War in Ukraine

All the news to keep you up to date on the war between Russia and Ukraine: in-depth reports, exclusive interviews, features and explainers

1.Why did Russia invade Ukraine?

In a TV statement in the early hours of Thursday, February 24, minutes before Russian troops began to invade Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the country's forces would carry out a “special military operation” to “demilitarize” Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin's regime, which had been denying in recent weeks its intention to invade Ukraine and accusing the U.S. of “hysteria” for such a claim, is vehemently against Kiev joining NATO military alliance. For Putin, the expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe since the end of the Soviet Union is a growing threat to Russia's security, which is why he had been seeking in recent years – without success – a formal declaration that Ukraine would never join the alliance.

2.Who is Vladimir Putin?

Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin was born to a working class family on the outskirts of Leningrad – now St. Petersburg – on October 7, 1952. After graduating from St. Petersburg State University with a law degree, Putin entered the KGB, the Soviet Union's secret service, in 1975, where he served for fifteen years as an intelligence agent, until he retired in 1990.

In 1994, he entered public life as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. On August 16, 1999 he was chosen prime minister by then Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Putin saw his popularity soar in the country when he launched a successful military operation against secessionist rebels in Chechnya. In 2000, after Yeltsin's resignation, Putin was elected president of Russia in the first round.

After more than 20 years in power, Putin signed a law in 2021 that allows him to run for two more terms after his current term ends in 2024. This will allow him to remain in power until 2036.

3.Is Ukraine a state?

Both Russia and Ukraine have common roots in the East Slavic state of Kievan Rus, formed in the late 9th century. This is one reason why Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks of Russians and Ukrainians as “one people.”

With the decline of Kievan Rus between the late 11th and 12th century, Russians and Ukrainians advanced separately for centuries, leading to the development of two close but distinct languages and cultures.

In the 17th century, large areas of present-day Ukraine became part of the Russian Empire. In the early 20th century, after a brief period of independence between the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the end of World War I, Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union, with Moscow beginning a program of “Russification” in the 1920s to discourage Ukrainian national identity.

In 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to the creation of 15 independent republics, one of which was Ukraine. The creation of the new state was voted on in a referendum on December 1, 1991 and was approved by 90% of the population.

4.Is there a risk of World War III?

According to specialists, the outbreak of a world war today involving major military powers such as Russia and the USA would essentially imply a nuclear conflict. In practice, therefore, the knowledge of the destructive potential of this type of weaponry would act as a deterrent on the decision for a full-scale global conflict.

With the beginning of the Russian invasion into Ukraine, the decision of Western powers was to escalate economic sanctions against Russia and to provide military equipment so that the Ukrainian forces could resist the Russian invasion.

5.What sanctions have the U.S. and Europe imposed on Russia?

The sanctions announced so far by the U.S. focus on damaging Russia's ability to finance its military efforts. Targets of U.S. sanctions are two Russian state-owned banks and five people described as part of Putin's inner circle. Restrictions have also been imposed on agreements with the U.S. involving Russia's national debt and on business with Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

The European Union announced sanctions against 27 Russian individuals and organizations, including banks. The European bloc is also limiting access to the continent's capital markets and banning trade with the two rebel-held regions in eastern Ukraine.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced sanctions against five Russian banks and three Russian billionaires.

Also as a reflection of the Ukraine crisis, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has suspended certification to open the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

6.When did Putin invade Crimea and Donbas?

Russia's planned invasion of Ukraine began 8 years ago, in February 2014, with the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. A month later, a controversial referendum held in the region indicated that 97% of the local population wanted to separate from Ukraine and to be part of the Russian Federation. The result, never recognized by Ukraine or the U.N., served as a pretext for Moscow to keep the territory under its control.

Also in 2014, Putin began to weaponize rebel groups that were active in the Donbas region on Ukraine's border with Russia. The Donetsk and Luhansk areas have since been dominated by separatist rebels who claim independence from Ukraine, leading in recent years to a series of military clashes, whilst Kiev tries to regain control of the region.

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