In 2014, the Ukrainian region known as the Donbas was invaded by Russian troops and their allies, mostly ethnically Russian Ukrainians living in the far eastern region of the country, closest to the Russian border. After months of intense fighting, the war quietly crept away from the headlines in Europe and around the world as the death toll mounted and the years passed. Now the area is on the brink of war again.
The Euromaiden Revolution in Ukraine was a point of hope for many both within Ukraine and internationally. As the people rose up against the corrupt, pro-Russia government and forced then-President Viktor Yanukovych into exile in Russia, there was the belief that Ukraine would finally be making the pivot to a pro-Western/pro-NATO government. But this shared hope was not shared among all Ukrainians, a country which has a long history of internal factionalism. As one of the largest countries in Europe by size, the Ukraine encompasses many different ethnic groups and ideologies. In the same country that one can see Polish-style architecture in the historically academic city of Lviv, one can visit mosques and enjoy the best of Tatar culture in Crimea, on the country’s southern shore with the Black Sea. This fractured nature of the country also bleeds into its politics, as many in the western part of the country, including the capital city of Kyiv, favor closer ties to the west, while many in the eastern part of the country, who still consider themselves to be Russian rather than Ukrainian, look to Moscow for leadership. With the Euromaiden Revolution, this competition came to a boiling point and it was not soon after the highpoint of the revolution that the Russian-led invasion of Eastern Ukraine began. As self-proclaimed republics (namely the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic) declared their independence from Ukraine, Russian troops, some disguised as local partisans, invaded the country as they destroyed border posts between Russia and the Ukraine and began a civil war against the legitimate government in Kyiv. Perhaps the most famous event in this civil war was the Russian occupation and eventual annexation of Crimea, a strategic peninsula on the Black Sea, which is nearly-universally regarded as rightful Ukrainian land. For this annexation, Russia had their membership revoked from the G8 (now the G7) and received numerous sanctions from the US and EU. As the front lines changed, the self-styled People’s Republics faltered, and peace talks in the Belarusian capital of Minsk were met with varying levels of success, the War in the Donbas quickly faded from the headlines, as many people forgot about the lingering civil war on the EU’s doorstep. But now, nearly seven years after the initial beginning of the Russian invasion, tensions are once again heating up. In the calendar year of 2020, 50 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in the conflict. During the first three months of 2021, already 25 servicemen have been killed and Russia is moving large amounts of military equipment to the front lines. Russia, according to the BBC, says that they are simply “defending” the rebels in Eastern Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned against any western intervention in the region. In response, United States President Joe Biden issued a statement of “unwavering support” for Ukrainian sovereignty and held his first call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Mr. Zelenskyy was elected as Ukraine’s President in 2019 and has refused to concede to Russia and has vowed to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty. It seems that now Russia wants to go toe-to-toe with Ukraine, by building up forces, not only in the eastern part of the country currently under Russian control, but also in Crimea which has been fully absorbed into Russia. With new Presidents leading both Ukraine and the United States, this could be simply a way for President Putin to test the strength of the West as its new leaders determine their policy in the area. With many experts considering these moves by Russia being simply an act of brinkmanship, some caution that a large-scale invasion by Russia of a non-NATO nation like Ukraine could still be possible, as Russia aims to maintain control over Eastern Europe as many nations in the region have already become members of NATO. With no sign of peace on the horizon in the Ukraine, it will only be a matter of time until we see the real motives of Mr. Putin.