On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Since then, we have seen a trove of misinformation, propaganda, and the question surrounding the conflict, its origin story, and its intended purposes.
The Back Story to Russia-Ukrainian Relations
On December 1st, 1991, 90% of Ukraine voted overwhelmingly for independence from the USSR.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union and the independence of Ukraine, the newly elected President Kravchuk led the country through the process of state-building. He established its armed forces and the necessary structure of an independent state. His government extended citizenship based not on ethnicity or language, but on inclusion.
While Russia was recovering from the post-World War II economy and a weakened military (which led to the fall of the Soviet Union), Ukraine was widely recognized by the international community as a European equal.
On December 5th, 1994, Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the U.K. signed the Budapest Memorandum. The agreement followed Ukraine’s transfer of all nuclear weapons to the Russian Federation. In exchange, all signatories committed to honoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and rights to its territory.
Commonwealth of Independent States
A week following the Ukrainian referendum vote, the leaders of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine agreed to establish the Commonwealth of Independent States. The three Slavic republics were joined by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and by Moldova.
Similar to the European Union, the CIS’s functions were to coordinate foreign relations, defense, policies regarding their economies, immigration policies, etc. However, in 2014, a proxy war broke out in eastern Ukraine after Russia’s illegal annexation of the Ukrainian republic of Crimea. In May of 2018, Ukrainian President Poroshenko officially withdrew Ukraine’s membership from the CIS.
President Putin has claimed that Belarus and Ukraine are part of Russia, and he intends to affirm their cultural and historical bonds.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations in 1949 to provide security against the Soviet Union after World War II.
After the fall of the USSR, NATO expanded eastward, inching closer and closer to Moscow. In 2008, NATO announced it was planning on enrolling Ukraine into its membership.
A Ukrainian NATO membership would mean the West at the border of Russia. Putin views Western expansion and influence as the most menacing threat to his vision of a newly established Soviet Union.
A New Soviet Union
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent during the days of the USSR, sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as a calamity that robbed Russia of its rightful place as a world power.
Over the last two decades, Putin has made strategic steps to reassert Russian dominance through its military, geopolitical influence, and economic might in an effort to position itself as a world power that the West should fear.
His dire to expand Russian influence and geopolitical dominance has his eyes set on Ukraine, the buffer between Moscow and Europe. An annexed Ukraine is essential to a newly established Russian empire.
A War of Misinformation & Propaganda
The conflict we see now is embroiled with misinformation and propaganda. Most wars are riddled with such nuances, and this being the first major European conflict in the age of social media, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s bloated reality.
Across social media, claims that Russia is invading Ukraine to purge the nation of corruption, neo-nazism, and fascism are circulating. Additional claims that because Hollywood elites, mainstream media, and political pundits are defending Ukraine, then there must be some grand conspiracy behind the conflict.
I would urge people to not formulate opinions on a war based on tweets, pictures shared on Facebook, and loosely-circulated text chains. In an environment where conspiracy is constantly circulating, we must be better than that.
Russia is most assuredly positioning its actions on justification and the Biden Administration will use a Eurasia conflict for political gains in the Midterms, but the fact remains that Russia is on a geopolitical supremacy campaign, and the world must confront it.
If we do not confront it, we will witness a Soviet Russia return, an emboldened China invade Tawain, and North-Korean aggression in the region.