A geopolitical battle has been forming in Eastern Europe over the past few months as the conflict between Ukraine and Russia has intensified. For students who may not know how this started, here is some background information to help better understand the sources of this conflict:
When did this begin?
Ukraine, a country that borders Russia, was a significant part of the Soviet Union until the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. Since then, Ukraine has become increasingly a part of Europe in its own right. Currently, there are four North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries that border Ukraine, and in 2008, Ukraine made a promise to join NATO, but no plans were made to make the alliance official. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, a region of Ukraine with a significant Russian population. Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin considers Ukraine and Russia to have one unifying history with one language, culture and people, and as recently as this past summer he has written an extensive essay on the importance of this connection, according to NPR. However, not many Ukrainians share this perspective, with 72% of Ukrainians agreeing that Russia is a hostile state, according to a poll from the Moscow Times. Recently Russia has been sending thousands of troops to its border as both sides prepare for conflict.
Why is this important?:
The US is a member of NATO and has played a vital role in the organization as a founding member. The organization was founded in the aftermath of World War 2, and it was designed to address growing concerns over Soviet control over war-torn Europe. In response, the Soviet Union eventually formed its own version of NATO called the Warsaw Treaty Organization, which included many Eastern European countries as NATO continued to grow. A key aspect of NATO’s primary agreement lies in Article 5, which underlies the concept of collective defense. In Article 5, member nations promise that “Collective defense means that an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.” Article 5 has been used in the past, and one very prominent example was after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when all member states helped the US respond and fight against terrorism. Although Ukraine is not yet a member of NATO, Russia’s intimidating tactics against Ukraine have been seen by many as a warning sign of even more aggression in the future.
How does this affect the US today?:
Any attack or invasion of Ukraine would undoubtedly cause major ripple effects. Ukraine is an agricultural center as one of the world’s top producers of grain and corn. In a time when food inflation is high, adding more strain to the supply chain via sanctions or more severe measures could cause major issues around the world. Additionally, Russia supplies natural gas to around 30% of the EU, according to CNN. This adds a greater level of complexity due to Russia’s influence in the energy sector. Tensions in Ukraine, along with concerns over inflation and COVID-19, have already caused trouble in the stock market, with the US stock market and many others seeing serious declines in the past couple of weeks.