Ukraine Invasion

Marco DiPierro, Writer

On the 24th of February, 2022, Russia invaded the nation of Ukraine, after weeks of speculation that an attack would happen. This invasion is considered very important and the resulting outcome could have several effects on geopolitics in the coming decades. However to understand the conflict, an understanding of the background is also needed.


Ukraine was once part of the Russian Empire, gaining independence after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, when the Ukranians seceded and various competing governments were formed, vying for control. The Bolsheviks eventually occupied Ukraine, and formed the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). In 1922, the Ukrainian SSR was integrated into the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (SFSR) to form the Soviet Union.


Nearly 70 years later, in 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union caused conflicts in Eastern Europe, especially against the Russian Federation (Russia), or Russian backed militias, such as in Transnistria, a Russian-backed breakaway region of Moldova, or in Chechnya, an autonomous republic of the Soviet Union that Russia refused to let go, causing two wars. Because of this, many ex-communist and former Soviet republics decided to get closer to the west to be safer, and more independent from Russia. Most of these countries also opted to join NATO, an alliance of western nations formed after WWII to deter the Soviet Union from attacking the rest of Europe. Ukraine on the other hand, which also got its independence after the collapse of the USSR, was still friendly to Russia making a deal with Russia and the West to give up Ukraine’s ex-Soviet nuclear weapons.


Russia and Ukraine began to have disputes in the 90s however, as the ports in Sevastopol, Crimea, which housed the Russian Black Sea fleet, was now located in Ukraine. The Russian State Duma (Russia’s parliament) then declared that the transfer of Crimea from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954 (when both countries were part of the Soviet Union) was not legitimate, and that therefore, Russia owned Crimea. The two countries eventually came to an agreement in 1997 where Ukraine would lease some of the ports to Russia for 20 years, until 2017.


More conflict between Ukraine and Russia occurred in the 2000s, as Ukraine was becoming more and more friendly towards the west and NATO, and Ukraine also supported the country of Georgia when Russia invaded in 2008. Ukraine and Georgia also tried to join NATO in the same year, an act that upset Russia.


In 2014 a crisis erupted in Crimea, which also has a large Russian population. After ethnically Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted during a political revolution known as the Revolution of Dignity, protests began happening in the majority-ethnically Russian Crimea against the new government. Protesters demanded that the Crimean government not recognize the new Ukrainian government, however Crimea had already recognized the new government, and had also said that they were not considering joining Russia, (also a demand made by the protesters). The protests eventually became more extreme, with the protesters even persuading the previously pro-Ukraine Sevastopol City Council to give in to their demands, electing a pro-Russia fake mayor (as Sevastopol doesn’t have an actual “mayor” position).


The unrest continued until Russian soldiers eventually invaded Crimea and took over all important buildings. The Crimean parliament, realizing that they were being invaded, decided to call an emergency session, and surrendered, appointing pro-Russian Sergey Aksyonov as Prime Minister of Crimea. A referendum was held to determine Crimea’s status, however everyone with a Russian passport was allowed to vote, even if they didn’t reside in Crimea. Because of this, many countries doubted the legitimacy of the referendum, which the Ukrainian Supreme Court also deemed unconstitutional. Crimea voted to become an independent country in the referendum, which was officially recognized and then annexed by Russia. The primary motivation for this annexation was to gain easier access to the Black Sea via the ports in Sevastopol, as the 1997 lease was just 3 years away from expiring.


Meanwhile, in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine on the border with Russia, similar protests erupted in the city of Donetsk, in the Donetsk Oblast, also against the new Ukrainian government. Donetsk was also the birthplace of former president Yanukovych. Similar protests also erupted in the Luhansk Oblast, and both eventually culminated in the creation of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, two breakaway states from Ukraine that wanted closer relations with Russia. After their demands of independence were not met, the two countries launched an insurgency against Ukraine, starting the War in Donbas. Russia formally intervened several months into the war sending soldiers to support the breakaway republics. The worst of the War in Donbas was over by the end of 2014 when a ceasefire was signed, however tensions remained high, and fighting escalated in 2016, 2017, and 2021, resulting in more ceasefires having to be signed.


These two incidents in 2014 caused any remaining good will between Ukraine and Russia to disappear (As just in 2013, Ukraine wanted to join an economic alliance alongside Russia and Belarus), and Ukraine began turning more towards the west. Because the tensions in Donbas remained continuously high, Russia was once again afraid that Ukraine would try to join NATO, and feared that the expansion of NATO would threaten their power. This resulted in Russia formally recognizing the sovereignty of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and launching a full scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.