Why did the war between Ukraine and Russia start? The reasons: from 9th century Rus to the Euromaidan revolution of Dignit in 2014, from the annexation of Crimea to the Donbass revolt, from the collapse of the Soviet Union to NATO
After accumulated for months men and vehicles on the borderat dawn on February 24, Vladimir Putin’s Russian army invaded Ukraine, entering from Belarus to the north, Russia to the east and Crimea to the south.
Three days earlier, on February 21, the Russian president had recognized the breakaway republics of Donbass, Donetsk and Lugansk, and had sent the army to the Southeast region, where the war had been going on at low intensity since 2014 and it had already caused about 14,000 deaths from both sides.
Officially, Putin had spoken of a peace mission for protect the Russian-speaking population from the violence of the Ukrainians, three days later, however, it became evident – if ever it were needed – that Moscow was not a peacekeeping mission, but a real war of aggression.
To understand where the war in Ukraine is bornwe have to go back almost nine years.
Between November 2013 and February 2014, there were in Ukraine major pro-European events – known as the Dignit Revolution, or Euromaidan – after suspension of the free trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU that the then pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych did not want to sign. In February, after months of protests, the Ukrainian people voted the impeachment of pro-Russian president Yanukovych, which had not signed the Association Treaty with the EU, establishing a pro-European interim government led by Oleksandr Turcinov and not recognized by Moscow. The fifth Ukrainian president would then be elected in May Petro Poroshenkowho remained in office until 2019 when Volodymyr Zelensky, also close to the West, won the elections.
The clashes of Maidan’s pro-European revolution resulted in around 130 deaths in all ago protesters and police officers, with the peak reached on May 2 in Odessa: that day, the anti-Maidan demonstrators Pro-Russians were attacked by pro-European nationalists, neo-Nazis and the far right. They took refuge in the Odessa House of Trade Unions, which was set on fire: at the stake about 48 people dieda tragedy that Putin hinted at in his speech delivered on February 22, two days before the invasion, during which he said he knew the names of the perpetrators who were never punished, and promised that he would do everything to bring them to justice.
He was referring to them, in particular, when – on the night of the invasion – he spoke of denazifying Ukraine: in 2014 the Right Sector, the Patriots of Ukraine, the Territorial Defense Battalions and the Azov Brigade were always at the forefront wearing German helmets of the Second World War with a lot of swastika and symbols of the SS. They are the worthy heirs of the gangs of 1941 and 1943, they repeated for months in Moscow to build the pretext of invasionreferring to the arrival of Nazi troops who broke through the Soviet lines on June 22, 1941 and rekindled Ukrainian nationalism, which had led several fighting groups to clash with the Red Army in the years of Bolshevik consolidation. Alongside the Germans, the partisan formations of Stepan Bandera were born and his Ukrainian Insurrection Army, then a real SS division was created, the 14 Waffen SS Galicia which hoisted in combat the yellow and blue flag that today is the Ukrainian national flag.
At the Euromaidan riots of 2014, Vladimir Putin responded by annexing Crimea in the south and encouraging revolt in the Donbass, in the southeast: both regions have a Russian-speaking majority. In Crimea, a peninsula donated to Kiev in 1954 by the Ukrainian leader of the USSR Nikita Khrushchev, send 20 thousand Russian soldiers under the pretext of defending the Russian-speaking population, and then declared its annexation. In Donbass he supported the pro-Russian separatistswhich clashed with the Ukrainian army and took control of parts of the territory, declaring the independence of the Lugansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic, the two breakaway regions recognized by the Russian president on February 21, 2022. In 2015, Moscow and Kiev signed a ceasefire in Minsk: the Minsk 2 agreements provided for elections in the separatist regions and the withdrawal of pro-Russian forces, but the protocol was never fully implemented: not only by Russia, but also by Ukraine.
The roots of the conflict, however, do not go back to 2013/14, but have deeper historical roots. The Russian president believes that his country has a historical right over Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union until the collapse of 1991. He also wrote openly in a long article published last year, in which he defines Russia and Ukraine a unique nation because both are descended from Kievan Rusa group of Slavic, Baltic and Finnic tribes that in the 9th century created a monarchical entity that included part of the current Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian territory: the Russian identity, its culture and its people were born then, in Ukrainian territory . The collapse of the Soviet Union also left deep scars on some of the Russian people: Putin himself had called it the greatest geopolitical catastrophe and Ukraine had been the most painful loss. In his speech 48 hours before ordering the invasion, Putin accused the Bolshevik leaders of having torn pieces of territory from the Soviet Union to form Ukraine.
Then there is a geopolitical motivation. Since becoming independent in 1991, Ukraine has progressively grown approached the European Union and NATO, simultaneously moving away from Moscow’s sphere of influence. To enter the EU and NATO, military, political and economic reforms were necessary, to eradicate corruption and make the country more democratic. Also for this reason, last year, Kiev passed a law banning 13 oligarchs from owning media to influence politics, directly hitting Putin’s friend Viktor Medvedchuck, one of the richest men in the world, arrested in May 2021 for high treason and still under house arrest. In addition to its oil tanker business, Medvechuck the leader of the main pro-Russian party of UkrainePlatform of the Opposition, and owner of a television empire through which it spread Moscow propaganda and influenced Ukrainian politics.
Shortly after his arrest, Putin began amassing troops at the border: for the Kremlin leader the law against the oligarchs represented a decisive step in the process of Ukraine’s rapprochement with the West and with NATO. Since 2008 – following the Bucharest summit and before the arrival of the pro-European government not recognized by Putin – Kiev was working to join the Atlantic Alliance, which cannot accept new members already involved in conflicts. Furthermore, to be admitted, Ukraine needed to continue its reform process and to fight the corruption that prevailed in the country: an entry into the Atlantic Alliance was therefore highly unlikely. The possibility of Ukraine joining NATO in a very short time is very remote, the American president Joe Biden had made clear.
During the long diplomatic negotiations that preceded the invasion, Vladimir Putin was asking for written reassurance, which NATO did not want and could not grant because it violated its treaty, in particular article 10. Only 6% of the Russian borders touch NATO countries, but Ukraine – whose name means its own border – shares a 2,200 km long border with Russia. At the basis of Putin’s requests there was therefore a fear of encirclement but, by preventing her from entering NATO, the Kremlin wanted above all maintain its sphere of influence in the area: the Russian president in fact demanded that NATO renounce its activities in Eastern Europe, returning to the situation of 1997. Since then, the Atlantic Alliance has had five phases of eastward expansion, and 14 countries that were part of the Soviet bloc became members. If it accepts Putin’s request, NATO would have to withdraw its troops from Poland and the three Baltic republics, as well as its missiles from Poland and Romania.
Moscow then accused NATO of filling Ukraine with weapons and the United States of stirring up tensions with the pro-Russians in the Donbass. For this reason Putin, speaking after his meeting with Macron on February 7, one of the many diplomatic talks that have tried to avert war, he had also for the first time mentioned his atomic arsenal. Do you understand or not that if Ukraine enters NATO and tries to take back Crimea by military means, European countries will automatically be drawn into a war with Russia? She said. Obviously, the military potentials of Russia and NATO are incomparable, and we know it. We also know that Russia is one of the countries with nuclear weapons, and which for some components exceeds the level of different countries. There will be no winners. You Europeans would be drawn into a war against your will.
On the other side, the United States certainly aims to limit Putin’s influence in Eastern Europe, but I also want to defend the principle that every country has the right to choose its own destiny and its alliances: not only for Ukraine, but for all the countries that were part of the Warsaw Pact and that passed through the 1990s. with NATO. At the beginning of 2021, the American administration thought it could stabilize relations with the Kremlin, offering collaboration on terrorism and a gradual disarmament plan, but instead found itself forced, in spite of itself, to have to manage a confrontation with Moscow that hasn’t been seen since the Cold War.
There is a fundamental reason why the United States and the rest of the democratic world should support Ukraine in its battle against Putin’s Russia, historian Francis Fukuyama wrote in American Purposebefore the invasion. Ukraine is a true liberal democracy, albeit in trouble. The free population, in a way that the Russians are not. They can protest, criticize, mobilize and vote. This is why Putin wants to invade Ukraine: he sees it as an integral part of Russia, but above all it fears democracy which can propose an alternative ideological model for the Russian people.