Partners and rivals
In terms of size, Ukraine is the largest country on the European continent, except for the European part of Russia. It became a state after World War I, then a Soviet republic until the fall of the Soviet Union. On August 24, 1991, it officially declared its independence.
Russia has recognized Ukraine’s borders in a number of international agreements, including the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. While Ukraine was economically dependent on Moscow, it began to look westward politically and to be discussed with the European Union and NATO. This all culminated in the Orange Revolution in 2004, with voters electing pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko as the new president in January 2005. He remained in office until 2010.
His pro-Russian successor, Viktor Yanukovych, halted the signing of an association agreement with the EU he had earlier supported and in doing so sparked protests that led to his ousting a few weeks later . In the spring of 2014, Russia then seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula.
The annexation of Crimea was bloodless, unlike the bloody battles and heavy casualties in the east of the country that have been going on since 2014. Russian-backed separatists are fighting for what they called “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Lugansk. regions, and more than 13,000 people have been killed so far, according to the UN. A further 1.4 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced by the conflict.
In February 2015, France and Germany helped broker a ceasefire agreement between Russia and Ukraine, known as the Minsk Agreement (Minsk II). This agreement, however, is currently on hold after more than 20 failed ceasefire attempts.
The Kremlin recognized the independence of Donetsk and Lugansk on February 21, 2022
Controversial NATO expansion
Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has pursued what it calls an “open door policy” towards potential new members.
At its 2008 summit in Budapest, it had raised the prospect of Ukraine’s possible membership of NATO, without, however, giving a precise date. Preventing Ukraine from joining NATO is one of Moscow’s main demands in the current crisis. He continues to view such a move as an existential threat to Russia.
NATO’s eastward expansion
Several months ago, Russia began a massive military buildup on the border by fielding tanks, artillery and attack helicopters.
Russian troops deployed to the Ukrainian border in February 2022
Additionally, Belarus and neighboring Belarus have more than 100,000 combat-ready troops on standby. According to Moscow, the troops only take part in military exercises.
The Russian army is one of the strongest in the world. It far exceeds Ukraine in terms of personnel, equipment and armament.
Military Power Comparison: Ukraine and Russia
Reinforcement of NATO troops in Eastern Europe
In response to Russian troop deployments, NATO reinforced its eastern flank. 350 German Bundeswehr soldiers and around 100 military vehicles have been sent to NATO member Lithuania, bringing the number of German soldiers stationed in the former Soviet republic to nearly 1,000.
Germany has said it will not send offensive military hardware to Ukraine, unlike NATO members Poland, Britain and the United States.
Despite warnings from Western countries – including Germany – that the Kremlin should not recognize breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as sovereign, Putin on February 21 signed a decree recognizing the independence of Lugansk and Dontesk. Later that evening, Moscow ordered its troops to enter the two breakaway regions.
This article has been translated from German. It was originally published on February 16, 2022 and was updated on February 22 when the Kremlin recognized the independence of Donetsk and Lugansk.