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Why Did Russia Invade Ukraine? — A Brief History and Overview

It has been less than a month since Russia’s plan to invade Ukraine became apparent to the general public. The situation has been a central point of discussion in the news and media, and it has sent shockwaves across the globe. Well over 350,000 Ukrainians have been displaced as a result of large-scale evacuations out of the country due to Russia’s invasion, according to the UN refugee agency. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has appropriately described this heinous act as the “most blatant act of aggression in Europe since” World War II. While millions of people have become aware of the conflict, the history of Ukraine and Russia’s relationship — which has ultimately led to this atrocity — remains unclear to many. I seek not to give a report of the events that have most recently plagued the country of Ukraine, but rather to provide a brief history and overview of the events and tensions that have laid the foundation for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

During the Cold War (1947-1991), the country of Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union and took a position as the second most populated and influential country of the fifteen total Soviet Republics. At the end of the war in 1991, Ukraine decided to eliminate its membership to the union, which seriously angered a number of Russian politicians. This frustration is largely due to Russia’s acute intertwinement with Ukraine, which has materialized as a result of their deep-seated political, economic, and cultural ties. Ukraine yielded significant contributions to Russia’s standing as a global superpower, so the past three decades of the country’s stride toward sovereignty since gaining independence has been significantly impeded upon by Russian forces.

Ukrainians in large numbers have expressed an ever growing desire to gain associations with the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, the internal divisions and exterior pressures from Russia have, as formerly noted, made it extraordinarily difficult to achieve those aims. In the early months of 2008, NATO reported its ambitions to incorporate the nations of both Ukraine and Georgia into its cooperative. In that same year, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed stark opposition and hostility to the organization’s proposition. He acted swiftly by launching intervention in Ukraine and exercising increased influence, while NATO’s Western conglomerates were simultaneously distancing themselves from the formerly declared intent to integrate the country into their organization. 


According to Stanford scholars, President Putin refuses to acknowledge Ukraine as being a sovereign state and rather views it as one with Russia. While it is true that eight million ethnic Russians hold residence in what is primarily southern and eastern Ukraine, the country has rightfully earned its status as an independent nation from Russia. Ukraine possesses its own distinct language, culture, and history, and for Putin to refer to Ukraine and Russia as one is deeply offensive to its citizens, whose identity as Ukrainians is especially cherished and prided in. Despite Moscow’s professed obligation to provide “protection” to Ukraine’s ethnically-Russian residents, the logic of which is used to justify Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Russia’s primary interest in Ukraine is rooted in sustaining its position as a global superpower. Putin fails to respect the desire of Ukrainian citizens to establish the country as a sovereign state and have the power to decide their own destiny.

In Putin’s ideal world, the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, would vacate from their course toward becoming a conglomerate of the West and rather unite with the interests of the East. Unfortunately for Putin, the policies he’s put into motion in recent years have only served to push Ukrainians further away from that idea. Most notable of these actions being his invasion of Crimea in 2014, which took over 10,000 lives as a result of Putin’s desire to take back Crimea from Ukraine and incorporate it back into the Russian Empire. That being said, Russia’s desire to take over Ukraine has been an ongoing crisis, since Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union after the Cold War. Only recently has it escalated to a full-on warfare with hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the country and Putin continuing to make threats of nuclear attack to anyone who stands in the way of his plan. 

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