russia news ukraine: 5 things to know about why Russia might invade Ukraine – and why the US is involved

US officials ordered most staff at the US Embassy in Kyiv to evacuate on February 12, as they warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could happen any day. President Joe Biden has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin of the “swift and severe” costs of such an invasion.

Russia has mustered around 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine in recent months. The United States responded by sending several thousand troops to two of Ukraine’s neighboring countries: Poland and Romania.

In mid-January, Russia began moving troops into Belarus, a country bordering Russia and Ukraine, in preparation for joint military exercises in February.

Putin made various security requests to the United States before withdrawing his military forces. Putin’s list includes a ban on Ukraine joining NATO and an agreement that NATO will withdraw troops and weapons from much of Eastern Europe.

There is precedent for taking the threat seriously: Putin already annexed the Crimea part of Ukraine in 2014.

Ukraine’s multi-layered history provides a window into the complex nation it is today – and why it is continually under threat. As an expert on Eastern Europe, I highlight five key points to keep in mind.

What should we know about Ukrainian relations with Russia?

Ukraine gained independence 30 years ago after the fall of the Soviet Union. He has since struggled to fight corruption and bridge deep internal divisions.

The Western region of Ukraine generally supported integration with Western Europe. The eastern part of the country, meanwhile, has fostered closer ties with Russia.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine came to a head in February 2014, when violent protesters toppled pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in what is now known as the Dignity Revolution.

Around the same time, Russia forcibly annexed Crimea. Ukraine was in a vulnerable position for self-defense, with a temporary government and an unprepared army.

Putin immediately set about striking in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. The armed conflict between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists has killed more than 14,000 people.

Contrary to its response to Crimea, Russia continues to officially deny its involvement in the Donbass conflict.

What do Ukrainians want?

Russia’s military aggression in the Donbass and the annexation of Crimea have galvanized public support for Western tendencies in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government has declared that it will seek membership of the European Union in 2024, and also has ambitions to join NATO.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who came to power in 2019, campaigned on a platform of fighting corruption, economic renewal and peace in the Donbass region.

In September 2021, 81% of Ukrainians said they had a negative attitude towards Putin, according to Ukrainian news site RBC-Ukraine. Only 15% of Ukrainians surveyed said they have a positive attitude towards the Russian leader.

Why is Putin threatening to invade Ukraine?

Putin’s decision to engage in a military build-up along Ukraine is tied to a sense of impunity. Putin also has experience dealing with Western politicians who champion Russian interests and engage with Russian businesses once they leave office.

Western countries imposed mostly symbolic sanctions on Russia for interfering in the 2020 US presidential elections and a huge cyberattack on around 18,000 people who work for US companies and the US government, among other transgressions.

Without repercussions, Putin backed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown on mass protests in the capital, Minsk.

In several instances, Putin saw that some prominent Western politicians were aligning themselves with Russia. These alliances may prevent Western countries from forging a united front against Putin.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, for example, advocated strategic cooperation between Europe and Russia during his tenure. He then joined Russian oil company Rosneft as chairman in 2017.

Other senior European politicians promoting a soft stance toward Russia during their tenure include former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon and former Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl. Both joined the boards of Russian state-owned companies after leaving office.

What is Putin’s endgame?

Putin sees Ukraine as part of Russia’s “sphere of influence” – a territory rather than an independent state. This sense of belonging prompted the Kremlin to try to prevent Ukraine from joining the EU and NATO.

In January 2021, Russia saw one of its biggest anti-government protests in years. Tens of thousands of Russians demonstrated in support of political opposition leader Alexei Navalny after his detention in Russia. Navalny had recently returned from Germany, where he had been treated for poisoning by the Russian government.

Putin is also using Ukraine as leverage for Western powers to lift their sanctions. Currently, the United States has various political and financial sanctions in place against Russia, as well as potential Russian allies and trading partners.

A Russian attack on Ukraine could spark more diplomatic conversations that could lead to concessions on those sanctions.

The costs to Russia of an attack on Ukraine would far outweigh the benefits.

Although a full-scale invasion of Ukraine is unlikely, Putin could resume fighting between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Why would the United States want to get involved in this conflict?

With its annexation of Crimea and support for the Donbass conflict, Russia violated the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances for Ukraine, a 1994 agreement between the US, UK and Russia that aims to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty in exchange for its commitment to give up its nuclear arsenal.

Putin’s threats against Ukraine come as he moves Russian forces into Belarus, which also raises questions about the Kremlin’s plans to invade other neighboring countries.

Military support for Ukraine and political and economic sanctions are ways the United States can impress on Moscow that its encroachment on an independent country will have consequences. Otherwise, the risk is that the Kremlin will take further military and political actions that would further threaten European security and stability.

This article is syndicated by PTI from The Conversation

Christi C. Elwood