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Explainer on Ukraine-Russia conflict

In a major development, Russian President Vladimir Putin announces a military operation in Ukraine, even as UN chief tells Putin to ‘Stop your troops from attacking Ukraine’.

Putin has also asked Ukraine military to ‘lay down its arms’.

These developments have been reported by AFP News agency.

What’s the issue?

In November 2021, Russia stationed an estimated 130,000 troops near its border with Ukraine. The two countries which were once part of the USSR and also share a 1200-mile border is lately having a strained relationship. While the United States and the western officials are looking at this military troop as an invasion to capture Ukraine, Russian Vladimir Putin calls this troop building a part of military exercise.

In January 2022, USA President Joe Biden announced during a news conference at the White House that Russia will surely try to make a move on Ukraine.  He said, “Russia will be held accountable if it invades – and it depends on what it does … It is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine.”

On February 15, Russia announced plans to “partially withdraw soldiers,” possibly indicating that Russian President Vladimir Putin is eager to deescalate the situation. However, the situation has not improved in the following days. Since then, the US has claimed that Putin has increased his force numbers, and US President Joe Biden told reporters that he is “convinced” that Russia will invade Ukraine in the coming days or weeks. “We fear they will target Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine,” Biden stated.

 The number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russian-annexed Crimea is believed to be 94,300, according to Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, who warned that a “large-scale escalation” is conceivable in January. Russian President Vladimir Putin is particularly outraged by the thought of NATO facilities being built near his borders and claims that Ukraine joining the US-led transatlantic alliance would be a “red line” crossed.  Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, has criticised this whole matter as it was getting reflected the country’s economy.

How did the crisis start?

Image Credits: Financial Express

The conflict of Russia-Ukraine started when in 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula when Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukraine President who was popular in Russia was deposed after huge protests. In response to this, Russia backed a separatist uprising that erupted in Ukraine’s east a few weeks later.

To resolve conflict, France and Germany negotiated the Minsk II peace deal in 2015 to try and prevent large-scale hostilities. The 13-point accord required Ukraine to provide separatist regions autonomy and grant insurgents amnesty in exchange for complete control of its border with Russia in rebel-held territory. However, the deal is complicated because Moscow maintains that Russia was not a participant in the conflict and hence is not obligated by its terms.

Will diplomacy work?

To resolve conflict, France negotiated the Minsk II peace deal in 2015 to try and prevent large-scale hostilities

Russia has also ruled out a four-way meeting with Ukraine, France, and Germany, claiming that it would be futile given Ukraine’s failure to follow the 2015 deal.

While Moscow continues to downplay talk of an invasion of Ukraine, Western officials have warned that one is possible.

US president Joe Biden has said he thinks Mr Putin will “move-in” on Ukraine, while Boris Johnson has warned that “gloomy” intelligence suggested Moscow was planning a lightning raid on Kyiv. In a warlike situation, both the US and UK embassies have been asked to return to their own countries safely, however, this action was described as “overreacting” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Role of NATO in this crisis?

Ukraine has always aspired to be a part of NATO despite knowing that Russia hates the growing influence of NATO as it can overpower the dominance of Russia in the region. In 2008 US President George W. Bush also supported the notion of Ukraine joining NATO, which was never met in reality.

Article 5 of the NATO treaty states that any attack on a NATO country is treated as an attack on the entire alliance, implying that any Russian military engagement with a hypothetical NATO-member Ukraine would theoretically bring Moscow into conflict with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the other 27 NATO members.

Russia has used its troop buildup to entice the West to talk. It wants NATO to never admit Ukraine and to pull troops and weapons out of former communist countries in Eastern Europe who joined during the Cold War. Ukraine has announced its desire to join NATO on numerous occasions, and it is an objective that is written into the country’s constitution.

WHAT DOES RUSSIAN RECOGNITION MEAN?

The conflict of Russia-Ukraine started when in 2014, Russia annexed  Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula

Putin and his top national security officers held a televised meeting in which they claimed that Ukraine was conducting “genocide” against Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. Putin said he would consider separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine who are backed by Russia’s government seeking recognition as separate republics. This won’t be the first time Russia will be doing this activity as it has applied the same strategy when it was in conflict with Georgia. 

The Russian military is also remaining in Belarus, prolonging their “joint drills” past the exercises’ scheduled end date.

Attitudes of the major Western powers on the crisis?

Members of the Ukrainian Navy fire a gun during naval drills in the northwestern part of the Black Sea, Ukraine, in this handout picture released January 29, 2022. The Ukrainian Naval Forces/Handout via REUTERS

The European Union (EU) joined calls for Russia not to annex or recognise breakaway Ukrainian territories, warning punishment if it did.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told the French and German leaders that he is planning to sign a decree soon recognising Ukraine’s two separatist regions as independent states.

Meanwhile, EU ministers endorsed proposals that were announced in January 2022 for a 1.2 billion euro loan package for Ukraine, and they also agreed in principle to a long-standing Ukrainian request for a small-scale mission of military instructors to assist with officer training.

Will Ukraine save itself from infringement?

Reuters Journalists witnessed military vehicles, including tanks, on the outskirts of Donetsk

After Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised the two separatist regions, Reuters Journalists witnessed military vehicles, including tanks, on the outskirts of Donetsk, the capital of one of the two breakaway territories. In an address to the nation in the early hours of 22nd February 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Russia of sabotaging peace talks and said he would not make any territorial compromises.

Ukrainian President says, “We are committed to the peaceful and diplomatic path, we will follow it and only it.” “But we are on our own land, we are not afraid of anything and anybody, we owe nothing to no one, and we will give nothing to no one.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres believes Russia has violated the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine by recognising Donetsk and Luhansk as independent entities, a spokesperson said. The situation still remains hostile as thousands of lives remain at stake on both sides of the border.

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