What is happening on the Russia-Ukraine border… Why is the tension so high

11 mins read
What is happening on the Russia-Ukraine border... Why is the tension so high

Putin seeks to maintain ‘influence’ over Ukraine and Belarus

The US and UK have warned that Russia will ‘pay a heavy price’ if it invades Ukraine.

Tensions between Russia and the West have worsened since the Cold War, with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss saying russia’s invasion of Ukraine would lead to a terrible swamp and loss of life.

Currently, more than 100,000 Russian troops are deployed at various points along the border with Ukraine, while Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials insist they are conducting military exercises only.

But fears of invasion have grown since satellite imagery last year showed Russia was sending more equipment and troops to Ukraine’s borders.

What is happening on the Russia-Ukraine border

Sky News compiled the following analysis;

What’s going on on the Russia-Ukraine border? Why is the tension so high? What does this mean for the West?

Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire for centuries before becoming part of the Soviet Union.

When the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991 after the end of the Cold War, Ukraine became independent.

Ukraine has tried in recent years to distance itself from Russia and instead seek support from the West, although their shared history means the two are still culturally connected.

This was a great loss for Russia, as Ukraine had the largest population of all the former Soviet states that broke away from Moscow.

With Vladimir Putin in power, the Kremlin has sought to regain influence and control over its former territory.

But things began to change in 2004 when Viktor Yanukovich, Russia’s favorite candidate in Ukraine’s presidential election, was ousted for rigging elections during the Orange Revolution protests in Kiev.

Angered by the election of pro-Western opposition candidate Victor Yushchenko, Putin’s approach has become more aggressive.

Russia’s ‘aggression’ resulted in ukraine’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Yanukovich came to power in 2010, five years after Yushchenko, and served four years.

But when the Kremlin-backed president rejected an association agreement with the European Union (EU) to strengthen ties with Moscow, there were huge protests and he was dismissed.

Russia’s response was to annex Crimea.

Moscow has also sent troops to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine (known as Donbass) to support rebels trying to leave the country.

Fighting in Donbas, close to the Russian border, has killed more than 14,000 people since 2014.

France and Germany led the peace deal in 2015 that helped end major conflicts between the two sides, but failed to bring the two sides together politically and small-scale tensions have continued ever since.

In early 2021, growing incidents of violations of the 2015 ceasefire fueled fears of war, but in April Moscow withdrew most of its forces and tensions eased.

Where are the Russian troops stationed now?

There are currently about 100,000 Russian troops stationed at various points along the 1,200-mile border with Ukraine.

U.S. intelligence officials claimed last week that Russia plans to send as many as 175,000 troops to the border in preparation for a potential invasion earlier this year.

Much of the Russian military presence at the border is concentrated in the separatist donetsk and Luhansk (Donbas) regions in the east, where troops have been deployed to support separatist rebels since 2014.

There is also a significant Russian military presence in areas of northern Ukraine, such as Klintsy and Yelnya.

In November 2021, satellite images from Yelnya on the Belarusian border showed an increased military presence, raising fears of war.

Satellite images also revealed Russian military activity in areas northeast of the Ukrainian border.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are still stationed in the annexed Crimea region.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly expressed concern about the Russian presence at the border, with the Kremlin insisting it is me just a military exercise.

What does Russia want?

Vladimir Putin, who came to power in 2000, has sought to maintain Russia’s ‘sphere of influence’ over ukraine and Belarus, its two neighbours and former Soviet states.

The Russian President sees any attack on both countries as a direct attack on Russian sovereignty.

He is also concerned about Western intervention that would result in the establishment of a new democracy on the brink of Russia, which became increasingly autocratic during his rule.

For this reason, Russia has issued a list of demands in recent weeks that will reduce Western influence in the region.

The list includes a guarantee that Ukraine will never become a MEMBER of NATO, that the two sides will end the security alliance, and that the number of NATO troops in Eastern Europe will be reduced.

The United States and its other Western allies called such demands ‘completely unreasonable’.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with officials in Moscow this week, including his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, in an effort to ease tensions.

The West said it would be ready for more flexible discussions in the region about how to conduct military exercises and the location of missiles.

What does Ukraine want?

Ukraine insists that Russia cannot control whether it is moving towards joining NATO or other Western alliances.

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenski has warned of the possibility of a Russian military invasion, stressing that Russia is trying to destabilize the country in order to overthrow him.

Ukraine suffered an energy crisis this winter after Russia imposed heavy sanctions on fuel imports.

What is Britain’s role in the conflict?

Britain has deployed 2,000 anti-tank missile launchers and 30 elite units to help train ukrainian armed forces in the face of a possible new Russian invasion.

According to flight tracking data, an RAF C-17 transport plane has been flying between the UK and Ukraine since Monday.

These weapons and military units are being deployed as part of Operation Orbital, a British training mission established in Ukraine in 2015 following the annexation of Crimea.

British Defence Minister Ben Wallace stressed that the British military presence in Ukraine was only for ‘early stage training’ and ‘self-defence’.

“These are not strategic weapons and they do not pose a threat to Russia. They will use it in self-defense and uk soldiers who provide early-stage training will return to the country after completing this training.”

How could the crisis affect relations with the West?

A full-fledged conflict between Russia and Ukraine could have serious consequences for international relations.

It could also deepen disputes between Russia and the United States, Britain, NATO and other Western countries in the alliance.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss recently called on Russia to reduce tensions and hold constructive talks on Ukraine, warning that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would lead to a ‘terrible swamp and loss of life’.

Speaking during a visit to Australia, Liz Truss said: “The Kremlin has not learned from history. Similar to what happened during the Soviet-Afghan war and the conflict in Chechnya, an invasion would only lead to a terrible swamp and loss of life.”

The British Minister continued: “We are not going to let this happen.

“We need everyone to step up. We will continue to stand with Ukraine with our allies. We will encourage Russia to de-escalate tensions and engage in constructive discussions. What happens in Eastern Europe is important to the world.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg threatened Russia with economic sanctions and ‘political restrictions’ in December.

Describing the risk of an impending invasion as a ‘defining moment for European security’, Stoltenberg said he remains committed to deterrence, defence and unified dialogue.

Where is the U.S. in the crisis?

The U.S. Embassy in Kiev announced on Twitter yesterday that the first shipment of new U.S. military aid had arrived in Ukraine.

“The first shipment of aid that President Joe Biden recently decided to send to Ukraine arrived in Ukraine during the night. The shipment consists of approximately 90.7 tons of weapons, including ammunition sent for defenders of the Ukrainian front line.”

Following calls from Ukraine to Western allies, the United States, Britain and the Baltic states said they were sending weapons to Ukraine, including anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles.

President Biden says he will pay a heavy price if Russia invades Ukraine, while Biden does not plan to respond by sending combat troops in the event of an invasion, according to an AP report.

However, according to the same report, the US President may prefer a lower level of military operation, including supporting the post-invasion Ukrainian resistance.

The AP attributed the US’ direct absence from the Russia-Ukraine war to the ‘lack of US obligations arising from an agreement against Ukraine’.

“It would be a ‘great gamble’ to go to war with Russia, given the risk of Russia spreading to Europe, destabilizing the region and increasing the risk of nuclear conflict to a frightening level,” the report said.

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