With a build up of troops along the border between Russia and Ukraine, many fear a possible war between the two. Why is this so, and how have their respective leaders reacted to Ukraine’s accusations? Leah Langley takes a look.
Tensions have been rising between Russia and Ukraine since mid-March, with Ukraine and the western governments warning that there are masses of Russian troops moving in on Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine conflict zone.
There has been tension between Ukraine and Russia for several years and there have been many developments in their interactions. After the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union in 1991, troops from Russia have engaged in conflicts with the former Soviet Union, making themselves known in several areas. Russia successfully annexed Crimea in 2014 and, shortly after, pro-Russian separatists were able to gain control over a large portion of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In the same year there was initiated a plan, by Russia, to split Ukraine and create an entity that would be known as “Novorossiya,” but the plan was disrupted by Ukrainian armed forces and the conflict zone is now known as Donbas. It is inhabited predominantly by Russian-speaking citizens with the majority holding Russian passports. President Putin has vowed that Russia will defend its citizens abroad if they are seen to be “at risk”. The continuing conflict between the two countries has seen more than 13,000 people killed over the years and it is believed that 26 Ukrainian troops have lost their lives in Donbas this year, a stark number when compared to the 50 that lost their lives in the whole of 2020. There has been loss on the separatists side too in which it is thought that more than 20 of their troops have lost their lives.
In February, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine imposed sanctions against Ukrainian oligarch, and President Vladimir Putin’s close friend, Victor Medvedchuk, which is believed to have heightened tensions even further. There was also a ban on three pro-Russian TV stations from broadcasting their content which added more fuel to the fire. Many believe that the increase in Russian military is a move by Putin to test US President Joe Biden as he has taken a much tougher stance on Russia than did Donald Trump. There are also parliamentary elections in September that are believed to be playing their own part as an act in which the Kremlin is seen to be “defending” its tormented Russians in Ukraine, and could distract from the developing mass movement that is supporting his arch nemesis, Alexei Navalny. Dmitry Pskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, reassured people that the moving of troops was an “internal affair” stating that troops had been on training exercises. He claimed that Ukraine was staging “provocations” in a bid to increase existing tensions. Ukrainian Intelligence responded stating that there was a presence of 16 battalion tactical groups which amounts to more than 14,000 soldiers. The Ukrainian President claimed that the latest insurgence of Russian troops meant that there were now around 40,000 Russian soldiers across the Eastern Border, and approximately 40,000 soldiers in Crimea.
On the 13th of April. 2021, Sergei Shoigu, Russian Defence Minister, stated that NATO was undertaking “threatening” actions and so Russia had responded by deploying three formation of airborne troops and two armies to the Western borders to undertake training exercises. NATO secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the increase in Russian presence was “unjustified and deeply concerning,” stating that it was “the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea.” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba added to the concern claiming that Russia was “openly threatening Ukraine with war and destruction,” but assured the Russian government that they wouldn’t “be able to catch anyone by surprise anymore.” On April 22nd, 2021, it was announced, by Shoigu, that an order had been issued for a number of the units to return back to their bases.
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