Russia and Ukraine’s History and the Crisis at Their Border

By: Colleen Bailey

Putin has assembled enough military personnel and equipment to undertake the largest military operation on land in Europe since 1945, according to US officials. Over 130,000 Russian troops, military hospitals, communication units, tanks, and air power are currently stationed along the Ukrainian-Russian border, Belarus, and the Crimean Peninsula. Putin’s spokesperson stated on February 1st, “Russia is not going to attack anyone”, but added that Russia remains “deeply concerned about provocative actions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the line of contact.” 

Nonetheless, the Biden Administration is readying for an attack by deploying 2,000 troops from Fort Bragg, North Carolina as well as transferring 1,000 soldiers currently stationed in Germany to Romania. Across the Atlantic, Western Europe cannot settle on a unified response. Germany prefers to remain uninvolved, Britain favors supporting Ukraine by providing extensive military assistance, while France is attempting to have separate peace talks with Russia. These opposing operations are weakening each respective nations efforts and have not deescalated the tension in Eastern Europe to any degree. 

Ukraine and Russia share a long history beginning in the 9th century when the present day Ukrainian capital, Kiev, served as the political and economic center of the ancient state, Rus. In modern times, Russia and Ukraine were united within the Soviet Union. During this period, Russian and Ukrainian cultures blurred and evolved together. Upon the Soviet Union’s dissolution, Russia and Ukraine divided into independent nations. In the last decade, Ukraine has developed close alliances with Western nations to the displeasure of Russia. This development motivated Putin to demand that Ukraine not be admitted into NATO as part of recent peace talks. Putin has also been quoted in recent years saying Russians and Ukrainians are so closely historically and culturally aligned that they are essentially one people. This rationale led to Russia annexing the previous Ukrainian territory of the Crimea Peninsula in 2014. Relations between Ukraine and Russia have continued to sour since 2014—building up to the current crisis at their common border. 

If Putin decides to invade Ukraine, US officials have estimated that up to 50,000 civilians could die. But many international affairs experts doubt Putin is planning on war. Rather, he is deliberately raising tensions throughout Europe and creating a divide between NATO members. Through these divisions Putin can advance Russian trade deals and treaties. How Putin proceeds from here could lead to an international war, resource shortages, and political disputes. 

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