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Russia invades Ukraine

Jeff Nichols, history professor at Westminster College, gestures toward the Crimean Peninsula on a map of Ukraine, Feb. 28. The Crimean Peninsula was invaded and annexed by Russia in 2014. Photo courtesy of Anthony Giorgio. Image description: Jeff points to a screen that shows a green, yellow and purple map of Ukraine in the corner of a white room.

On Feb. 24, the Russian military invaded Ukraine after months of build-up along their shared borders to the north and east. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated his goals were to “pursue the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine,” and not to occupy the region, in a Feb. 24 address shortly before the invasion began. 

In a video posted to Telegram, an encrypted messaging app, and later shared widely on Twitter, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to Putin. “We will not lay down any weapons,” Zelensky said. “We will defend our state because our weapons are our truth.”

Much of Ukraine has been subjected to Russian airstrikes since the initial invasion, and Russian troops march toward the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, as well as Kharkiv and the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, according to Al Jazeera. Zelensky has called the bombing of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, a war crime, according to the New York Times. The bombing has resulted in civilian casualties, with 11 dead and dozens wounded.

During the informal “War Room: Ukraine” discussion held Feb. 28 in the Foster Faculty Lounge, Westminster College history professors Jeff Nichols and Kathryn Julian sought to explain the context of the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

Julian and Nichols explored the implications of Putin’s Feb. 24 address. 

“Why is he using this language of ‘denazification’ and genocide?” Julian said. “It could be that Putin is trying to weaponize the language of the former Soviet Union, where the Nazi was the great enemy.”

Julian said she suspected Putin is trying to hollow out the terms “genocide” and “denazification” to justify his own actions in Ukraine.

Roughly 50 members of the Westminster community crowd into the Foster Faculty Lounge Feb. 28 for an informal presentation about the Russian incursion into Ukraine. “The War Room” began as an informal discussion group in 2002, led by Westminster history faculty during the run-up to the Iraq War. Photo courtesy of Anthony Giorgio. Image description: A room full of people standing and sitting with masks on are gathered around.

“[Ukraine] is somewhat a prisoner of its geography in terms of what’s happened to it militarily,” said Nichols, referring to the nation’s history of invasion by foreign powers in both world wars.

Integral to the conflict is Ukraine’s internal politics, particularly in the eastern separatist-controlled regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian separatists in the region has resulted in 14,000 casualties since 2014, according to the International Crisis Group. 

The expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is central to the regional politics of Eastern Europe. NATO is a political and military alliance between countries in Europe and North America. Since the 1990s, it has come to include nations that had formerly been members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Warsaw Pact. 

Since the 1990s, Ukraine has had aspirations to join NATO.

Putin insists NATO stop at Ukraine, and roll back Eastern European membership. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but was recognized by the North Atlantic Council in 2020 as an “enhanced opportunity partner.” 

In February 2014, Russia annexed, or declared sovereignty over Crimea, a small Black Sea peninsula southeast of Ukraine. Since then, ethnic tension between Ukrainians and pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region continued to build. 

The Donbas, which is made up of the cities Donetsk and Luhansk, is a historically known region that is partially occupied by pro-Russian separatists. War broke out when Putin declared he now recognizes the region made up of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent republics under Russia without Ukraine’s approval. 

On Feb. 23, the day before the attacks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to the threat of invasion.

“We know for sure that we don’t need the war,” Zelensky said. “But if we are attacked by the [enemy] troops […] we will defend ourselves. Not attack, but defend ourselves.” 

Reports came in globally that Putin made nuclear threats Sunday, Feb. 27, declaring “special combat readiness” for Russia’s nuclear arsenal. These remarks have caused concern among many world leaders. 

In response to economic and international threats from countries worldwide, President Zelensky agreed to send a delegation to an undisclosed location on the Belarusan border to negotiate with Russia, according to the AP.

Over 500,000 people have fled Ukraine in recent days to escape Russian attacks, according to the European Union. 

For further updates on the emerging situation, check out subsequent coverage at wcforummedia.com

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