By Sophie Boulter, World News Editor
So what the hell is going on with Russia, Ukraine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)? Is World War III about to happen? It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the onslaught of information about these squabbling countries and bickering blocs, but don’t worry! Your friendly World News Editor is here to help.
Why do Russia and Ukraine hate each other?
Russia and Ukraine are historical antagonists, with Russia claiming various parts of Ukraine as its own territory. In 2014, Russia backed up its claims with military force and annexed the Crimean Peninsula.
Ukraine has since aimed to distance itself from Russia, electing two anti-Russian presidents: Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelensky.
Poroshenko, in office from 2014 to 2019, led the country through its diplomatic and military faceoffs with Russia and encouraged its integration with the European Union. Poroshenko also encouraged Ukraine’s membership of NATO.
Poroshenko was succeeded by Zelensky, Ukraine’s current president. A former comedian, Zelensky has ramped up Ukraine’s flirtation with NATO and the European Union.
He is sharply critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he has accused of plotting a coup against him.
Why does Russia hate NATO and other Western blocs?
NATO began as a Cold War era alliance between the U.S. and a group of mostly Western European and Scandinavian countries.
Intended as a counterweight to the USSR, NATO rapidly gained prominence within the foreign policy sphere as the world’s most powerful military alliance. The USSR quickly formed its own military alliance, the Warsaw Pact, to balance NATO’s power.
After the Cold War ended, the U.S. invited Russia to join Western blocs such as the G8 (Group of 8).
The country was subsequently expelled from the G8 when it took Crimea in 2014. Amid its expulsion, NATO continued to expand closer to Russia.
Russia has since demanded some personal space, being particularly unsupportive of NATO’s membership talks with Ukraine, Russia’s kissing-close neighbor.
If Ukraine is admitted into NATO, any Russian military antagonism of the country would be met by retaliation from NATO’s 27 member states, including the U.S. It doesn’t help that NATO was expressly formed to combat the USSR, a federal union led by Russia.
Meanwhile, the European Union, a bloc of mostly liberal democratic European states, also continued to expand east. Originally a Western European bloc, it has since welcomed countries like Croatia, Poland and Serbia.
While the expansion of the EU to Ukraine is not a military threat to Russia, it also presents Russia with problems. EU countries are connected by deep economic, legal and social policies that apply to all member states. Ukraine would bring these policies to Russia’s “backyard.”
Refresh me of the current situation –– is World War III about to happen?
Over 100,000 Russian troops are stationed at the Russian-Ukrainian border. Fearing a Russian invasion of Ukraine, NATO countries stand ready to send in troops, fighter jets, frigates and ships to the Baltic Sea region surrounding Russia and Ukraine.
British intelligence accused Russia of plotting to overthrow Zelensky in favor of Yevgeniy Murayev, who founded a pro-Russian political party and a pro-Russian news network in Ukraine.
Russia refuses to remove the troops until it receives assurances that NATO will not expand east into Ukraine. Putin stated that the U.S. and NATO have “ignored” Russia’s security concerns, continuing to move weapons and troops into Ukraine while encouraging Ukrainian NATO membership.
However, Russia has stated that it does not intend to attack Ukraine. So I doubt that World War III is around the corner.
It’s not really Russia’s style. Rather, we’re probably set for another nail-biter of a border conflict, in which flare ups are normal parts of the toxic Russia-Ukraine relationship.