After months of simmering tensions and brinkmanship, Russian troops have invaded Ukraine.
In the early morning of February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he would be conducting a “special military operation”.
What followed were reports of explosions in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv as Russian tanks rolled in. Ukraine’s interior ministry said that Kyiv was under attack from ballistic missiles.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged citizens not to panic and to stay at home.
“We know for sure that we don’t need the war,” President Zelenskyy said.
“But if we’ll be attacked… if they try to take our country away from us, our freedom, our lives, the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves.”
Ukrainian Minister of Healthcare Viktor Lyashko said that so far 57 people had died following the attacks by Russian forces.
The United Nations Refugee Agency says more than 100,000 people are fleeing the violence.
“There has been significant displacement inside the country,” said spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh.
“And there have been movements towards and across international borders. But the situation is still chaotic and evolving fast.”
From US President Joe Biden to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, world leaders denounced Putin’s horrifying attack.
“The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they suffer an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces,” President Biden, who announced a new tranch of sanctions against Russia, said.
“The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they suffer an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces,” – US President Biden
“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.”
EU foreign policy representative Josep Borrell called the invasion Europe’s “darkest hours since the end of World War Two”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced sanctions against Russia, including against Russian banks.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced sanctions against Russia.
“I’ll call it what it is – the Russian government launched a brutal invasion, unprovoked, on Ukraine and should be condemned for doing so,” Mr Morrison said.
“We must ensure there is a cost for this violent, unacceptable, and egregious behaviour,” Mr Morrison said.
“There will be further waves of sanctions as we identify those responsible for these egregious acts.”
Why is Russia attacking?
The current events stem back to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, when Ukraine declared itself an independent nation.
While many Ukrainian citizens were looking toward the West for their future, hoping to join the European Union and the American-led alliance of NATO (for both the economic and security benefits), Russia opposed any such aspirations.
Indeed, Putin once called the fall of the Soviet Union, “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”.
Then, in 2014 the then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign a free trade agreement with the EU, in a move that was backed by Russia.
It sparked a revolution and Yanukovych was ousted.
Since then, a war has raged between the Ukraine government and pro-Russia separatist rebels in eastern regions of Ukraine, known as the Donbas region. Nearly 14,000 people have died in the conflict.
The US has provided military aid to Ukraine during the conflict, and Russia sees that as a threat.
In 2019, Ukrainian actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy came to power on a platform of “anti-corruption” and “anti establishment”. As president, Zelenskyy urged the US to let Ukraine join NATO.
Putin has sought assurances from the West that this will never happen. According to experts, Putin is threatened by the prospect of NATO being able to set up bases and military installations in Ukraine.
So, by placing troops on the border, and now invading, Russia is sending a signal to the West.
“For more than 70 years, we have avoided large-scale war in Europe,” US Senator Mark Warner said.
“With his illegal invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has tragically brought decades of general peace to an end.”
Will the US step in?
Not in terms of boots on the ground, because Ukraine is not a member of NATO.
But President Biden’s sanctions are targeted to cripple Russia’s economy and industry.
How will it end?
According to the US, this is the beginning of a full-scale invasion.
“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” President Biden said.
“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 way. The world will hold Russia accountable.”
Feature image: Photo by Eugene on Unsplash
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