Ukraine-Russian crisis: a complete Overview

Alessandra Landa, Cecilia Manghi, Claudia Caffo

If you also woke up today and had coffee and a full-scale invasion for breakfast, there are a couple of questions that might have come to your mind. For instance, how did we get from the “paranoia” of the West, according to Putin, concerning its plans about Ukraine, to an actual military attack on the whole country? Or, if you haven’t been following the story in great detail, why is Russia so interested in having control over Ukraine?

Let’s start from the beginning. Ukraine, as fourteen other socialist republics in the East of Europe, most important of all the Russian one, once belonged to the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics. This was a federal State instituted in 1922, following the 1917 revolution guided by Lenin that witnessed the fall of the Russian Empire. When the URSS was dissolved, in 1992, Ukraine gained its independence.

From this moment, the relationship between Kyiv and Moscow has been troubled, unsure, and ambiguous. It has been strongly dependent on the presence in Ukraine of governments closer to the West rather than to Russia and vice versa. In addition to this, as Ukraine constitutes a bridge between Europe and Russia, this is mirrored in the geographical division that concerns the Country. As a matter of fact, the differences in the West and the East parts are not subtle and constitute a major identity problem. People living in the eastern part, and more precisely in the Donbas region and the former Ukrainian Crimea, speak Russian, and in the last years were also granted Russian passports from Moscow. In this area, war is not a new concept but is a reality that has been part of daily life for years.

On the 21st of March of 2014, after a long period of protests and political debates, Moscow sent troops without distinctive signs in Crimea to take control of the local government. The peninsula was then declared independent from Ukraine by the new pro-Russian government and annexed to Russian territory through a Referendum. It is in the same year that we start to see the first conflicts of the Russian separatists with the national army in the aforementioned Donbas region.

Russian war escalation: 14 days of tension

February 10, 2022: Russia, led by Putin and Belarus, under Lukashenko, faithful ally of the former, would have started 10 days of exercises on the border where 30,000 troops, two missile battalions, and fighter planes, were moved.

It is February 15, and the photos of the civilian exercises in Ukraine spread around the socials. Also, the first articles about the possibility of a third world begin are published, foreseeing the first Russian attack between February 15 and March 15, a period in which the ice can favor the advance of mechanized forces.

Three days ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that 'Russia is planning the biggest war in Europe since 1945'. American intelligence reveals that there is evidence of an invasion to encircle Kyiv. Meanwhile, CNN estimates that 120 of the 160 Russian battalion groups are on the Russian border with Ukraine. And if, on the one hand, Russia continues to leak peace of mind about a papable attack, on the other, Putin is pressing with the first accusations against Ukraine that it caused such an escalation.

Two days ago, the attempt at peace sought in the Minsk agreements ended: Putin, with a military 'peacekeeping' mission, entered the Donbas and recognized the independence of the republics of Lugansk and Donetsk, which since 2014 have been occupied by separatists pro-Russian.

Many think that all this is just a strategy to put pressure on the West, as a violation of international law, but that it could not manifest itself in a real war. Indeed, the only apparent stances of the EU and US are promises of severe sanctions against Russia and banks that are financing Russian military operations or dealing with the assets of pro-Putin oligarchs. Among the various sanctions, there is also that of the suspension of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, aimed at direct gas transport between Germany and Russia, and the exclusion of Russia from Western financing and the European market.

Yesterday, NATO transferred 800 American soldiers from Italy to the Baltic countries, members of NATO, plus 20 AH-64 Apache helicopters and at least 8 F35 fighters.

Before dawn on February 24, 2022, in Kyiv and other cities near the front line and along the Ukrainian coast, the bombings began and forced Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, to order martial law, stating that the recent actions of Russia were a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukrainian state. According to Putin, on the other hand, the invasion serves to de-Nazify Ukraine and defend the people who have been victims of abuses and an alleged genocide in Kyiv.

The veracity of the genocide

According to Open Online, the latter would never have happened. The only historical reference to genocide is that of 1932-1933 suffered and not caused by Ukraine. It was called the 'Holodomor', and it was caused by the forced collectivization of the lands, wanted by Stalin, which triggered an inexpressible famine across the Soviet Union. Indeed, the USSR, put pressure on the 'Holodomor' to not be recognized by the United Nations, in the formulation of the 1948 Convention on Genocide.

The Russian economic situation

Russia's geopolitical strength cannot be explained from an economic point of view. Indeed, the Russian economy is not comparable to that of other powers: even if it saw a high rate of growth over the years at the beginning of this century (around 7% per year), the 2008 financial crisis hit the country hard and it was further crushed by the international sanctions following the 2014 annexation (considered illegal by the international community) of Crimea, peninsula in southern Ukraine, which indicated the beginning of an unstable situation in the country; since that year, the growth rate has been around 1%. From that same year, restrictive fiscal and economic policies have been adopted to decrease inflation. Since then, Russia has entered its middle income trap, a period of stagnation in which the country remains at its income level with no prospect of growth. This austerity campaign has deteriorated the lives of citizens, mainly affecting small and medium-sized enterprises within the country.

Despite Putin's attempt to create a Russian "fortress" by isolating himself from the world markets, international influence has struck again in the last month, with the devaluation of the ruble, the fall in the price of oil and its subsequent revaluation, which show how the Moscow’s project is impossible to put into practice.

The Russian economy is also characterized by strong inflationary pressure - and for this reason in December 2021, the Bank of Russia raised interest rates to 8.5% - due to the low production capacity connected to a strong dependence on imports from foreign countries, to a poor economic diversification, to a continuous brain drain and a reduction in the workforce.

How to classify the Russian attack on Ukraine?

Putin's war, according to Biden, is 'a premeditated war that will lead to catastrophic losses'. The one in question could also be a 'preventive war', that is that type of war made to resurrect when economic conditions are not the best or to prevent a 'preemptive strike' by NATO and the USA, which, according to Putin, is programmed in the US strategic planning documents.

Ukraine is a liberal democracy under the influence of the European Union and, for Russia, it embodies an enemy which hinders its gas sales to the EU. Plus, if Ukraine joins NATO, it would certainly represent a threat to the security of Moscow, according to Putin. But in any case, not an imminent threat since before it can be part of NATO, it must fight the corruption that prevails in the country and confront itself with the organization requirements.

In the name of the empire

In the name of an ancient Russian empire, President Putin may, with similar achievement, want to strengthen his fourth term. The former soldier and former Russian KGB official argues that modern Ukraine is a creation of Bolshevik Russia. Putin hopes for the rebirth of the Russian empire, which ended with Tsar Nicholas II, making people believe that it is the only legitimate one. Before the latter and the previous principality of Moscow, however, the former medieval empire 'Kievan Rus' existed since 882, under Vladimir I the Great, founding father of Ukraine. Furthermore, Kyiv was founded before Moscow, and if we are looking for the legitimacy of a state/empire in the past, we should also deal with the fact that the Russian territories belonged, even before that, to the Mongols.

Putin, in short, has completely overturned the historical facts also subject to his very personal interests, like a'yone in history who has had to justify their expansionist aims.

The short term economic reaction

With the attack on Kyiv, today the Moscow stock exchange has dropped to -45%, during the morning and then to -35% in the afternoon. The values ​​of Russian banks are collapsing, as are the values of European banks most exposed to Moscow. Meanwhile, the price of gas, oil and gold rose significantly, as did commodity prices (especially primary resources), while the ruble fell to historic lows against the dollar.

Although supported by NATO, Europe is also economically dependent on Russia, importing about 67% of its natural gas, which since the beginning of 2022 has been reduced by 30-40% at the behest of Russia.

What will be the consequences of such an attack?

Such an attack strongly tests the UN and the European Union and opens the door to a world conflict. The Baltics could be called into question and China could take advantage of the incident to return to the attack on Taiwan, hoping that America cannot split so easily to defend two allies.

Surely, in Europe, a considerable economic crisis will add to the one that the pandemic has left us.

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