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In 2014 Russia invaded and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea, and ever since has had a small military presence along the Russian-Ukrainian border. However, in recent months this military presence has been growing, causing a rise in tensions between Russia and the West.

With Ukraine facing a possible invasion, many political commentators are comparing these scenes from those of the Cold War when the possibility of war between the West and Russia seemed perilously high. With the Russian build-up of troops, the West has been supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons which in turn angers the Russians creating a vicious cycle that only needs a single trigger to set a full-blown conflict in motion. However, before considering any possible conflict, it would be wise to look at the long- and short-term reasons for why this situation has arisen and why Ukraine is in the middle.

For most of the twentieth century, Ukraine was part of Soviet Russia before it gained independence in 1991. In both Russia and Ukraine there are groups that believe that Ukraine belongs to Russia due to their shared history and ethnicity. An opinion shared by Putin himself, who believes several former Soviet states should never have gained independence and rightfully belong to Russia.

Other than historical territorial claims, Russia’s aggression in their view is in response to their western counterpart’s. NATO, the Western military alliance, has over the last few decades has been accepting more and more former Soviet states as members. Putin views this as a breach in a promise made in the 1990s and as an example of Western expansionism. During recent negotiations in mid-January in an attempt to de-escalate the impending crisis, one of Putin’s terms was that Ukraine was not to become a member of the Alliance, a term which the US refused.

Putin wants to prevent Ukraine gaining a closer relationship with the West. This fear has been heighted recently for several reasons. In recent months major Western powers have expressed their support for Ukraine. Joint land military exercises between Ukraine and EU countries have occurred due to the EU’s concern over a potential Russian invasion. And a recent poll taken in Ukraine shows that public opinion of Putin that was once divided, is now heavily opposed to his actions.

All this explains why there is tension between Russia and the West, but it doesn’t explain why the crisis has seemed to reach a boiling point in the last few months. Some believe it has to do with the recent evacuation of Afghanistan. The events in Afghanistan showed the world that the West wasn’t working as a group as they had in the past, with various countries expressing different views on the evacuation. This lack of communication between the West may have presented Putin with an opportunity, giving him the confidence that a Western response might not be a strong as in previous incidents.

Putin has taken this opportunity to build up Russia’s military presence at the border, saying repeatedly they are there for a “military exercise”. Since 2014 Ukraine has lived with the threat of invasion and occupation, with the recent crisis increasing their fears. In response, several Western countries having been supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons for their defense. A conflict is possible however there has yet to be an obvious trigger. Until then there is a possibility a compromise can be reached, but time is running out.  

Hi I'm Jemima. I'm studying Ancient History at the university of Bristol.
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