Why is Russia invading Ukraine? Simple explanation of 2022 conflict, Putin’s Nato and Crimea history - and map

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Putin’s opposition to Nato, the annexing of Crimea and a supposed claim to Ukraine’s territory - it’s all behind the conflict

As is often the case with national tensions and geopolitical strife, things can seem to be quite convoluted and complex to the average person looking in.

And that’s no different from the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

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That, coupled with strong rhetoric from politicians and diplomats, headlines shouting for your attention from the newspapers and worrying imagery on the news can all make for a pretty uneasy feeling.

So, we’ve done our best to summarise the conflict - including the reasons behind it - into an easy to understand digest as best we can.

Here is everything you need to know.

Why are there tensions between Russia and Ukraine?

Though things have ramped up dramatically in the last few months, tensions between Ukraine and Russia are long standing.

The current difficulties date back to the 2014 overthrow of the pro-Moscow Ukrainian government.

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Russia saw this move as a sign that Ukraine could more closely align itself with the West in future.

In response, Russian troops took control of Crimea, a peninsula in the south of Ukraine.

Russia then held a referendum in Crimea, in which voters were asked whether the disputed territory should officially become a part of the country of Russia.

Armed soldiers without identifying insignia keep guard outside of a Ukrainian military base in the town of Perevevalne near the Crimean city of Simferopol in March 2014 (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)Armed soldiers without identifying insignia keep guard outside of a Ukrainian military base in the town of Perevevalne near the Crimean city of Simferopol in March 2014 (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Armed soldiers without identifying insignia keep guard outside of a Ukrainian military base in the town of Perevevalne near the Crimean city of Simferopol in March 2014 (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Despite 95% of citizens voting in favour of joining Russia and the Crimean Parliament quickly declaring independence from Ukraine, the referendum is not legally recognised by the international community.

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Ukraine and the world community consider Crimea to still be a Ukrainian territory under law.

The conflict has been ongoing ever since, and the UN estimates at least 14,200 people to have been killed in eastern Ukraine, including over 3,000 civilians.

(Image: NationalWorld/JPIMedia)(Image: NationalWorld/JPIMedia)
(Image: NationalWorld/JPIMedia) | NationalWorld/JPIMedia

Why is Putin invading Ukraine?

Put simply, it appears as if Russian President Vladmir Putin views Ukraine as traditionally part of Russia, and would very much like it back under his country’s control.

On Monday 21 February, Putin decided to recognise the regions in east Ukraine – the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic – as independent states.

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These areas are under the control of pro-Russian separatists backed by the Russian government.

He ordered troops into the two regions to “maintain peace” – crossing the red line set by the West by deploying Russian forces on Ukrainian territory.

Then, in the early hours of 24 February, Putin said Russia would conduct a military operation in eastern Ukraine.

He added that Russia does not have a goal to occupy Ukraine, but said the responsibility for bloodshed lies with the Ukrainian “regime”.

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Putin also warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to “consequences they have never seen”.

Putin also sees Ukraine’s proposed admission to Nato as a no-go.

He has accused the US and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demand to prevent Ukraine from joining Nato and offer Moscow security guarantees.

He said the Russian military operation aims to ensure a “demilitarisation” of Ukraine, adding that all Ukrainian servicemen who lay down arms will be able to safely leave the zone of combat.

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What has Putin said?

Putin appealed to Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms and go home in a nationally televised address ahead of the offensive.

He said on a TV broadcast around 6am Moscow time: “Circumstances require firm and immediate actions from us. Donbas’ People’s Republics asked for help from Russia.

“In this regard, according to the article 51 part 7 of the United Nations charter, with the consent of the Russian Federation Council and in accordance with the ratified agreement on 22 February of this year on friendship and mutual aid with Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, I decided to conduct a special military operation.”

He continued: “Its goal is the protection of people who, during eight years, suffer from abuse and genocide from the Kyiv regime. We urge you to lay down arms immediately and go home.

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Putin described the invasion as a “special military occupation” whilst also stating he wants to “demilitarise”, not occupy Ukraine.

He said that Russia wants to “defend itself from those who took Ukraine hostage,” accusing the US and its allies of crossing Russia’s “red line” by expanding the NATO alliance.

How has the West responded?

Putin’s moves have been met with condemnation around the world, with many countries imposing sanctions on Russia in response.

Sanctions are a diplomatic tool to disadvantage countries in ways without using combat. They are usually financial in design, and can restrict how easy it is for one country to trade with another, or freeze important overseas assets.

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It is hoped that sanctions in place against Russia will discourage it from any further escalation of the conflict, or even convince Putin to draw back his military advances.

That first round of sanctions appears not to have threatened Putin, who has now ordered the invasion, and so tougher measures are likely.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the UK would respond with “unprecedented” sanctions “to punish this appalling decision” by Russia’s leader.

US President Joe Biden has said “the United States and our allies and partners will be imposing severe sanctions on Russia.”

A message from the editor:

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