In recent months, the news has been dominated by the massing of 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s border and broad discussions about the potential for war, not just between Ukraine and Russia, but between global powers. The United States, along with several NATO allies, have offered direct support to Ukraine in the form of both funds and military equipment, while simultaneously placing diplomatic pressure on Moscow in an attempt to dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin from following through with an invasion.
Today’s simmering tensions on the Ukraine border have roots that reach back decades, and in some ways, today’s potential for conflict could be seen as a reverberating effect of the fall of the Soviet Union at the close of the Cold War.
Why would Russia invade Ukraine?
Russian President Vladimir Putin does not see Ukraine as an independent nation, but rather as Soviet territory. It gained its independence from the Soviet Union 30 years ago and in the intervening years, the nation has grown increasingly closer to the West, which came to a head in 2014.
After years of complaints about corruption, protesters ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in February of that year in what is now referred to within the nation as the “Revolution of Dignity.” But amid the chaos that followed, the Russian military forcibly annexed Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula with strategic importance. It also initiated fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine that continues to this day, thus far killing over 14,000 people.
Russia sees Ukraine as a necessary buffer zone between the Russian border and NATO forces, and as such, Ukraine’s stated aim of joining the NATO alliance is seen by Putin and others within the Russian government as a direct threat to Russia’s sovereignty.
Related: Russia says it won’t start a war in Ukraine as tensions rise
Why would the U.S. get involved in a conflict between Russia and Ukraine?
The short version of why the U.S. would get involved can be found in the Budapest Memorandum signed by the United States, Russia, and four other nations in 1994. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was left in possession of a large stockpile of former-Soviet nuclear weapons. Ukraine agreed to relinquish this stockpile in exchange for security assurances: namely that the nation’s newfound sovereignty would be respected and assured by all signing parties.
Russia violated this agreement in 2014 and is threatening to once again today, while the United States and U.K. are attempting to fulfill their ends of the agreement by helping to assure Ukraine’s continued sovereignty, effectively keeping the promise Russia has repeatedly broken.
But there are further-reaching reasons why the U.S. and other NATO nations are backing Ukraine, particularly as a result of Russia’s demands to withdraw, which are in no way relegated to Ukraine specifically. Russia wants NATO forces to pull out of much of Western Europe and never allow Ukraine to join their alliance, but for NATO nations, giving Russia veto authority over other nations’ relationships with their alliance is a non-starter.
If NATO were to pull out of Eastern Europe and give Russia its blessing to invade Ukraine, it would delegitimize the alliance in the eyes of many Europeans and open the door for continued Russian aggression in the region, capturing all of its former Soviet states until it has regained all of the territories it lost.
Related: The origin of America’s security obligations to Ukraine
What are the chances of of a major war in Ukraine?
The chances of a large-scale conflict between global powers are never zero, and tensions surrounding Ukraine are at a near-peek, but many experts still contend that large-scale war is an unlikely outcome. A September 2021 study of Ukrainian citizens found a resounding 81% of the nation sees Russian leadership in a negative light—a far cry from the split population Russia has claimed wants a return to Russian rule—and alongside support from external powers, Ukraine has been working overtime to ensure any invasion would be met with long and bloody resistance. In other words, an overt invasion would be incredibly costly for Russia, and that nation—already suffering under international sanctions—may struggle to fund such a conflict for as long as victory might take.
The repercussions from the international community would also be dire, with Russia becoming further isolated economically and culturally from the rest of the world… but that doesn’t mean Russia doesn’t have a plan.
It’s likely that Putin will seek renewed conflict between Russian-backed separatists within Ukraine and their fellow countrymen, which he can use as justification for military intervention or as pressure to force concessions from Western powers without resorting to a full-scale invasion.
So while it’s almost entirely unlikely that World War III would kick off in Ukraine, the situation is extremely delicate, with the fate of its people and the perception of the Western World’s ability to keep Putin’s Russia at bay both on the line in the immediate future.
Joan christopher says
A few months ago, I felt so depressed, I got frustrated with bad credits, but then I contacted HACK VANISH by phone: +1 (7 4 7) 2 9 3 – 8 5 1 4 and email: HACK VANISH (@) GMAIL. COM. I found out about hack vanish services through positive reviews read on some credit blogs, in a blink of an eye this great hacker restored my credit score from 509 to 784 in all 3 major credit bureaus, they got removed evictions and foreclosures, my LexisNexis and Chex system was repaired respectively, a few days later I received an email confirming the approval of my mortgage loan, it was quite surprising because I never thought it was possible. Today, I can confidently say that 2021 was a banner year for my husband and I as we now own a new house and a new SUV courtesy of HACK VANISH, I would definitely recommend him to anyone in need of a genuine Hacker.
This article sucked and i did not appreciate it.
No comment on the fact that Russia is abjectly failing to live up to their sober commitment to protect rather than invade Ukraine?
They ought to be a pariah among nations by now.
Roy Firestone says
“Russia wants NATO forces to pull out of much of Western Europe and never allow….”
Don’t you mean Eastern Europe?
T Scott says
Why Doesn’t President Biden Just admit that the Ukraine isn’t going to become a member of NATO… Putin has a buffer. Russia doesn’t need to pay the bill for another member state with it’s weak economy.
In the US we would be hard pressed if Russia wanted a military position in Cuba.
Looks to me like the Biden administration is inflaming the problem by getting involved.
Bull manure Biden must protect Hunter Biden’s source of income…
Kurt Bergstrom says
Been reading your articles for some time. 1st instance i’ve thought to comment & expand on.
The red army is a kinetically engineered force. A small logistics tail. It is substantially more mechanized than its Great Patriotic War predecessor. How will “Rasputitsa” affect the battles that will occur after the forward units have expended their locally carried supplies? Look for blown bridges, destroyed rail lines, tractor trailer wrecks blocking hiways.
There are other large questions that may be answered if things go south.-
100K+ men, attacking across an area that absorbed 3+ million men, with ease, in the earlier conflict. How will wide open flanks play out?
There will be a large # of Ukrainian Partisans. They’ve had 7 years to build up a large body of combat trained veterans, and they appear motivated, pre-planned and well armed. The red army does not have a successful COIN history, the western Ukraine festered of 7-8 years under Stalin. We’ve got far more resources to report on ‘Lidice’ type overreactions now. Open ended whether there will be a strong reaction from western public opinion?
Thanx, keep up the good work, you’ve one of those ‘dream-jobs’
Thank you, Alex
george E. Hand IV says
Splendid write; all the things I’m too lazy to look up.