Was Ukraine part of Russia? History of the conflict explained amid escalating fears of Putin invasion


Tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain high, with around 100,000 Russian troops stationed at the border.

Russia is denying it plans to invade, and has been warned off moving in by both the UK and United States.

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Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Friday: “We are very clear, together with our allies in the G7, with our allies in Nato, that if there is an incursion by Russia into Ukraine, it would come at a massive cost.

“We are prepared to put very severe sanctions in place.”

And US President Joe Biden said last week: “The only war that is worse than one that’s intended is when it’s unintended and what I’m concerned about is that this could get out of hand.

“I am hoping that Vladimir Putin understands that he is, short of a full-blown nuclear war, he is not in a very good position to dominate the world. And so I don’t think he thinks that, but it is a concern.”

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Was Ukraine part of Russia?

Ukraine was part of the Russian empire for centuries, and was also part of the USSR.

It became independent in 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved after the Cold War.

There has been tension between Ukraine’s old ties to Russia and new allegiances with Western nations ever since.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is keen to regain control of the country’s former territories.

His favoured candidate in the 2004 Ukrainian election, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted for rigging the result after widespread protests.

Mr Yanukovych did manage to regain power in 2010, but was ousted again in 2014 after he rejected an association agreement with the EU in favour of bolstering relations with Moscow.

Russia responded by seizing and annexing the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine, before throwing its weight behind a separatist insurgency that broke out in Ukraine’s east.

More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting in the region, known as the Donbas, and at least two million people have been forced to flee their homes.

This is where most of Russia’s military presence is currently stationed.

A 2015 peace agreement brokered by France and Germany helped end large-scale battles but efforts to reach a political settlement have failed.

Russia has accused Ukraine of failing to honour the 2015 peace deal, and accuses the West of not encouraging Ukrainian compliance. Ukraine accuses Russia and the separatists of breaking the peace deal and continuing to attack its forces.

What is happening at the border now?

Russian troops are stationed at the Ukrainian border, with Ukraine and allied nations warning these forces are threatening invasion. Russian officials deny this is the case.

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Last week the UK announced it was supplying Ukraine with extra troops for training and defensive weapons.

“The Kremlin haven’t learnt the lessons of history,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said. “They dream of recreating the Soviet Union, or a kind of greater Russia, carving up territory based on ethnicity and language. They claim they want stability while they work to threaten and destabilise others.”

Asked about President Putin’s intention, US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday: “Do I think he’ll test the West? Test the United States and Nato as significantly as he can?

“Yes, I think he will but I think he’ll pay a serious and dear price for it. He’s never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for Europe to open its own talks with Russia and warned of the prospect of the “most tragic thing of all – war”.

What does Russia want?

A key source of the tension is Ukraine’s intentions to join Nato, which President Putin sees as a threat to Russia’s borders.

Russia has issued a list of demands that would reduce Western influence in Ukraine and Belarus, including that Ukraine never become a Nato member.

However, the West has rejected suck demands, calling President Putin’s desires “non-starters”.

Get up to speed: Russia-Ukraine crisis

Last updated: 10:33 am, 25 January 2022

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  • Ukraine has drawn closer to the EU and NATO over the last decade, which Russia sees as a threat to its borders and prompted its 2014 annexation of Crimea, which lead to a series of economic sanctions against Russia from the US and EU.
  • Both the UK and US have now accused Putin of planning to install a pro-Russian president, and begun to send arms to Ukraine after multiple rounds of diplomatic talks to resolve the crisis failed.
  • Russian troops are now massing on the border, suggesting tensions could escalate, with US officials saying an invasion could happen in the next month or two.

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