On February 24th 2022, Russia started bombing Ukrainian cities at 5 am in the morning. The causalties of Ukrainians have been enormous – already thousands of people in 26 days, and the death toll is growing as Russia continues to deliberately bomb residential areas, hospitals and kindergartens.
It also commits multiple war crimes and uses atrocities as a military war tactic – it starves civilians to death by blocking both evacuation and delivery of humanitarian goods into surrounded cities, it uses prohibited weapons such as cluster bombs and vacuum bombs against civilians, it engages in kidnapping and torture as well as mass rapes. Russians forcefully deported thousands of Ukranians from captured cities to unknown locations in the eastern parts of Russia.
This brief explainer is for readers who did not know much about Ukraine and its recent history before the war. It explains the causes of the war and its possible consequences.
Why did the war start?
In fact, the war started in 2014, when Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and occupied a part of its territory in the East, creating two fake “People’s Republics” governed by Moscow. Russia used the same tactics (creation of a fake ‘government’ and then protecting this ‘government’) in Georgia in 2008, Transnistria 1992, copying Soviet Union’s tactics in Finland 1940, and Ukraine 1918-1920.
In 2014 Russia started the war after Ukrainians ousted their president Yanukovych who broke his promise to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union and thus deprived Ukrainians of their European future. Today’s sharp escalation of the war is because Ukraine has been politically and economically moving towards the European Union and becoming more economically successful than Russia. Russian internal problems, such as large-scale corruption, were yet another reason.
What is Russia’s end-game?
Putin wants to reconstruct the Soviet Union by engulfing independent countries that escaped from this “prison of peoples” in 1990-1991 and dominating its neighbors. He de-facto annexed Belarus in 2021 and nearly annexed Kazakhstan in January 2022.
In 2005 Putin called the demise of the USSR “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” and was consistently trying to restore it – by destroying free media and opposition in Russia, sometimes via political assassinations, as well as by trying to penetrate other countries with both soft and hard power. The majority of the Russian population is brainwashed by Russian propaganda and supports Putin’s war on Ukraine.
Putin refused to recognize Ukrainians as a separate nation with its own culture, language and history, and most importantly legal borders. His goal is to completely annihilate the Ukrainian nation, to erase it from the face of Earth. He calls it “the ultimate solution to the Ukrainian question”.
In addition, Putin wants to destroy the current world order. One can most clearly see this from his treatment of the UN resolution and recent International Court of Justice decision: Russia deliberately ignores them.
What is Ukraine’s end-game?
Ukrainians are fighting for their existence as the nation and even more so for their freedom. If Ukraine gives up (which was a forecast of many Western analysts before the war), Ukrainians will be subjected to mass extermination, they will be killed, persecuted, or expelled from our land. Thus Ukrainians have no choice but to fight.
Why should other countries care?
Ukraine is fighting not only for its own survival but also for the values which are important to the world’s existence – freedom and democracy. If Ukraine falls, then every large country will be allowed to attack its smaller neighbors at will. In fact, Russia has stated multiple times that it would not stop at Ukraine. Their next target will be NATO countries, such as Baltic states and Poland. Thus, by providing support to Ukraine, other countries are helping themselves. They are investing into a chance to restore rules-based world order which is now undermined by one maniac dictator.
Could the war have been averted?
Probably yes. Had the developed democracies not turned a blind eye to Russia’s violation of rules and had they not chosen money over values. Harsh sanctions should have been applied to Russia already in the 1990s, when it brutally destroyed Chechnya, a republic that was conquered by Russia in the mid-19th century and similarly to Ukraine never stopped fighting for its independence.
Russia’s impunity for partial occupation of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, destruction of Chechnya and bombing of Syria, participation in the war in Mali and others has led to the today’s awful situation. However, one can look even deeper into the history. The Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan in 1979, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968; after World War II it participated in multiple conflicts in Africa and Asia, including the war in Vietnam, and led the world to the brink of destruction in 1962. Yet, “business as usual” logic prevailed. Why?
First, because of the widespread myth that the USSR defeated Hitler’s regime in 1945. Although without Stalin there would have been no Hitler in the first place. And without the support of the US, UK and other countries the Soviet Union would likely not have won. And although the main burden of war was borne by people of Ukraine, Poland and Belarus, Russia still thinks that it won the war on its own and has the “legitimate right” to the lands it occupied after 1945 – including Baltic states, Poland, Slovakia, Czehia, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. The fact is that without Ukrainian soldiers, Nazism would not have been defeated. Notably, neither Stalin nor his immediate enablers had been subject to Nuremberg trials, despite their earlier cooperation with the Nazi regime.
Second, because Russia corrupted many politicians around the world skillfully using soft power, direct and indirect bribes and other methods. These ties continue enabling disinformation and interfering with international efforts to aid Ukraine and seek a resolution that would make similar disasters unlikely in the future, rather than merely postponing Putin’s next attacks.
What should the world do now?
To finally wake up and stand to the principles upon which the free world is built and the United Nations was founded – the right of nations to self-determination, diplomatic solutions of tensions, respect for international law. If these principles are not enforced, if some countries are allowed to ruthlessly violate them then what is the purpose of all the international institutions?
In the practical terms this means first of all provision of weapons to Ukraine so that it could defend itself – especially anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons to protect civilians from Russian bombs. And second – intensifying sanctions on Russia, including a ban on its energy exports, to deprive it of money to finance the war. Russia today is a blood-thristy military machine, and every penny it receives from trade allows it to produce more bombs and missiles to kill Ukrainians.
Russia is a terrorist state, which it has proved many times, including its recent nuclear threat that it unleashed to the whole world. There can be no business with a terrorist, no appeasement of its demands. Russia should be isolated in all dimensions – business, diplomacy, travel, visas, research and scientific cooperation, sports etc. No one should shake its hand – because the blood of Ukrainian, Syrian, Chechen, Georgian, Moldovan and many other children is on it.
Authors: Iryna Dronova, Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Polina Lishko, Yuri Omelchenko, Ilona Sologoub
The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations