The purpose of all wars is peace.
These are the words of acclaimed North African philosopher Saint Augustine. Indeed, Augustine’s take on the underlying cause of wars cannot be more accurate.
Although the two terms are opposites and seemingly contradictory, one often stimulates the other. The pursuit of peace often takes the shape of war; ironically, peace is also what is compromised the most during the war.
This pursuit of peace led Vladimir Putin to launch what he calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine. The Russia-Ukraine war is inarguably the greatest socio-economic crisis the world has seen in years and has impacted each of us directly or indirectly since its inception.
The Russia-Ukraine crisis, like most wars, is a result of a sequence of events that had been worrying Moscow over the past few years. As much as Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine caused a frenzy throughout the world, the attack was not very unexpected. Speculations on a possible Russian attack on Ukraine were made as early as last year.
As the special military operation enters its eighth month amid food shortages and a large refugee crisis, let’s look at ten causes that eventually led to the Russia-Ukraine war.
The collapse of the USSR
The earliest seeds of the Russia-Ukraine war were sowed in 1991 when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) disintegrated and gave birth to several independent countries initially part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine, having a history of independence and invasions, sided with independence from Russia.
The two countries remained on good grounds post the dissolution. However, the Russian administration has never completely accepted Ukraine as a sovereign state and has cited multiple times how the two nations are intrinsically related historically and culturally. While this claim is partly true, it also reflects an irredentist mindset of Russia.
East-West polarization in Ukraine
A significant contributor to the present Russo-Ukraine situation is a persistent ideological division among the Ukrainians. Political ideology in Ukraine is largely divided into two sides – the east and the west. The two sides are geographically, linguistically, and politically inclined toward the regions they share their borders with.
While Russian-speaking East-Ukrainians see Russia as a protective shield and fatherly nation, the West-Ukrainians identify more with the West and see Russia as a threat to the country’s sovereignty. This conflict in opinions has made Ukraine more vulnerable to attacks from Russia from the east.
The Donbas region in eastern Ukraine is partially controlled by Russia-backed separatists who want Ukraine to be a part of Russia. The Russian administration not only supported these separatists but also supplied them with ammunition and weapons to stand up against the Ukrainian forces.
Although this region has often been the primary center of anti-Ukraine protests and activities, pro-Russian and anti-Ukraine separatists are unevenly scattered throughout Ukraine, especially in the eastern and southern parts.
Puppet regime in Ukraine
The separatists in Ukraine were not the only ones responsible for civil unrest in the country. The country has even had a pro-Russian puppet in the guise of a leader- Viktor Yanukovych.
Although Yanukovych ran for and lost the president’s post in 2004, he managed to win in 2010. Yanukovych reflected his pro-Russian sentiments both in his actions and his words. But this wasn’t going down quite well with the citizens, most of whom wanted- and still want- Ukraine to be independent of Russian influence.
However, things took a serious turn in 2013, when this increasing unrest turned into the Euromaidan Protests and the Revolution of Dignity.
On November 21, 2013, mass Protests erupted in Independence Square (also known as Maidan Nezalezhnosti) in Kyiv, the capital city. The primary reason for the protests was the decision of Ukraine’s leadership- led by Viktor Yanukovych- to cancel the EU–Ukraine Association Agreement and join hands with Russia.
The decision came amidst indirect economic pressure from Russia, which sought to prevent Ukraine from forming ties with the EU. Thousands of protesters gathered in Kyiv, opposing this sudden decision, the increased government corruption, and power abuse.
What initially started as peaceful protests eventually turned into countrywide civil unrest, with Kyiv as the epicenter. In February 2014, the Euromaidan Protests turned bloody as protesters clashed with the police in a violent outburst that led to the police firing on the protesters. Between 18-22 February, over 100 civilian protesters were killed.
President Yanukovych fled to Russia on the 22nd and was ousted from his post by the parliament, and new presidential elections were scheduled to be held in May.
Annexation of Crimea
The Russo-Ukrainian war didn’t start in 2022, but way back in 2014. Wondering how? Because that’s when Russia invaded Crimea and snatched control over the territory from Ukraine.
Crimea was a part of the USSR and an oblast of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic till 1954 when it was transferred to the Ukrainian SSR. When the USSR dissolved in 1991, Crimea continued to be controlled by Ukraine. And Putin could wait to change that.
Soon after the Revolution of Dignity, Russian forces invaded Crimea and gained control over several parts. Following a controversial Crimean status referendum, Russia annexed Crimea and incorporated it into the Russian Federation on March 18, 2014. The annexation of Crimea consequently led to a further build-up of tensions with Ukraine.
Donetsk and Luhansk
Crimea was not Russia’s only target. The separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Donbas were a long-known threat to Ukraine and its sovereignty. Pro-Russian forces in the two regions declared themselves independent from Ukraine in 2014. And in the very same year, they even clashed with Ukrainian forces.
These two regions provided a strategic upper hand to Russia in terms of logistics. As a result, Ukraine became more vulnerable to Russia’s attack from the East.
What makes a war? While war is often the result of several causes, its seed is planted by conflicts of interest. Soon after its independence from the USSR, Ukraine started inclining itself towards the West and Europe. And if you have read till now, you know that this is the last thing Russia would even dream of.
Add to this the fact that Ukraine’s shift towards the West had only been accelerating for the past few years. Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s rise in power only further ignited the matter. He has repeatedly shown his desire for greater economic ties with the West and to join NATO, putting Putin on red alert.
NATO: the greatest threat to Russia
We finally arrive at the most immediate and obvious cause of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine has actively sought support from the US and Europe in recent years. They also expressed an interest in joining NATO – an international military alliance founded in 1949.
While NATO claims to be a peacekeeper of European nations and the North Atlantic area, Russia sees NATO as an anti-Russia organization whose primary purpose is to destroy Russia. As such, Ukraine’s aspirations to become a NATO member are anything but acceptable to Russia.
Months before the invasion, Russia had clearly demanded that Ukraine be kept away from NATO. Neither Ukraine nor NATO complied, and then came February 24.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has undoubtedly been the greatest military attack in the last several decades. It has also significantly affected the world economy and forced millions of Ukrainians to flee the country.
The causes we discussed sum up the events that eventually led to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and can help you gain a better idea about the war.
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