By: Stephen Vellecca

These last few weeks the world has hoped and prayed that the situation in Ukraine would be resolved quickly and would turn out to be nothing but a small, uneventful hiccup in the history of the world.

As of Feb. 24, however, that was not the case.

In a shocking yet unsurprising turn of events, Russia has declared war on the sovereign nation of Ukraine. According to Aljazeera, “Russia has launched a full scale military attack on Ukraine that opened with air and missile attacks on Ukrainian military facilities before troops and tanks rolled across the borders from the north, east and south.”

As the attack commenced, President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s aggressor-in-chief, gave a televised address to the Russian and Ukrainian people and the world. In this address, Putin explained his actions in regards to Ukraine and provided his justification for them, seen through these excerpts provided by Bloomberg:

“Let me start with what I said in my address on Feb. 21. I am referring to what causes us particular concern and anxiety – those fundamental threats against our country that year after year… are offensively… created by irresponsible politicians in the West.

“I am referring to the expansion of NATO to the east, moving its military infrastructure closer to Russian borders…In response to our proposals, we constantly faced either cynical deception and lies, or attempts to pressure and blackmail, while NATO, despite all our protests and concerns, continued to steadily expand. The war machine is moving and, I repeat, it is coming close to our borders.

“As NATO expands to the east, with every passing year, the situation for our country is getting worse and more dangerous. Moreover, in recent days the leadership of NATO has been openly talking about the need to speed up, force the advancement of the alliance’s infrastructure to the borders of Russia. In other words, they are doubling down on their position. We can no longer just watch what is happening. It would be absolutely irresponsible on our part.

“Further expansion of the NATO infrastructure and the beginning of military development in Ukraine’s territories are unacceptable for us. The problem, of course, is not NATO itself – it is only an instrument of US foreign policy. The problem is that in the territories adjacent to us – territories that were historically ours, I emphasize – an “anti-Russia” hostile to us is being created, placed under full external control; [it] is intensively settled by the armed forces of NATO countries and is supplied with the most modern weapons.

“What I think is important to emphasise further is that the leading NATO countries, in order to achieve their own goals, support extreme nationalists and Neo-Nazis in Ukraine, who, in turn, will never forgive the Crimeans and Sevastopol residents for choosing reunification with Russia.

[The invasion’s] goal is to protect people who have been subjected to abuse and genocide by the regime in Kyiv for eight years. And for this we will pursue the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, as well as bringing to justice those who committed numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including citizens of the Russian Federation.

What exactly does this all mean? It’s just one small snippet from an extensive speech, but it provides us with insight into President Putin’s thinking and why he is taking the actions he has. Firstly, he comments on the “expansion of NATO to the east” by “irresponsible politicians in the west.” Why does this bother and frustrate Putin? Because Russia is of the belief that NATO poses a threat to their borders, as many former Soviet satellite states have either joined NATO or are supported by it. Moreover, Putin feels that the presence of NATO and more specifically NATO missiles threatens Russian security. 

Some of Russia’s concerns are legitimate, although it seems that the time for discussion and negotiation is over. However, it appears that Putin’s largest concern with NATO is that it poses a threat to its efforts to reconstruct a Russian Empire; not just through defensive measures, but political and economic ones, as well. A 2018 op-ed by the CEPA research institute explained this concern well, in regards to Ukraine:

“Not surprisingly, the Kremlin’s main fear over Ukraine was the prospect that [Ukraine] would be transformed into a democratic, unified and prosperous state that achieves EU accession and NATO membership. Such a model of development can become increasingly attractive for Russia’s citizens.

“For Kremlin officials an independent, democratic, economically stable and internationally integrated Ukraine symbolizes everything that threatens their hold on power. A successful Ukrainian model of development would expose the Russian model as a failure and inspire dozens of impoverished federal regions to seek greater control over their own destiny by opposing the current hyper-centralized regime in Moscow.

Obviously, this would frustrate any dictator intent on building an empire. 

Furthermore, Putin also argues that NATO has supported “extreme nationalists and Neo-Nazis in Ukraine” and that the Ukrainian government has launched a “genocide” against Russian speakers living in the country. Both of these claims are undisputedly false: the Ukrainian government is not “Nazified” far from it; President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to Vox, is Jewish himself and has often boasted about how his grandfather fought against the Nazis in World War II. 

Additionally, there is no genocide of Russian speakers taking place in Ukraine. In fact, according to the Moscow Times, “Kyiv has adopted a law making Ukrainian mandatory in government offices and the media” but “Russian is still widely spoken in Ukraine and the government has not banned it.”

One final important note on this speech, and one that shows Putin’s true and total disregard for international law and national sovereignty is his statement seeking “demilitarization…of Ukraine.” What does this mean? Essentially this is Putin denying Ukraine’s separate existence and telling the world that his desire in this effort is to bring Ukraine’s status as an independent sovereign state. A notion that should fear and anger us all. 

Ukraine is a sovereign nation and is entitled to remain one as they desire. The people of Ukraine have chosen democracy and freedom over tyranny and oppression, which Putin seeks to reinstate. 

But Ukraine is not going down without a fight. President Volodyrmyr Zelensky, who many have criticized as being too inexperienced and weak to stand up to Putin (he is a former television actor) has proved to be more indomitable than the critics believed. For example, according to the TASS Russian News Agency, Zelensky has chosen to remain in Ukraine despite calls from President Joe Biden and others for him to evacuate to safety. On this, the president said: “I’m staying in the capital, I’m staying with my people…I’m staying in the governmental district, together with those whose duties are necessary for the proper functioning of the central power.”

Zelensky has also ordered a full mobilization of the Ukrainian army. And, according to Breitbart news, has directed the Ukrainian government to give weapons to any citizen “who wants to defend the country.”

So far, according to the Independent, Russia has launched hundreds of missiles at Ukraine, “neutralized Ukraine’s air defenses,” destroyed eleven airfields, seized Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear plant, and left over 130 people dead and over 300 people wounded. 

One lingering question that we all have is, what will the United States do? Are we going to be drafted? Well, probably not. According to CNN, Biden said on Feb. 24 that he has “no intention” of sending troops to fight Russia, adding that “U.S. forces are not and will not be engaged in the conflict…Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine but to defend our NATO allies and reassure those allies in the east.”

This is not the full story, and events are changing daily, make sure to keep yourself updated on these current events as best as you can.