Five questions to understand the origin of tensions with Russia.

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The standoff between Ukraine and Russia has dominated the news in recent weeks. While the United States and Europe warn Vladimir Putin against any attempt to invade his neighbor, diplomats are scrambling to prevent the situation from degenerating.

train of russia
a train going through snowy tracks of Russia

Russian troop movements on the Ukrainian border for two months have heightened tensions between Westerners and Vladimir Putin.

The two camps accuse each other of wanting to trigger an armed conflict and of seeking to dominate the region militarily.

While the United States and Europe unite behind the Ukrainian government and promise to retaliate in the event of an invasion attempt, Russia maintains the pressure but lets the mystery hang over the reasons for its mobilization.

When did Russia’s and Ukraine’s relationship deteriorate?

In October, US intelligence officials became concerned about Russian troop movements on the Ukrainian border. These have been documented, and films of Russian trains and trucks carrying tanks and missiles are spreading on social media..

The heads of American and French diplomacy, Antony Blinken and Jean-Yves Le Drian, denounce Russian activity, inviting Western officials to put pressure on Moscow.

Despite appeals for calm from representatives of the European Union and the announcement of possible reprisals, Russia is not disarming.

Vladimir Putin’s forces would today reach more than 100,000 men.

Why is Russia threatening Ukraine?

Before 1992, Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union. After it declares independence, the country retains close ties with its powerful neighbor.

A month later, Russia retaliated by annexing Crimea.

From then on, Ukraine embarked on a completely different political path and turned its back on Vladimir Putin to get closer to the European Union and the United States.

But the Russian president makes no secret of his desire to seize the Donbas region to create a corridor intended to protect Crimea and threaten Odesa, thus cutting off Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea.

In July 2020, Ukrainian military intelligence counterattacked and organized an operation to kidnap 33 Russian mercenaries who had fought in eastern Ukraine, alongside the separatists. But Belarus frustrates the mission.

Last September, violent fighting between the separatists and the Ukrainian army offered Vladimir Putin a pretext to mobilize his troops, to “protect” the pro-Russian fighters.

Why is the United States so involved?

The United States has a large Ukrainian community, which does not hesitate to make itself heard with each Russian movement threatening its mother country.

The main actor in the fall of the pro-Russian president, the American government largely financed the opponents of power before 2014, through USAID (Agency for International Development,responsible for economic development and humanitarian assistance in the world ) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED, an organization dedicated to the defense of democracy, or, according to Moscow, to the installation of regimes favorable to the United States).

Under Secretary of State in the Biden administration and former State Department spokeswoman under Barack Obama, Victoria Nuland said in December 2013 that the United States had spent “billions of dollars promoting democracy” in Ukraine since 1991.

Since the change of power Washington has multiplied its links with Ukraine. Joe Biden’s own son conducted financial operations there.

From now on, the United States wants to use the Ukrainian territory to afford a strategic location and “surveillance Russia”. Washington, therefore, pushes the idea of the country joining NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), which Moscow judges as a provocation.

Why is the European Union involved in Russian conflict?

Ukraine wishes to integrate the European Union and thus move further away from Russian influence. A free trade agreement was signed in 2014 with the EU, but its main economic partner remains Moscow.

Nevertheless, the links between the country and the European community are strengthening, as well as the partnerships.

The number of European countries being members of NATO (France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, etc.) and as such, partners of the United States. The rise of tensions between the two great powers has repercussions on Europe.

NATO decided after World War II as a defense alliance against possible attacks from the Soviet Union. Its mission has since evolved to become the protection of “the freedom and security of its members”, but distrust remains concerning Russia.

Europe is however in an uncomfortable situation since it receives almost 40% of its gas imports from Russia. Military tensions could therefore have a significant impact on the energy supply.

Germany also seems reluctant to act against Russia. If Chancellor Olaf Scholz indicated that Russia would suffer “high costs” in the event of military intervention, he does not wish to say more.

What solutions ease tensions between Russia and Ukraine?

While Western diplomats are hard at work trying to find a way out of the conflict, only one solution could end it, namely the status quo.

The United States should respond to the Russian request not to include Ukraine in NATO, and Moscow would thus relax its military pressure on the border.

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