A girl walks past paintings depicting the crisis between Russia and Ukraine, outside an art school in Mumbai, India, on February 24, 2022. [Reuters]

February 24, 2022, marked the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, three decades since a war of such magnitude was last witnessed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The two neighbours are at war after Russia fired missiles at several cities in Ukraine in a 5am Thursday attack.

Ukraine is located in Eastern Europe and shares a border with Russia. It was part of the Soviet Union but became an independent state in 1991.

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed troops to Ukraine, over 40 people have been killed and scores left injured.

This, despite Nato and the UN Security Council threatening economic sanctions against Moscow

The tense standoff between Russia, Ukraine and Western governments sharply escalated this week after Putin recognised two breakaway regions as Independent.

These two, Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern  Ukraine are held by pro-Russian rebels.

According to  Aljazeera, the two self-proclaimed “people’s republics” also claim the rest of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as their territory, beyond where they already control.

The article notes whether this means Russian forces will attempt to push further into Ukraine, past the pre-existing front lines is not yet known.

So why did Russia attack?

Russia is resisting Ukraine's attempts to join both Nato and the European Union.  Nato is the acronym for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It was formed by Western powers after World War 2 to guarantee their collective security with initial key members being the US, Britain and France.

President Vladimir Putin asserts that if Ukraine joined the two institutions, it would become a puppet of the West because, from the start, it has never been a proper state.

He is also demanding guarantees from the West and Ukraine that it will not join the Nato alliance, which is a defensive alliance of 30 countries.

He also wants Ukraine to demilitarise and become a neutral state.

A Ukrainian State Border Guard Service site damaged by Russian artillery in Kyiv region, Ukraine. [Reuters]

As a former Soviet republic, Ukraine has deep social and cultural ties with Russia, and Russian is widely spoken there, but ever since the Russian 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea, they have worsened.

Russia attacked Ukraine when its pro-Russian president was deposed in early 2014. The war in the east claimed more than 14,000 lives.

According to the BBC, in President Putin's eyes, the West promised back in 1990 that Nato would expand "not an inch to the east" but did so anyway.

That was before the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, so the promise made to then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev only referred to East Germany in the context of a reunified Germany.

What has Nato alliance said so far about the admission of Ukraine?

Nato which is a defensive alliance with an open-door policy to new members has said the situation will not change. Despite Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy calling for "clear, feasible timeframes" to join the alliance, there is no prospect of it happening for a long time, as Germany's chancellor Olaf Scholz has made clear.

 And what does Putin want?

Despite calls from the Nato alliance the United Nations Security Council member states, President Vladimir Putin has made three demands that should be met before he normalises the relationship.

First, he wants a legally-binding pledge that the alliance will not expand further in an effort to ensure that Ukraine never ever becomes a member of the Nato alliance.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Putin affirmed that Russia has nowhere further to retreat to and thus they would not just sit and idle by.

In 1994, Russia as a member of the Partnership for Peace Program with Nato signed an agreement to respect Ukraine's independence and sovereignty.

But in 2021, Putin breached that protocol and in a statement termed Russia and Ukraine as ‘one nation’.

He asserted that current Ukraine was entirely created from Communist Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

Secondly, Putin has argued that the Nato alliance might try to recapture Crimea if Ukraine joins Nato well known as the Atlantic Alliance.

Servicemen ride on an armoured vehicle after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised a military operation in eastern Ukraine, in the town of Armyansk, Crimea, February 24, 2022. [Reuters]

Putin is quoted as saying, “Let's imagine Ukraine is a Nato member and starts these military operations. Are we supposed to go to war with the Nato bloc? Has anyone given that any thought? Apparently not.”

Thirdly, Putin demands that the Nato alliance should not deploy "strike weapons near Russia's borders", and that it removes forces and military infrastructure from member states that joined the alliance as from 1997.

Some 14 former Russian satellite republics have joined Nato since 1997  six years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

They include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

Others are Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia and Bulgaria.

This means that Nato would be forced to return to its pre-1997 borders should Russia have its way.

The conflict at a glance

March 2021: Russia starts amassing troops along the Ukraine border.

December 2021: An estimated 100,000 Russian troops are concentrated along the Ukraine border.

January 2022: Russia, NATO and the OSCE hold talks.

                         The US and Russia meet in Geneva to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine.

                         NATO puts troops on standby.

                         The US says it will not concede to Russia’s security demands.

February 2022: Ukraine and Russia conduct military drills.

                            Putin orders Russian forces to Ukraine's rebel-held regions.

                            Western powers call for more sanctions against  Russia.

                            Russia fires missiles and attacks Ukraine’s cities.

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