Why is Russia invading Ukraine? Why does Putin want Ukraine, and could this be the start of WW3? Marie Claire answers your questions.
You’ve no doubt been hearing a lot about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this week. It’s headline news globally, but the situation is complicated and ever-changing, to say the least. It can be hard to keep up and to know what’s going on.
Discussion about whether or not we’re heading towards World War 3 is understandably terrifying, but how worried should we really be?
To help you understand the context behind the crisis, we’ve broken down the five most important things you need to be aware of:
- Russia is invading Ukraine because of its relationship with the West
- The West is coming together to impose sanctions on Russia
- Putin wants to recreate the Soviet empire
- This could be the biggest conflict since WW2
- The tensions could keep sending energy bills even higher
Keep scrolling to read more detail.
Why is Russia invading Ukraine? 5 important need-to-knows
1. Tensions are due to Russia’s relationship with the West
The reason behind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is complicated. In a nutshell, Russian President Vladimir Putin sees Ukraine’s relationship with the West as a barrier to his plans to extend Russian influence across Europe. But the start of the current tensions can be traced back to right after WWII.
In 1949, to counteract the threat of Russian expansion in Europe, 12 countries came together to form a military alliance called the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
The original members included the US, Canada, the UK and France among others. NATO was intended to keep global peace and its members agreed to help each other if they faced an armed attack.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a number of countries in Eastern Europe joined NATO, including Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.
Why does Putin want Ukraine?
Ukraine used to be part of the Soviet Union and borders Russia. While it has never become a member of NATO, it is a partner country to the alliance, which means that there is an understanding that Ukraine could join in the future. This means that to Putin, Ukraine is almost a ‘puppet state’ of the West and this could interfere with his plans for European expansion.
However, NATO is a defensive alliance and its official policy says: “the Alliance does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia.”
Has Russia invaded Ukraine before?
In 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, a region of Ukraine, and later that year supported rebels against the Ukrainian government, who seized part of the east of Ukraine. Now Putin has sent his troops in. Why?
In a list of security demands that it sent to the US in December 2021, Russia’s main demands were:
- For Ukraine to never become part of NATO
- That NATO won’t further expand into Eastern Europe
The US rejected those demands.
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by signing decrees recognising the independence of two pro-Russia, rebel regions in eastern Ukraine called Donetsk and Luhansk. He then ordered his military to “maintain peace” there, as well as stationing troops along the Russia-Ukraine border. It is thought that Putin mobilised 190,000 troops.
On 24th February, Putin declared a “special military operation” and a full invasion of Ukraine is now underway.
2. The West is coming together to impose sanctions
The West says that Russia’s decision to recognise the rebel-held regions as independent states and invade Ukraine is illegal. Currently, the main response is to penalise Russia with commercial and financial penalties called sanctions. The three main sanctions announced so far are:
- Germany has halted its approval of Russia’s new gas pipeline called the Nord Stream 2
- The EU has proposed sanctions on 351 Russian MPs that were involved Putin’s “illegal decision”
- The UK is targeting five major Russian banks with penalties
There could be bigger sanctions yet to come.
3. Putin wants to recreate the Soviet empire
“The demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” Putin famously said during his State of the Nation address in 2005.
The Russian leader wants Russia to restore its influence that once extended from Central Europe through Central Asia. In his view, this is about returning to a time of Russian greatness.
4. This could be the biggest conflict since WW2
We spoke to Edward R. Arnold, research Fellow for European Security within the International Security Studies department at RUSI.
According to Edward, it’s “very likely” that this could be the biggest conflict since WW2.
He told us: “Ukraine is the largest country within Europe and Russia has up to 190,000 troops surrounding the country from the North, East and South. On 21 February President Putin recognised the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples Republics — self-proclaimed breakaway territories in Donbas, South eastern Ukraine, critically including territory that the Ukrainian government currently controls. On the same day, Russia’s upper house of Parliament approved President Putin’s request to use the Russian military outside of Europe.”
“It is unlikely that Russia would mass so many troops over the course of a year, in the methodical way it has, only to take territory that it already effectively controlled.”
Just hours after we spoke to Edward, Putin declared a “special military operation” and a full invasion of Ukraine is now underway.
So far, NATO has said that it does not plan to send combat troops to Ukraine, and is offering the country advisers, weapons and field hospitals instead. However, it has also sent 5,000 troops to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Another 4,000 could be sent to Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia.
Meanwhile, the US has sent nearly 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania, with a further 8,500 on battle alert. Similarly, the UK has sent Ukraine 2,000 short-range anti-tank missiles and troops to Poland and Estonia.
5. The tensions could keep sending energy bills even higher
Russia is the world’s second-largest oil exporter — after Saudi Arabia — and the top producer of natural gas globally. Even though the UK only gets 13% of its oil and 5% of its gas from Russia, the wholesale price of gas is determined by the international market and Europe relies heavily on Russia for gas. As demand for gas from other sources increases, so will prices, adding to the already sky high cost of living.
The UK is already paying inflated prices for fuel, due to demand rising as Covid restrictions have been eased. According to the BBC, the RAC has said that petrol prices could increase beyond £1.50 a litre in the coming days.
RUSI’s Edward adds that along with the rising energy prices, the conflict could spill into other areas. “Most notably, we could see an increase in cyber-attacks on governments and businesses within Europe, especially during democratic elections,” he says.
“Long-term, the architecture that underpins European security and stability that has existed since the Second World War will need to be adapted to take into account Russia’s actions,” says Edward. “There are no easy fixes and it will require a high degree of European and Transatlantic unity to achieve. Indeed, Western unity is the most valuable strength that we have and Europe must resist all attempts by the Kremlin to seek to divide and ultimately erode this unity.”