For the past few months, tensions have been rising in Eastern Europe. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have always existed, but recently they’ve reached the highest point they have in decades. Putin’s bemoaning of the Soviet fall is nothing new, but this is the first direct, clear-cut step he has taken towards the goal of resurrecting it. He has called the collapse of the USSR the “greatest geopolitical tragedy” of the 20th century and has been using Russia’s economic power to exert control over the former USSR states and Eastern Bloc. The following article is a summary of the events up to this point.
The current crisis started in November of 2021. Satellite imagery showed Russian troops building along the Ukrainian border. Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, reported that Russia had amassed 100,000 soldiers in addition to tanks, artillery and other military hardware. Since that point, much of the conflict so far has been fought with words and public declarations.
Early in December, US President Joe Biden warned Russia of “strong economic and other measures” if Russia begins the invasion. Russia responded a week later by demanding the US not expand NATO, especially in regard to Ukraine. This has been a common whine of Putin’s: NATO is a nasty organization that robs nations of their sovereignty. Putin generally views expansions of NATO in Eastern Europe as acts of aggression.
At the beginning of 2022, Biden talked with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and reassured him that the US would respond “decisively” were Russia to invade Ukraine. Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterates this, saying that “President Biden made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.” The Ukrainian President appreciated this, saying that the “unwavering support” from the US “proves the special nature” of their diplomatic relationship.
Later that month, the US and Russia met in Geneva for diplomatic talks. Little was resolved as Russia again demanded that Ukraine be forbidden from joining NATO in the future. The US said that this was unacceptable.
At the end of January, NATO moved more forces into Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe. Additionally, the US and other Western nations ordered the evacuation of non-essential personnel from the Kyiv embassy. “We have been in consultation with the Ukrainian government about this step and are coordinating with Allied and partner embassies in Kyiv as they determine their posture,” they said, “military action by Russia could come at any time and the United States government will not be in a position to evacuate American citizens in such a contingency, so U.S. citizens currently present in Ukraine should plan accordingly.”
A week later, Biden officially warned that a Russian invasion could happen sometime in February. In response, China decided to side themselves with Russia, claiming that their security concerns should be “taken seriously.” China’s top diplomat said that “All parties should completely abandon the Cold War mentality and form a balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism through negotiation.”
By February 6, Russia had established 70% of the military and supply lines it needs to launch a full-on invasion of Ukraine. The Ukrainian Foreign Minister responded to this development with the following request: “Do not believe the apocalyptic predictions … Ukraine is ready for any development. Today, Ukraine has a strong army, unprecedented international support, and Ukrainians’ faith in their country. This enemy should be afraid of us, not us of them.”
Throughout mid-February, numerous European leaders attempted to gain diplomatic ground with Russia. None succeeded. French President Emmanuel Macron claimed to have found an agreement, but Moscow later denied this. UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met later that week, but the meeting was, as Sergey described, “a conversation between a mute and a deaf person.”
Just last week, Biden and Putin held talks via video conference. Biden claimed that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would cause “widespread human suffering” and that the US along with NATO was committed to diplomacy, but “equally prepared for other scenarios”. Putin complained in the conference that the US and NATO have not met his demands. Putin’s diplomatic advisor Yuri Ushakov said in the call that “the situation has simply been brought to the point of absurdity”.
Just days ago, Putin ordered his troops to enter Ukraine. This comes shortly after the official recognition of Ukraine separatist movements in the country. Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer said this move to recognize the independence of two separatist pro-Moscow areas in eastern Ukraine “is a step away from diplomacy.”
In the next coming days, we will see how the situation plays out. While Putin’s intentions are clear, Western Europe seems bent on diplomatic solutions. It may come down to whether or not Ukraine should be allowed in NATO. We must ask ourselves, is national sovereignty worth risking a total invasion?