Understanding roots of current conflict between Russia and Ukraine

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind.—The conflict in Ukraine has roots that stretch back decades, but a key moment that's important to understand the current situation goes back to 1994.

Ukraine gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and at that time it held one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world.

“The 90s was a time of transformation, a time of hope and peace after the fall of the Soviet Union and Communism in Europe, “ IUSB Political Geographer professor Gabriel Popescu said. “Ukraine saw that as an opportunity to join the so-called western world, to extract some goodwill from the western nations. And the Ukrainian government at the time believed that the security guarantees from European powers and the U.S were going to be enough to ensure their success in the future.”

By the mid-90s, Ukraine decided to de-nuclearize and returned its weapons to Russia in exchange for security and economic aid from European nations and the United States. It was part of a 1994 agreement called the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. This wasn’t a treaty, but a diplomatic document. Among other things, it states that Washington, Moscow, and London must respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine. Russia has since violated this document when it attacked Crimea in 2014. In 2016, Russian officials said they only agreed not to attack Ukraine with nukes, but that's false according to the agreement Russia signed.

IUSB Professor Popescu said many leaders and citizens probably regret agreeing to the Budapest Memorandum, saying perhaps Russia’s calculations and tactics would have been different if Ukraine was armed. And the situation in Ukraine and Russia, according to Professor Popescu can be seen as concerning to other countries.

“There is a concern now, that a lesson for other countries that wanted to develop nuclear arsenals that they should not give up their arsenals under any circumstances,” Professor Popescu said.

The wider issue, however, according to the IUSB professor is that we haven’t seen an invasion of this magnitude in Europe since World War II.

“What we are witnessing right now a country invading another independent country, with a stated goal to change their borders, their detached portions of their country, this is unique and upsetting the world order as we know it in Europe and the world,” Professor Popescu said.

“What we are witnessing right now a country invading another independent country, with a stated goal to change their borders, their detached portions of their country, this is unique and upsetting the world order as we know it in Europe and the world,” Professor Popescu said.

The United Nations announced that an estimated 100,000 Ukrainians have fled their homes and that several thousand fled to neighboring countries.

President Joe Biden recently announced new sanctions on Russia limiting international trade with Moscow.
Professor Popescu said there have been conflicts with smaller countries throughout the years, but for the most part, diplomacy has been the solution.  Adding, now countries are rethinking their security strategies.

“Instead of thinking of investing less in their defense, they’re now going to investing more, and instead of taking less aggressive views of their security, they might take more aggressive views of their security,” Professor Popescu said.

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