What's Going on in Ukraine? | Quinn Satterlund
Disclaimer: Much of this information is a vast oversimplification.
Over the course of the past few months, Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops along its southern border with Ukraine, leading to conflict within the international community. Many world leaders, including the United States, have condemned these actions, warning of dire consequences if Russia invades Ukraine. The U.S. has gone so far as to put 8,500 troops on alert to Ukraine, with NATO announcing this past week of plans to send more fighter jets and ships to the area as well. This complex situation has been brewing close to a decade and is still developing, with its roots going as far back as WW2.
Before we can even start to think about this conflict, we need to have a basic understanding of the history between these two countries. Ukraine has long been a contested territory; caught between Europe and the Baltic Sea, it struggled to avoid being conquered or annexed by the many European and Asian powers of its time. Here is a list of all the countries, kingdoms, empires and hordes that have at some point in time “ruled” over parts or the whole of what is now Ukraine in order:
Kingdom of Poland, later Poland
Republic of Genoa
Crimean Khanate/Golden Horde
The Zaporozhian Host (also known as the Cossack Hetmanate)
After a 30 year long war between Russia, Poland, the Crimean Khanate, Ottoman Empire and the Zaporhizian Host, known as “The Ruin,” Ukraine gained a new ruler, Russia, or at least partially, as they only owned half. After Crimea was annexed by Russia (and a few more revolts and wars), Ukraine basically became part of Russia. For the first time in a long time, Ukraine didn't have to worry about being conquered, and they prospered because of it.
For the next couple centuries, Ukraine did great, and a strong cultural identity brewed – sure they were Russian in name, but they closely identified with their Ukrainian roots. This period of calmness was struck down by WW1, and after the Russian Revolution, Ukraine too tried their own revolt. Sadly, history repeated itself, and after three years of two separate Ukrainian republics (Ukrainian People’s Republic and West Ukrainian People’s Republic), Poland defeated WUPR, and annexed their lands. The other republic, UPR, was absorbed into the USSR, becoming the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. During Stalin’s five year plan, Ukraine was especially devastated by the “Holodomor,” a great famine caused by the USSR’s collectivization program. Ukraine slowly recovered and after WW2, began an upward trend. It is here where the groundwork for the Russo-Ukrainian conflict began, when Nikita Kruschnev became the new leader of the USSR.
Kruschnev, to emphasize the “friendship” between the Russian nations and Ukraine, transferred control of Crimea to Ukraine, reuniting Crimea with Ukraine for the first time in almost 200 years. This, however, was largely a symbolic gesture, as Ukraine was still very much a Soviet republic. Ukraine remained like this until the fall of the Soviet Union, when it declared independence, and that now leads us to 2014, the start of the Russo-Ukrainian Conflict.
In early March, following the removal of pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukoych and civil unrest, Russian soldiers without badges were instructed to disarm Ukrainian troops and take control of Crimea. As the troops marched into Crimea, a controversial referendum was placed into the hands of voters, asking if they wished to join the Russian Federation. 97% of voters stated that they wished to join Russia, and Crimea was once again annexed into Russia, becoming the self-proclaimed “Republic of Crimea.” Obviously, the annexation was declared invalid by the United Nations, and to this day remains challenged.
As time went on, relations cooled, and despite a few flare ups, has been relatively relaxed (at least in a “South Korea and North Korea'' way, if that makes any sense). That was until March and April 2021, when Russia amassed about 100,000 troops and military equipment near its border with Ukraine, causing an international crisis. After outcry, many of the troops were removed in June of that year, only to return by the border in December, with 127,000 Russian troops seen along the border this January. In the following months, many more worrying reports surfaced that appeared to signify an invasion by Russia, including evacuating Embassy staff, increased medical and blood supplies, and short range ballistic missiles all along the border. President Joe Biden stated that “[Russia] will pay a serious and dear price” should they choose to invade, and that they would “regret it.” As this situation is ongoing, new information will paint a better picture, but for now, we can just hope that this situation will not escalate.