Why did Russia invade Ukraine?

With the world now reeling from the initial aftershock of Russia’s aggressive campaign in Ukraine, many have begun to wonder: why exactly did this happen?

Vladimir Putin executed his three-pronged assault on his Westward neighbor primarily because he considered Ukraine a constant threat and Russia could not “feel safe, develop and exist” with that alleged tension. It is possible he is referring to his bitter resistance to Ukraine moving towards the European Union, and the powerful Western military alliance Nato.

Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister states: “For us it’s absolutely mandatory to ensure Ukraine never, ever becomes a member of Nato.”

Further, Putin took advantage of the ongoing violence in Eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions by stating that his mission was in fact one of “peacekeeping”. Peacekeeping missions typically comprise of activities and occupation intended to promote lasting peace, minimize civilian casualties and decrease the likelihood of prolonged or renewed warfare. It remains to be seen how Russia’s tanks, missile strikes and Chechen manhunters fit into a peacekeeping role.

In Putin’s initial pre-dawn address, he also claimed he wanted only to protect those being subjected to bullying, and even genocide. Putin did not elaborate on either of these points – there has been no evidence of genocide in Ukraine.

Another justification used in the address was Putin’s plan to demilitarize and “de-Nazify” Ukraine. Ukraine is headed by president Volodymyr Zelenky, who is Jewish.

“How could I be a Nazi?” said Zelensky in response to this accusation, followed by claims that Russia’s invasion was in fact more consistent with World War Two Nazi behaviour.

Putin has long asserted that Ukraine has become overrun with extremists ever since the strongly pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was deposed in 2014. Yanukovych was a divisive figure who was heavily protested for months leading up to his removal.

This upheaval prompted Russia to retaliate, soon after seizing control of Crimea, located in southernmost Ukraine. Pro-Russian separatist groups in Luhansk and Donetsk regions then rebelled against Ukraine, resulting in a long-lasting war that has claimed over 14,000 lives.

Putin’s goal, as far as we understand, is to “free Ukraine from oppression” and “cleanse it of Nazis”. It is likely Moscow plans to overthrow Ukraine’s democratic government and install a puppet government, an extension of Russian rule. President Putin has said he believe Ukraine is in fact merely a puppet of the West.

Finally, Russia demands of Nato that it retracts it’s borders to their pre-1997 state, as he reminds the world that there was a promise in 1990 that Nato would expand “not an inch to the east”.

Putin’s true motives are as of yet unclear. Former US ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor has said in interview that an emboldened Russia is “unlikely to stop” at Ukraine. Nearby countries like Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic will be watching on with anxiety.

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