For weeks the fear of a war in Europe has been growing with Russia making moves to invade Ukraine. Here’s a look at how it started and what has happened in the past few days.
The current conflict goes back to 2014 with the annexation of Crimea.
The pro-Moscow Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown that year, prompting fears in the Kremlin that the country was moving into the orbit of the West.
President Vladimir Putin responded by sending in troops to annex Crimea while Russian-backed separatist rebels seized territory in eastern Ukraine in bloody fighting with the Ukrainian military. The territory consists of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – collectively known as the Donbass.
Since then, Ukraine says about 15,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
Attempts at a peace agreement, brokered by France and Germany, to end the fighting was agreed upon in 2015, calling for a ceasefire in the area.
Based on a previous attempted agreement, it became known as Minsk II, or the Minsk Agreements, for where it was signed. However, while the Minsk document helped end full-scale fighting, the situation has remained tense and regular skirmishes have continued.
What has been happening in recent months to escalate tensions?
Earlier this month, Russian troops began mobilising with military drills taking place in Belarus, a neighbouring country of both Russia and Ukraine.
Diplomatic efforts to get Russia to push troops back have so far failed.
On Monday, Putin announced Russia’s decision to recognise the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as independent states. He then moved troops into the region to carry out “peacekeeping duties”, effectively killing the Minsk peace agreements.
Russia’s actions have been condemned by Ukraine and by the West. The move by Russia means it is occupying sovereign Ukrainian territory for a second time following the annexation of Crimea.
Why is Putin targeting Ukraine?
The biggest issue is that Russia does not want Ukraine to be aligned to Europe and does not want the country to join Nato. As reported in The Guardian, the decision by Russia to target Ukraine is three-fold.
Firstly, Putin has indicated that he questions Ukraine’s right to statehood, calling modern Ukraine an artificial construct of the Soviet Union. He also sees Russians and Ukrainians as “one people”.
Second, he thinks that a Western-leaning Ukraine is dangerous for Russia. He has called the possibility of Nato membership for Ukraine a “red line” for the Kremlin. Third, he wants to show that popular revolutions such as the one that took place in Kyiv in 2014 do not succeed in the long run. That helps to prop up his own rule in Russia.
What has the West done in response?
Sanctions. The EU, US, Britain, Australia and Japan have all imposed sanctions on Russia following the troop movement into Ukraine.
Germany made the first big move, taking steps to halt certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia – a massive, lucrative project long sought by Moscow but criticised by the US for increasing European reliance on Russian energy supplies.
Biden announced financial sanctions on banks and Russian officials close to Putin as well as their sons as punishment for what he called “the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine”.
Plans announced by Biden to bolster Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania include sending 800 infantry soldiers and up to eight F-35 fighter jets to locations along NATO’s eastern flank, a US official said, but are a redistribution, not additions.
The European Union announced sanctions taking aim at the 351 Duma legislators who voted in favour of recognising separatist regions in Ukraine, as well as 27 other Russian officials and institutions from the defence and banking world.
The bloc also sought to limit Moscow’s access to EU capital and financial markets. Ireland is expected to impose sanctions today.
How will this affect me?
Economically, the invasion could have a serious impact on Ireland.
As reported in the Irish Examiner today, Irish businesses fear financial sanctions against Russia that will disrupt their supply chains.
Supply chains have already been severely impacted by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Russia/Ukraine crisis could also impact the cost of gas as Russia is a large exporter of both oil and gas to Western Europe.
On Tuesday, the price of European gas jumped 10% and global crude oil spiked.
Could Russia cut off gas to Europe in retaliation