Chronicle of an undeclared war
The roots of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine are deep. It all comes down to Moscow’s unwillingness to accept Ukraine’s independence.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have a history dating back to the Middle Ages. The two countries share common roots extending to Russia’s eastern Slavic state of Kiev. That is why Russian President Vladimir Putin refers to the two countries as “one people”.
But in fact, the paths of the two nations have been divided for centuries, creating two languages and cultures – closely related, yet quite distinct.
17th-20th Century: Short Independence
When Russia developed politically into an empire, Ukraine proved incapable of creating a state of its own. In the 17th century, large areas of what is today Ukraine became part of the Russian Empire. After its dissolution in 1917, the country experienced a brief period of independence before the Soviet Union recaptured it by force.
1990: Russia lets Ukraine go
In December 1991, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus signed an agreement that effectively dissolved the Soviet Union. Moscow was eager to maintain its influence in the region and saw the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a means of doing so. The Kremlin also thought that cheap gas supplies would keep Ukraine in its orbit. But things turned out quite differently. As Russia and Belarus formed a close alliance, Ukraine increasingly turned to the West.
This did not go unnoticed by Russia, although it was not enough to ignite a conflict between the two sides during the 1990s. Moscow seemed uneasy, as the West had no intention of integrating Ukraine into its sphere of influence. Russia itself was economically depressed and militarily linked to its wars in Chechnya.
1997: The “Great Treaty” is signed
Then, in 1997, Russia and Ukraine signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership, also known as the “Great Treaty”. With this agreement, Moscow recognized the official borders of Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula, where an ethnic-Russian majority lives.
2003: Deteriorating relationships
The first major diplomatic crisis between the two sides occurred when Vladimir Putin came to power in Moscow. In the fall of 2003, Russia suddenly began building a dam in the Kerch Strait near the Ukrainian island of Tuzla. Kyiv saw this as an attempt by Russia to review national borders, and the conflict was resolved only after a face-to-face meeting between the two presidents. Construction of the dam was halted, but cracks began to appear on the friendly façade of both sides.
2004: The Orange Revolution
Tensions rose during Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election, with Moscow throwing all its weight behind pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych. The country’s “Orange Revolution” prevented him from taking office. The election was declared rigged and the pro-Western candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, became president. Russia responded by shutting down gas ships in Ukraine on two occasions, in 2006 and 2009, and also shutting down ships in the EU.
2008: Ukraine in NATO
In 2008, then-US President George W. Bush pressured Ukraine and Georgia to begin the NATO membership process, despite objections from Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government had not fully recognized the independence of the United States. Ukrainian. Germany and France thwarted Bush’s plan, and at the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, accession was discussed, but no timeline was set for the start of the process.
2013: Agreement with the EU
Because things did not go as well as hoped with NATO, Ukraine made another attempt to strengthen its ties with the West through an association agreement with the EU. But in the summer of 2013, just a few months before the official signing of the document, Moscow played a tough game and put great economic pressure on Kiev, which forced the then government of President Yanukovych to strike the deal. Putin actually imposed an embargo on Ukrainian goods destined for Russia, sparking mass opposition protests across the country. In February next year, the president of Ukraine fled to Russia.
2014: Annexation of Crimea
The Kremlin took advantage of the power vacuum in Kiev and annexed Crimea in March 2014. It was a turning point in relations between the two countries and the beginning of the undeclared war between the two sides. At the same time, Russian paramilitary forces began mobilizing for an uprising in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and created Russian-led “people’s republics” or almost states in Donetsk and Luhansk. The government in Kiev waited until after the presidential election in May 2014 to launch a major military offensive, which it called an “anti-terrorist operation.” In June 2014, the newly elected President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, met on the sidelines of the 70th anniversary of the Day D celebrations in Normandy with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The meeting, which would later become known as the Normandy Format talks, took place under German and French mediation. At the same time, the Ukrainian army was able to repel the separatists, but in late August, according to Kiev, Russia intervened militarily and on a massive scale. Moscow denied this. Ukrainian units near Iloviask, east of Donetsk, suffered a major defeat, which turned out to be a turning point in the war. It ended in September with the signing of a ceasefire agreement in Minsk.
2015: The New War
What followed was a war of attrition that continues to this day. In early 2015, the separatists went on the offensive again and, according to Kiev, were backed by Russian troops, who, before the fighting, removed their identification marks. Moscow has also denied this. Ukrainian forces suffered a second defeat, this time near the strategically important town of Debaltseve, and were forced to retreat. Western mediation would later produce what would be known as the Minsk Protocol, an agreement that serves as the basis for peace efforts that remain unfulfilled to this day.
2019: Last hope
The last time there was a glimmer of hope in the region was in the fall of 2019, when some troops withdrew from both sides of the front line. But the Normandy Summit in Paris in December 2019 was the last time both sides sat at the same table. The Russian president is currently not interested in a face-to-face meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky because Moscow says he is not implementing the Minsk agreements. Putin continues to demand that the United States keep Ukraine out of NATO and that the country should not be given any military assistance. The NATO Alliance unequivocally rejects this request.
Prepared by: The Geopost