by Jade Wong

source: Engin Akyurt – Pexels

Minutes after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “full-scale military operation” against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, explosions were heard in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Kharkiv and neighbouring regions. 

Major Developments

As per counts provided by the Russian Defense Ministry, over 1300 Ukrainian troops were reported to have died fighting as of March 2; Russian casualties were meanwhile estimated at 498. A UN report estimates confirmed that 564 civilians were killed in the invasions as of 11 March, 2022, 41 of whom were children. 

On March 4, two-thirds of the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to condemn Russia’s alleged human rights abuses in Ukraine and to establish a commission to investigate such offences, as well as possible war crimes. In an accusation denied by Russia, Ukraine’s ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko denounced the nation for bringing about “massive destruction” to civilian infrastructure, including maternity wards and residential buildings. On the same day, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, was shelled by Russian forces. It was alleged that Ukranian firefighters were not initially permitted to approach the nuclear site in order to extinguish the fire. That said, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, stated that safety systems at the nuclear plant remained unaffected and that no release of radioactive material was recorded. That night, the refugee count from Ukraine was projected to exceed 1 million. 

Putin’s motives

Arguably, Putin’s most critical motive for invading Ukraine is to block the eastward expansion of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO), the military alliance formed during the Cold War between the United States and other Western liberal democracies to contain the Soviet Union. Ukraine initially applied to begin a NATO Membership Action Plan in 2008, for which a decision in favour of including Ukraine was reached during the Bucharest Summit of the same year. At the June 2021 Brussels Summit, NATO leaders reiterated their decision, sparking the fury of the Russian government. During a TV address on February 24, Putin declared the “eastward expansion of NATO, which is moving its military infrastructure ever closer to the Russian border” to be an impediment to Russian sovereignty. He further added, “Russia cannot feel safe, develop, and exist while facing a permanent threat from the territory of today’s Ukraine,” reflecting how Ukraine’s military affiliations with NATO were viewed as a serious military threat to Moscow. 

However, speaking to its News Centre, Political Science Professor Hein Goemans at the University of Rochester analysed Putin’s motives as twofold. First, Putin wants to reestablish, directly or indirectly, by annexation or by puppet-regimes, a Russian empire resembling the former USSR and  Tsarist Russia. This view is shared by many other academics. 

Professor Michael C. Horowitz at the University of Pennsylvania, also the director of Perry World House, echoed Goemans’ perspective in an interview with Penn Today, stating, “The speech that Putin gave to his National Security Council a few days ago even said that he thinks that all of the post-Soviet states are actually part of Russia. Putin has unleashed a horrifying and devastating war in Ukraine based on his desire to grow Russia’s status and influence. It’s terrible.” 

Similarly, Dr. Olivia Durand, a postdoctoral associate from the Faculty of History at the University of Oxford, observed that Putin has long insisted that Ukraine is a part of Russia in her writing for the Conversation. For instance, Putin declared in March 2014 that “Kiev is the mother of Russian cities” and “Ancient Rus is our common source and we cannot live without each other.” On February 21, 2022, Putin stated that Ukraine is not just a neighbouring country for the Russians, rather that “it is an inalienable part of our history, culture and spiritual space.” Dr Durand states, “[Putin] repeatedly denied Ukraine’s right to independent existence–and, at times, that the country exists at all as an independent entity. Instead he appeared to accept the unity of the two countries as historical fact. In doing so, he revealed the structures of an imperial ideology with a chronology and ambition that goes far beyond post-Soviet nostalgia to the mediaeval era.”

According to Dr. Goemans, Putin’s secondary motive is related to domestic Russian politics. The uprising of “Colour Revolutions” in previously Soviet republics, including former Yugoslavia and Ukraine, threatens Putin’s reign in Russia. By effectively encircling the nation, the democratic states would represent a safe haven for dissidents to carry forth anti-Putin agenda. As such, the leader aims to axe such developments, with Goemans noting  both goals “overlap in the sense that he is seeking regime change, which is a dangerous game.” This may represent a reason for Putin to invade Ukraine, given Ukraine’s history of democracy and strong nationalism.   

International Responses

United States

United States President Joe Biden explicitly declared that “Our forces are not, and will not be, engaged in a conflict with Russia in Ukraine … Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies and reassure those allies in the East. As I made crystal clear, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power.” In his message, Biden strongly condemned the Russian invasion, stating “Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences.” 

So far, the United States has imposed sanctions on the Nord Stream Two Gas Pipeline from Russia to Germany, sanctioned the Russian Central Bank through its prohibition from conducting American business, and freezing its assets within the nation. Most recent sanctions involve the technology and software sectors. On March 8, 2022, Biden announced the US will ban oil, gas and energy imports from Russia, declaring “Americans have rallied support — have rallied to support the Ukrainian people and made it clear we will not be part of subsidising Putin’s war.” 

Canada

Canada has also strongly condemned Russian aggression, offering military and humanitarian aid to Ukranians and imposing significant sanctions against Russia. 

On February 27, Trudeau’s administration announced that Canada will send new shipments of military supplies including body armour, helmets, gas masks and night vision goggles to Ukraine. The day after, in a news conference on Parliament Hill, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared “The whole world is inspired by the strength and intensity of [Ukranians’] resistance, and Canada will continue to deliver support for Ukraine’s heroic defence against the Russian military”, and that Canada would be supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapon systems and upgraded ammunition systems, in addition to 3 previous shipments of lethal and nonlethal equipment. He has also announced sanctions against Russian oil. Unlike the United States or European countries, Canada was able to impose sanctions significantly earlier as Canada is not hugely reliant on Russian oil. 

Harjit Saijan, Minister of International Development, announced additional humanitarian support of $100 million to respond to immediate needs for people of Ukraine and refugees who fled to other countries, while the Honourable Melanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Anita Anand, Minister of National Defense, similarly announced that Canada will be sending $25 million of additional military aid to assist Ukraine resist Russian aggression. 

The European Union 

According to Politico, the European Union has provided five hundred million euros in arms and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, who is considered as a priority partner despite not being a member of the EU. This move was described as a “watershed moment” in the history of the European Commission, with President Ursula von der Leyen stating,“For the first time ever, the EU will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack.” The EU has placed sanctions on Russia’s central bank which President von der Leyen claims will paralyse billions of Russian foreign reserves and reduce Russia’s ability to finance the war against Ukraine. It has also suspended licences for the Russian-state owned Sputnik and Russia Today to prevent the spread of propaganda, and targeted restrictions against the aircraft industry and technological sectors. 

Another highly reported sanction is Russia’s removal from the Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which provides a secure messaging system to assist international money transfers. In a report by the CBC, the move will severely limit Russia’s access to international financial markets. The Russian National Swift Association documents that about three hundred leading banks and organisations in Russia use SWIFT, highlighting the state’s reliance on the financial platform. 

Non-government initiated boycotts

Major sporting events have also boycotted Russian teams to express solidarity to Ukraine. The Polish soccer team has refused to play against Russia in the coming FIFA World Cup, while Putin himself has been stripped of his honorary black belt, initially granted by World Taekwondo.  

Yale Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfield and his team have compiled a list of companies curbing operations in Russia, and a list of companies continuing extensive business exchanges with Moscow, which has acted as strong motivation for other firms to follow suit. As of March 12, 2022, over 300 firms have stopped operations in Russia, including Coca-Cola, Adidas, Microsoft and more global brands. McDonalds’ closing 850 shops and halting all operations in Russia is also widely reported. JP Morgan Chase, also stated “In compliance with directives by governments around the world, we have been actively unwinding Russian business and have not been pursuing any new business in Russia,” according to a report by CNBC. Some firms called out for continuing business with Russia include Subway (as of March 12, 2022), which still has 446 franchised locations and General Mills, which has no company presence but just over one per cent of sales worth in joint ventures, according to the list published by Professor Sonnenfield. 

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