Thursday 24 February 2022 at dawn, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a “special military operation” against its neighbor, Ukraine. What is going on? Why this war between Russia and Ukraine? What is the origin of this invasion? Le Figaro explains the stakes of this conflict that began in 2014 with the revolt of separatist groups supported and financed by Moscow in the Donbas, and the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
What is happening in Ukraine?
On Thursday, February 24 at dawn, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a military operation against Ukraine. Russian troops bombed strategic military positions and then rapidly gained ground. The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky called for general mobilization and asked for the support of the international community. The Europeans announce sanctions against Russia. Arms, medical and humanitarian supplies are beginning to flow in from various countries. But Putin seems determined to continue his offensive and to obtain a regime change in Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians began to flee the country. On March 8, the milestone of two million refugees was passed.
What is the origin of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia?
Ukraine, a country of 44 million inhabitants located between Europe and Russia, is a former Soviet republic that became independent in 1991. While much of the country is pro-Western, the eastern part of Ukraine is predominantly Russian-speaking and feels close to Moscow. In the 2000s, Ukraine, which is not in NATO, is thinking of moving closer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, created in 1949 with the aim of curbing the expansion of the Soviet Union. An intolerable prospect for Moscow. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea. The population of the peninsula, mostly Russian-speaking, voted in favor of its attachment to Moscow. Fighting then broke out in the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk, in the Donbas, which proclaimed themselves “people’s republics.” Since then, the Ukrainian army has been fighting these separatists in a war that has left more than 13,000 dead. Clashes there had greatly diminished since the Minsk agreements in 2015, but violence still broke out regularly.
Kyiv and its Western allies have long accused Moscow of supplying troops and weapons to the pro-Russian separatists in Donbas. These accusations were vehemently rejected by the Kremlin. But for Russia, these separatists are Russians who must be protected by Moscow.
Why has the situation worsened in recent months?
In April 2021, Russia massed troops on the border with Ukraine, then claimed to have withdrawn them. The situation degenerated in October 2021, when videos showing the movement of Russian troops, tanks, and other heavy weapons towards the Ukrainian border circulated on social networks. On 14 December, Russia, in turn, accused Ukraine of massing troops in the east of the country. Nato announced in early February that it was placing standby forces, ships, and fighter planes in Eastern Europe. Washington also placed its military on alert. These announcements caused the Kremlin to react, denouncing a “hysteria” in Europe. After refusing a summit with Joe Biden, on the evening of February 21, Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of the pro-Russian separatist territories of eastern Ukraine. The invasion of Ukraine began three days later.
What does Russia want?
Russia does not want Kyiv to join NATO, which it perceives as a threat. Until now, Vladimir Putin has accused the West of stirring up tensions, with military exercises in the Black Sea and the delivery of modern weapons to Kyiv. Negotiations began in December with the West to obtain “legal guarantees” against the extension of Nato to the east were still stalling at the beginning of 2022. Ukraine has long refused to give up its plans to join Nato and any other “guarantees”. It has also demanded to join the European Union. In an interview with ABC broadcast on March 7, the Ukrainian president Zelensky compromised on the status of the separatist territories of easter Ukraine. He also said: “Regarding Nato, I tempered my position on this issue some time ago, when we understood that “Nato was not ready to accept Ukraine. “Th Alliance is afraid of everything that is controversial, and of a confrontation with Russia,” he lamented.
Russia also demands the withdrawal of Nato troops from Romania and Bulgaria or the end of Western military cooperation with Ukraine.
NATO facing a Russian nostalgia for the Soviet Union
Russia wants a guarantee that Ukraine will not join NATO.Alexandra Goujon, Lecturer at the University of Burgundy, attached to the CREDESPO.
In an article published in July, Vladimir Putin accused Western countries of cultivating anti-Russian sentiment in Ukraine. Russians and Ukrainians are “one people,” he wrote, emphasizing the “spiritual, human, civilizational ties” that “have been woven for centuries.” “And we will never allow our historical territories and the people who are close to us and who live there to be used against Russia. In his long indictment on February 21, he explained that Ukraine was created by Lenin, but that Lenin had “disadvantaged” his motherland at the time. He, therefore, intends to correct the work of his Bolshevik predecessor.
Should we fear a third world war?
The military operation launched on February 24 has provoked indignant reactions from many countries. For the time being, the European Union and the United States have imposed economic sanctions against Russia. American President Joe Biden has ruled out the idea of military intervention in Ukraine but will defend NATO allies. Europe, regularly accused of pusillanimity, has decided to release 450 million euros to supply arms to Ukraine. In France, in an address, Emmanuel Macron assured Wednesday, March 4, that these events “are the signal of a change of era.” “War in Europe no longer belongs in our history books, in our school books, democracy is no longer considered an unquestionable regime,” regretted Emmanuel Macron “but challenged before our eyes.” “Our Europe demonstrates a remarkable unity, it must now accept to pay the price of peace, freedom, democracy.