After years of turmoil, an extreme occurred on Feb. 24: Russia invaded Ukraine.
The invasion, which has horrified much of the world, was unprovoked and a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. Here’s some of the history. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been rising ever since 1991 when the Soviet Union was terminated and Ukraine became independent. This separation occurred 79 years after the two became founding members of the Soviet Union in 1922.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians eventually voted to become independent due to widespread nationalism. Initially, despite their independence, Ukrainian leaders still aligned themselves with Russian politics and even ended up with the majority of the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal.
In 2014, the Ukrainian president at the time was voted to be removed by parliament because he planned to suspend talks with the European Union. The leaders since that time have been in support of joining the European Union, veering from Russian political ideals.
In 1994, the Budapest Memorandum established that Ukraine would give up 1,900 warheads in exchange for Moscow’s commitment “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine,” the New York Times reported.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has severely violated this agreement. This should come as no surprise; it is not the first time Putin has done so. Ukraine had plans to join NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, since 2008 and even drafted a proposal, but Putin convinced NATO to reject it. Ukraine has been trying to join ever since.
NATO was formed to deter Soviet expansionism, prevent nationalist militarism in Europe by increasing North American presence on the continent and encouraging more European political integration, NATO’s website explains.
Ukraine and Russia’s tumultuous political history came to a tipping point on Feb. 24 when President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion into Ukraine with more than 150,000 troops. The Wall Street Journal reported that as of March 2, 498 of their troops were killed, and 1,597 were wounded. In that initial battle, 2,870 Ukrainian soldiers were killed, and about 3,700 were wounded.
Civilians have been fleeing to surrounding countries, like Poland. As of March 3, over 1 million people have fled the country, NPR reported.
In order to stop the rapid military escalation of the war beyond Ukraine and Russia, the United States and its allies placed sanctions on Russia, including financial ones that impact Russia’s $640 billion in foreign exchange reserves. These sanctions placed by the United States immobilized Russia’s central banks.
According to a statement released by the White House, the United States will put in place “wide restrictions on semiconductors, telecommunication, encryption security, lasers, sensors, navigation, avionics and maritime technologies.”
According to the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. is the largest humanitarian Ukrainian donor. Along with the United States, countries that have placed sanctions include the European Union, Switzerland, France, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and Canada.
For instance, the German cessation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which cost $11 billion to build, along with all other energy and trade ties with Russia, has been noted worldwide, the Washington Post reported.
The European Union has also condemned Russia’s actions. In a Feb. 24 statement by European Commission President Ursula von de Leyen, the invasion was described as “barbaric.”
“We are facing an unprecedented act of aggression by the Russian leadership against a sovereign, independent country,” von Leyen said. “We will weaken Russia’s economic base and its capacity to modernize. And in addition, we will freeze Russian assets in the European Union and stop the access of Russian banks to European financial markets.”
These sanctions have made an impact. After removal from the SWIFT banking system, Russian businesses are entering a state of crisis. The value of the Russian ruble has plummeted to less than a cent, according to NPR, and the Russian Central Bank has doubled its interest rate to 20%.
The main goal of all countries should be de-escalation. If there’s one thing technology has done, it’s immortalize how truly destructive open war can be. The last situation we want is a conflict that ends with a nuclear war. Fighting would be mutually assured destruction — there’s no positive way for this to end. Thousands of lives have been lost and thousands more will be affected for as long as this continues. Ordinary Ukrainian citizens are fighting against armed Russian soldiers for the basic human right of freedom.
President Putin is not likely to back down unless sanctions are severe and the Russian people rise up against the narcissistic thug that he is. It’s going to be a hard fight, especially since Putin has silenced independent and international media, leaving the people with the state’s propaganda.
Theirs is a fight for democracy. Even the famously neutral Switzerland is aligning with Ukraine. As a country built on a fight for freedom, it’s important to understand the political situations in other countries fighting for that same freedom.
If Ukraine falls, the war could spread beyond Russia and Ukraine further threatening global stability. Even now, the sanctions placed on Russia affect more than the two countries fighting. This is a global issue, whether it’s the price of oil or the reach of an economic crisis.
So, what can you do? It’s simple: pay attention. Read the news. Recognize the importance of what is unfolding across the globe. Do not look away. Don’t complain about the inconvenience of temporarily paying more for a tank of gas. We must all do what we can for the people of Ukraine who want what we already have — basic freedom.
Originally published in the March 8 edition of the Octagon.