The Russia-Ukraine Conflict: What is Going on?

On Feb 21 and 22, Russian forces carried out an invasion, bombings, and missile strikes in Ukraine, leaving the Baldwin Wallace community, and the world as a whole, divided and searching for answers.   

A multitude of Ukrainian military assets have been destroyed, and hundreds of casualties, including both civilians and combatants, have been reported. On Feb. 25, Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelensky said in a video message: “we must survive this night.” 

 The conflict between Ukraine and Russia is a long-standing one. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, multiple member states joined The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a political and military security alliance between 30 member countries, drastically shrinking the Russian sphere of influence. Russia is determined to guarantee that Ukraine does not become one of the scores of Westernized former Soviet Republics. 

Jason Keiber, a professor in Baldwin Wallace’s Department of Politics and Global Citizenship, believes Russia’s motivations are two-pronged. The first is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nationalistic ambition of restoring Russian supremacy in Eastern Europe, and the second is to ensure Russia’s national security.  

 “No one knows, but it seems annexation of some majority Russian speaking territory and commitment for NATO to not admit Ukraine as a member,” Keiber said. “So Putin has nationalistic goals and traditional national security goals. Putin would like to overthrow the current [Ukranian] government and put in a pro-Russian government.” 

 Crimea, a highly strategic region, was previously annexed by Russian forces in 2014. Successively, the Ukrainian government had been fighting with Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, particularly in the hotly contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. Months ago, Russia began amassing well over 100,000 troops and massive quantities of equipment along the Ukrainian border, greatly concerning NATO powers. 

 NATO allies have responded by sending weapons and funding to Ukraine in hopes to deter or resist any potential invasion. In addition, NATO has committed to its own, albeit less significant, troop buildup in Eastern Europe.   

 In early February, the U.S. State Department claimed that the Russians were planning a false flag attack where they would use a graphic video falsely depicting Ukrainians committing anti-Russian atrocities to use as a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine. Putin had also fueled tensions by frequently referencing an unconfirmed genocide in Eastern Ukraine against ethnic Russians. 

Finally, the last domino had fallen. On Feb 21, Putin declared that the Russian Federation would recognize the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk, two rebelling regions in Ukraine. As world leaders monitor the situation, American citizens have again found themselves debating the merits of wading into another world conflict. 

The foreign policy of U.S. military intervention is widely unpopular amongst the majority of Americans concerned with the devastating costs of war. According to an August poll conducted by the Associated Press National Opinion Research Center, 62% of Americans believe that the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting, similarly 63% believe the war in Iraq was not worth fighting. Potential American incursion is correspondingly unpopular, only 13% of Americans think it would be a good idea to send troops to Ukraine, according to a YouGov poll. 

Keiber highlighted direct implications of Russia’s invasion for the BW community and the American people as a whole. 

 “At the very least, energy prices will go up,” Keiber said. “Expect to pay more at the pump. Also, the conflict could have negative political implications for the Biden administration and the Democrats due to those negative economic effects.” 

 Putin may be trying to ensure the neutrality of Ukraine in the future to avoid it becoming a NATO power or even NATO-adjacent as was previously alluded to. He said, “There might be a possibility for Ukraine to accept a posture of neutrality that would entail Ukraine not joining NATO as part of a negotiated settlement.” 

 With the recent military operations executed by the Russian military on all terrains; land, air, and water, and degraded diplomatic ties between Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and Putin, the future of geopolitical relationships are uncertain.