After months of nervous anticipation and watching updates in the news, Russia began its horrific invasion of Ukraine last week. Watching from almost half the world away, this can be a shocking and painful experience to see, as we empathize and watch fellow human beings caught up in senseless violence. While the United States is unlikely to get involved in this war militarily, I think it is important we know what is going on, and how world events like this affect us here at home. In our increasingly globalized world, it’s important we don’t turn a blind eye to events like this.
Some relevant world events throughout the past few years provide important context for the invasion we are witnessing right now. Back in 2014, Ukraine’s then pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was deposed in a revolution against his government. Protesters railed against corruption and his decision to suspend an agreement to establish closer ties between Ukraine and the European Union. After he fled the country to Russia, Russia took control of the Crimean Peninsula, a strategic region in the south of Ukraine on the Black Sea. Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine also took control of the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk and surrounding areas near the Russian border.
After the break-off of these regions, despite Russia and Ukraine signing the Minsk Agreements in 2015 to agree to a ceasefire, sporadic fighting had continued up to the present day. While this uneasy situation was in place, Ukraine elected a new President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in 2019 who promised to end the conflict and improve Ukrainian relations with the European Union. He has also expressed interest in Ukraine joining NATO, the military alliance the United States and Canada are part of along with most of Western and Central Europe.
Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, has clearly not been happy with the developments in Ukraine since 2019. Russia views Ukraine as being part of its sphere of influence, since Ukraine historically was part of the Soviet Union, as well as historically a part of the Russian Empire for hundreds of years even before that. After the Soviet Union broke up, many states that used to be under Soviet domination have joined NATO.
Russia sees this expansion as a threat to their interests and security, as states that are in NATO now directly border Russian territory. Before the invasion, Russia attempted to demand Ukraine be legally prohibited from joining NATO, and that the country agree to some stance of neutrality. Ukraine and NATO rejected these demands as violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and right to decide its actions as an independent state. Negotiations between Russia, the United States, NATO, and other European states continued into February but yielded no results.
On Feb. 24, Russian troops invaded Ukraine. Intense fighting has been going on in the south and east of Ukraine. The most critical front though, has been the north, with Russian forces advancing toward the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. While I don’t know what will have all happened by the time this column is published, it’s certain more violence will occur and many more people will likely be killed or injured.
How does this affect us here in the United States? To start, the U.S. government has been providing military aid and other non military aid to Ukraine despite U.S. troops not being involved. The Biden Administration asked Congress to approve $6.4 billion in aid for Ukraine after the invasion started. The United States and allied countries have also been imposing economic sanctions on Russian leaders and their economy. Additionally, Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of oil and natural gas, so it is likely this conflict will increase world prices overall.
These effects on us here at home show that conflicts around the world are not something we should ignore. Each of us living in Minnesota is also a citizen of the world, and knowing world events helps us to be more informed overall as well as navigate their consequences more effectively. So while it may be far away, we should all stay aware of this situation, and be in solidarity with innocent civilians in Ukraine as we continue to watch how the consequences of this event affect them and the world at large.
Connor Kockler is a student at St. John’s University. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.