Due to rising tensions, on April 4, 1949, 12 countries (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States) came together and created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO’s purpose is to provide political and military support, creating a collective defense. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, a symbol of power for the USSR, countries of former Soviet Russia joined NATO and NATO continued to move into Eastern Europe collecting the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. The importance of this expansion is in the viewpoint of Vladimir Putin, current president of Russia. Putin has several times voiced his distrust of NATO. At the Munich Security Conference in 2007, he mentioned how expansion eastward of NATO “represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: Against whom is this expansion targeted?”
The Soviet Union was created on Dec. 30, 1922, including Russia, the Baltic states, Ukraine, and others. As a counter against NATO, the USSR formed the Warsaw Pact which solidified Soviet control over the countries involved. The USSR reigned for many decades, but due to economic issues and overexerted military forces, on Dec. 26, 1991, the USSR dissolved under Mikhail Gorbachev. Putin claims that in 1990, just prior to the dismantlement of the USSR, NATO said it would not go further into Eastern Europe and former Soviet countries and additionally, in 1997, that it would not put troops further than the then-current eastern borders. These claims are questionable though because there were never any legal forms.
To understand Putin’s logic, look at his backstory. Putin was a KGB operative in Germany as the Berlin Wall fell. Through the 1990s he saw firsthand the collapse of the USSR, Russia’s reliance on western countries because of the failing economy and the chaos within the country. Putin rose to power and has brought more power and stability back to Russia, but he seeks to bring Russia back to the days of the Soviet Union. Putin describes the Soviet Union dissolution as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe.”
His invasion of Ukraine is not his first invasion of a former Soviet country. He invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, both times using them as leverage to get what he wanted, but this time he is increasing the caliber of his demands. First, he is demanding that the U.S. agree that NATO will not expand further, keeping countries such as Ukraine out of NATO. Secondly, he wants the U.S. and other countries to pull their forces out of the countries that joined NATO after 1997 which includes most of Eastern Europe and former Soviet countries. Finally, he wants the U.S. to pull out all of their nuclear weapons in Europe. Additionally, Putin is asking nothing of Ukraine as he does not acknowledge it as a country as he sees Russians and Ukrainians as one people. Putin’s logic can be summarized as he feels threatened by NATO and wishes to bring Russia back to the glory days of the Soviet Union, and he is not the only one in Russia who thinks this way.
On Feb. 24, Russia began launching missile and artillery attacks on Ukrainian cities when Putin authorized the “special military operations.” The fighting has persisted, but Ukraine has received supplies from other countries. On Feb. 26, the U.S. supplied Ukraine with $350 million in weapons and other western countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and France. Overall, the UN confirmed on March 1 that there have been 1,335 civilian casualties, including 474 killed and 861 injured. By the 13th day of fighting, over two million Ukrainian refugees had fled to neighboring countries. These numbers of casualties and refugees are only increasing.
Countries’ Responses and How They Are Impacted
On Feb. 26, the western allies announced new sanctions for restrictions on Russia’s central bank. Russia supplies many European countries and the U.S. with oil and other oil products. In response to invading Ukraine, the U.S. has banned Russian oil, which as President Biden said, “That means Russian oil will no longer be acceptable in U.S. ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine.” Currently, oil prices have hit a 14-year high as the U.S. national average for a gallon of gasoline hit $4.009 on Feb. 27 and the stock market has fallen. The U.S. is not the only country to phase out Russian oil as Britain has done the same and the EU published a plan to cut reliance on Russia’s oil by two-thirds in 2022.