Ukraine-Russia Crisis: How it Started and an Update

Medha Sharma

Yale Alumni

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, former Soviet states Ukraine and Russia maintained friendly relations. In 1994, Ukraine agreed to endorse the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and dismantle all the old Soviet nuclear weapons. In return, the US, UK, and Russia have agreed to maintain the territorial integrity of Ukraine, meaning not expand NATO to Ukraine. Controversial Ukrainian elections in 2004 led to pro-democratic reform protests that are now known as the Orange Revolution. In Russia, this Orange revolution and other pro-democracy movements in former Soviet countries were viewed very negatively and as an effort by the West to reduce Russian influence in these countries and thus, threaten its security.

 Through their long shared history and union, many parts of Ukraine have had a large Russian population, especially in the Eastern region bordering Russia. In 2014, Russia invaded and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea under the pretense that the leaders in the region endorsed a pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian separatist movement and had sought Russian assistance.  The Ukraine-Russia conflict has been simmering since and the Russian forces have been building up since then. Russia also demanded a formal agreement that the US and NATO would prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and remove NATO forces from prior Soviet states. 

Since the annexation of Crimea, Russia launched a propaganda and disinformation campaign claiming that ethnic Russians were persecuted in Ukraine, that its leadership was Russiaphobic, and were neo-Nazis (NYT). They also instigated and propped pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukrainian regions of Donbas and such (Washington Post).

In early February 2022, the Russian federation chose to support the 2014 controversial pro-Russian referendum of Donetsk and other provinces in Ukraine that sought political freedom from Ukraine. Using this cover, the Russian Federation sent peacekeeping forces to the Donbas region of Ukraine (The Guardian).

On February 24, 2022, Russia formally invaded Eastern Ukraine. Calling this a special military operation, Russian President Putin claimed that Russia did not intend to occupy Russia but only give the Ukrainians including the ethnic Russians the ability to decide their own future, especially since “for eight years now, been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime,” (CNN).

The invasion by Russia has been widely condemned by most Western countries. Most countries including the US have passed sanctions against Russia and the Russian government officials and the country’s rich corporate heads (U.S. Department of Treasury). Even the EU and Germany, which are very dependent on Russian natural gas, are seeking sanctions and reducing their purchase of it.

Since this article was written in late February 2022, Medha updated us on the Ukraine crisis:

The Russian invasion has caused the destruction of Ukrainian cities, towns, factories, infrastructure, and their economy. There are people stuck in pockets of cities without food and electricity as war ravages around them. This problem is being worsened as the war drags on and Russia is not getting the quick victory it expected.

The United Nations has called this the biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe since the 1990s (United Nations). Millions of people, mainly women and children, have fled the war zones in Ukraine to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. It is hard to estimate how many people, especially civilians, have died.

It has also created a food crisis around the world. Ukraine produces the largest quantity of wheat globally. Far away countries such as Egypt depend on wheat from Ukraine. As prices of wheat and other food go up, other wheat-producing countries have placed an export ban on wheat to protect their own populations. This makes it hard for people all over the world as food is becoming expensive. This is especially hard because we are still recovering from Covid.

In addition, Russia is one of the biggest miners of fertilizers, oil, and natural gasses. Due to sanctions, other countries are not buying as much Russian fertilizers which makes it hard and expensive for farmers to grow crops, making growing food locally hard (NYT). This makes food expensive for everyone and makes farmers poor because of failed crops.

Europe gets most of its gas for heating and other uses from Russia. Again due to sanctions, many European countries are trying to reduce their purchases of gas. This makes everything more expensive for the common man in Europe. This increase in prices is called inflation and it is very high in Europe and negatively affects the economy. After being ravaged by COVID, European governments and people were hoping for growth and higher income.

People are also worried about this becoming a bigger world conflict and the start of a new world power order with the West on one side and Russia & China on the other, (CNBC). Even the historically neutral countries, Norway and Finland are worried and are seeking NATO membership. Hopefully, this is not the start of a new cold war and we all will have a peaceful and united future.

Many nations have come to Ukraine’s aid, providing humanitarian assistance and military assistance to Ukraine. As of May 5, 2022, Ukraine had received $12 billion in financial and military aid from the West. President Biden is urging the Congress to pass #30 billion in additional funds to assist Ukraine.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.