Why did Russia attack and invade Ukraine? What are the reasons and the origin of the conflict?

(CNN Spanish) — After months of tension and escalation between Russia and Ukraine, with more than 150,000 soldiers equipped with armored vehicles deployed on the border and reports of exchanges of fire between Ukrainians and pro-Russian rebels in the Donbas region, Moscow has finally invaded: announced on February 24 the start of special military operations in Ukraine.

Days earlier, Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, had recognized the separatist territories in Ukraine – Donetsk and Luhansk, controlled by pro-Russian rebels since 2014 – and had announced the sending of soldiers to Donbas, further fueling tensions.

Much has happened since that moment: this Tuesday, May 24, exactly three months have passed.

Russia attacked Ukraine from Belarus in the north; from Russian territory, in the northeast and east; and from Crimea, annexed in 2014, in the south. But his offensives in the north, against the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, and in the northeast, against Kharkiv, failed to meet their objectives in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance—aided by weapons sent by the West—and Russian forces began to withdraw in March. . And at sea, the Moskva missile cruiser, flagship of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea, was sunk by a Ukrainian missile.

Family members of dead Russian sailors ask for answers 2:08

Moscow, affected by international sanctions, then turned its attention to Donbas, in the east, and in the south, limiting its military operations. There he had some successes, such as the capture of Kherson and Mariupol, while the fighting with Ukrainian forces continues and the bombing of Ukrainian cities does not stop.

In the midst of all this, mass graves were found in Bucha, in northern Ukraine, as the Russians withdrew, and reports of the killing of civilians have been on the rise as has the bombing. According to the UN, 3,778 civilians have been killed and 4,186 wounded so far, although the true figure could be higher, with some 6.5 million fleeing their homes.

But why did Russia decide to invade Ukraine?

The situation has political, historical and strategic edges. This is a look at each of them.

The tense history between Ukraine and Russia

The history of Ukraine and Russia is intertwined and goes back at least to the Middle Ages, in the context of Kievan Rus, an East Slavic state. But both evolved separately, each having a language and culture, which started from a common root.

Beginning in the 17th century, large portions of Ukraine became part of the growing Russian Empire. While in the 20th century, with the exception of a brief period of independence in 1917, Ukraine was incorporated into the Soviet Union.

Lasting independence finally came in 1991, after the dissolution of the USSR, and from then on, Ukraine looked to Europe and its interest in joining NATO—the US-led military alliance that had clashed during the Cold War. to the Warsaw Pact—precisely to ensure that independence. Especially after Ukraine returned to Russia, after independence, the nuclear weapons that were deployed on its territory during the times of the USSR.

Meanwhile, many in Moscow see Ukraine’s history as still intertwined with Russia.

In July 2021, Putin himself said in a lengthy essay that Russians and Ukrainians were “one people.” He also pointed out that the West had corrupted Ukraine and taken it out of Russia’s orbit through a “forced change of identity.”

Video summary of the war Ukraine – Russia: May 23 15:21

Crimea and Donbas, centers of the crisis

In 2013, a historic political and trade agreement between Ukraine and the European Union strained relations with Russia. Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych, called off the talks — apparently under pressure from Moscow — and violent protests known as Euromaidan erupted in Kyiv for weeks. In 2014, the Ukrainian parliament ended up ousting the president, which has been described as a Revolution in Ukraine and a “coup” by Yanukovych.

The escalation culminated in the most direct antecedent of the current crisis: the annexation of Crimea, a peninsula that is part of the independent Ukraine in 1991, by Russia in 2014 and while the country was dealing with the political crisis. To justify it, Russia claimed that it was defending its interests and those of Russian-speaking citizens in Crimea, a region with strong loyalties to Russia.

Months later, pro-Russian rebels rose up in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, sparking a civil war in the region that continues to this day and pits the Ukrainian government against the self-proclaimed Russian-backed people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. —who considers himself his protector—, which in February recognized his independence, eight years later.

Crimea and Donbas are at the center of the crisis, and in April Russia admitted for the first time since the beginning of the crisis that one of its goals was to control southern Ukraine in order to connect these two territories controlled by Moscow since 2014. The fall of Mariupol, the main city between the two regions, has been an advance in this direction.

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“Since the start of the second phase of the special operation … one of the tasks of the Russian army is to establish full control over Donbas and southern Ukraine. This will provide a land corridor to Crimea,” he said at the time. Major General Rustam Minnekaev, acting commander of Russia’s Central Military District, according to TASS, a Russian state news agency.

The expansion of NATO after the fall of the USSR

Moscow insists that it is not seeking a war – it still calls its invasion a “special military operation” – and that NATO is responsible for the crisis, although the United States and its allies have said that Russia is the author of the crisis. .

“They have blatantly deceived us. Five waves of NATO expansion. And there it is: now they are in Romania and Poland, with weapons systems,” Putin said in December, assuring Russia “does not want military action.” “We ask directly that there be no further moves by NATO to the east. The ball is in their court.”

Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Albania, former members of the Warsaw Pact, joined NATO between the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century. While East Germany also became part of the alliance after reunification in 1990.

On the other hand, the Baltic countries Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, independent from the USSR in 1991, joined NATO in 2004.

Life sentence for Russian soldier for war crimes in Ukraine 3:25

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said in late January that countries have “the right to choose their own security arrangements,” referring to NATO membership in recent years, and that “Russia must refrain from adopt positions based on coercive force, aggressive rhetoric”.

The war, at the moment, seems to be having mixed results for Russia in this field. Ukraine’s entry into NATO seems impossible in the current context, but Finland, which shares a border with Russia, and Sweden have already submitted their applications to join the Alliance, after the Russian invasion accelerated these processes.

What do Russia and NATO accuse each other of?

Putin accuses NATO of violating the Founding Act of Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and Russia, signed in 1997 as a reference framework between both parties after the fall of the USSR, by deploying “offensive weapons systems on the borders of Russia”, specifically in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland.

NATO points out, however, that it has complied with the Founding Act, committing itself not to deploy permanent military forces in the new members without nuclear weapons, two of the pillars of the agreement, and instead accuses Moscow of non-compliance.

The 4,500 soldiers deployed in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland are “rotating and defensive forces”, according to NATO, and arrived in reaction to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Soldiers say goodbye to their loved ones before boarding a train to Dnipro from the main train terminal on March 09, 2022 in Lviv, Ukraine. (Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“By signing the NATO-Russia Founding Act, Moscow undertook not to threaten or use force against NATO Allies or against any other State. It has broken this commitment, with the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea, territory of a State sovereign. Russia also continues to support militants in eastern Ukraine,” the Alliance said in an official statement.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly called on NATO to declare a no-fly zone over the country.

Political changes in Ukraine

After gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has had tense relations with Russia, which began to worsen in the early 2000s.

In 2004, Russian-backed candidate and former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych defeated pro-Western opponent Viktor Yushchenko and won the presidential election amid accusations of fraud.

How involved is Putin in the Russian invasion of Ukraine? 3:43

A wave of demonstrations advanced throughout the country. The so-called “Orange Revolution”, because of the color used by the protesters and Yushchenko’s campaign, shook the country, and the Supreme Court ordered a repeat election, in which Yushchenko won this time.

Yanukovych was finally elected president in 2010 – Yushchenko obtained only 5% of the vote – and in 2013 he abandoned plans to bring Ukraine into the European Union due to pressure from Russia, after which a new wave of protests began.

In February 2014, the Ukrainian parliament voted to remove Yanukovych from the presidency, and acting president Oleksandr Turchynov took over. Shortly after, Russia annexed Crimea and the conflict in Donbas began.

Petro Poroshenko was elected president in 2014 and ruled until 2019, when current president Volodymyr Zelensky took over. Both are considered pro-Western and anti-Moscow.

In this context, a regime change in Ukraine is seen as one of the Kremlin’s possible goals.

With information from Luke McGee, Anna Chernova, Zachary B. Wolf, and Eliza Mackintosh.