.
What can happen next?
With Mr Putin’s announcement of his ‘special military operation’, the worst-case scenario has now been realized.
The Kremlin had previously routinely denied any plans to invade, claims few believed – with good reason.
Even after the Russian president’s latest announcement, a Russian envoy to the UN denied that Moscow had any grievances with the Ukrainian people, whom he said would not be targeted, only those in power.
That has turned out to be completely wrong.
Western leaders, united in condemnation, have turned Russia into a pariah state on the global stage, with sanctions promising to fuel the Russian economy, which could eventually put pressure on Putin again at home, despite his efforts to silence critical media and emerging protest movements.
Meanwhile, Biden has assured the international community that Russia will be held accountable for his actions.
“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 manner,” he said.
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