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Everything you need to know about Russia's invasion of Ukraine - and how it will affect you


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No one can have avoided the scenes unfolding in Ukraine as Russian forces invade the country.

It has put the world on a war footing and led to an estimated 1.5million people fleeing the country. But just what is the conflict about and what does it mean for us?

The invasion of Ukraine has sent shockwaves around the world. Picture: PA News
The invasion of Ukraine has sent shockwaves around the world. Picture: PA News

We try and explain the key facts behind the cause of the conflict, the nuclear threat, what Russian president Vladimir Putin's plans are, and why the effects of the war will be felt in our pocket.

Why has Russia invaded?

Ukraine, like many eastern European nations, was once part of the Soviet Union – a huge sprawling nation born in the Lenin-led revolution of 1917 and which was under the control of the Moscow-based Communist Party.

But when the Soviet Union collapsed and Communist rule ended in 1991, it became independent as a nation and became a neighbour on Russia's western border. Many in Ukraine continued to speak Russian and ties were close.

In 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Soviet Union's collapse was the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century" when "tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory".

What now for Russian president Vladimir Putin? Picture: Alexei Nikolsky, Kremlin Pool/AP
What now for Russian president Vladimir Putin? Picture: Alexei Nikolsky, Kremlin Pool/AP

He has long resented the loss of Russian territories and his desire to 'make Russian great again' (to pinch a quote from Donald Trump) is likely to be his key motivating force, along with a paranoia of the West's intentions.

Political tensions escalated in 2014 when Ukraine's pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was booted out during an uprising. Protestors wanted the nation to become closer to the EU and Nato. President Putin claimed the protestors were "far-right extremists". On this, the current conflict hangs.

Nato (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) was established in the aftermath of the Second World War – in an effort to prevent any repeat – and is a military alliance which includes 28 European countries as well as the US and Canada.

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It is designed to operate on an 'all for one and one for all' approach - so if one member nation is attacked by a hostile nation, the others will, as part of the treaty they signed in 1949, retaliate.

Neither Russia or Ukraine are among its membership.

The invasion of Ukraine
The invasion of Ukraine

President Putin, however, believes Ukraine is rightfully Russian and that Ukraine is an "illegitimate country". He was emboldened by views held by many in the east of Ukraine that the nation has historic close, and friendly, ties with Russia.

In 2014 he instructed his troops to invade Crimea – the Ukrainian peninsula, south of Ukraine, in the Black Sea.

He was successful in 'annexing' the peninsula and encouraged separatist movements in cities in the east of Ukraine to remain loyal to Russia. Most notably in the Russian areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, both of which claimed at the time they were becoming 'people's republics'. The Ukrainian government considered them run by terrorists.

Putin has subsequently become increasingly anxious Ukraine could join Nato – effectively aligning itself with the West.

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In the months leading up to the current conflict, satellite imagery revealed a steady build-up of Russian forces along the border and in Crimea, prompting fears of an imminent invasion. However, Putin and his government in Moscow denied they were anything other than "military exercises" and said, repeatedly, Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine.

Ukraine is likely to be out-gunned by the military might of Russia
Ukraine is likely to be out-gunned by the military might of Russia

However, on February 24, in a televised address to the Russian people he announced his forces were taking steps towards the "demilitarisation and de-Nazification" of Ukraine. Just days before, he also recognised the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk – a move seen as allowing his troops to progress from Ukraine's eastern border, as well as agreeing with another former state, Belarus, to use its borders to invade its neighbour.

His argument to the people of Russia is that Ukraine, and its increasingly pro-Western leanings, is a threat to Russia and is being run by far-right extremists. He has also spoke of the "bullying and genocide by the Kyiv [Kyiv is what the Ukrainians call their capital – the historic Russian name is Kiev] regime".

However, there has been no evidence of genocide and Putin's claim of "de-Nazification" sits, understandably, uncomfortably with Ukraine's Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

There is, undoubtedly, a far-right element in Ukraine. But it is on a similar scale to other nations. In 2019 elections, the far-right party received just 2% of the vote – far less than in, say, France or Germany.

Putin has insisted he has no intention of occupying Ukraine. But then he also said he had no intention of invading it.

A woman cries outside houses damaged by a Russian air strike near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv Picture: Vadim Ghirda/AP
A woman cries outside houses damaged by a Russian air strike near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv Picture: Vadim Ghirda/AP

To the Russian people, the conflict has been presented as an act to ensure Russian security. The Russian press are forbidden from describing it either as a war or invasion.

What are Putin's long-term goals?

This remains one of the great unanswered questions.

Given his contradictions of words in deeds, there is considerable anxiety as to exactly what Putin is hoping to achieve. Many fear – although there is no evidence as yet to suggest it – that this could the first stage of similar moves on former Soviet states which sit along Russia's western borders.

Certainly, as mentioned above, he clearly views the loss of states as a blow to Russia's collective psyche. And, at 69, he may be thinking that the time to make his mark on history is now.

The Turner Contemporary in Margate was lit up yellow and blue in support of Ukraine. Picture: Instagram/turnercontemporary
The Turner Contemporary in Margate was lit up yellow and blue in support of Ukraine. Picture: Instagram/turnercontemporary

He's also no fan of either the European Union or Nato – both of which it is thought he believes has sought to unduly influence those former Soviet states.

The biggest issue is just how Putin extricates himself from the conflict and the damage international condemnation has caused both him personally and Russia as a whole. He is not a man who will want to lose face by issuing a withdrawal, knowing that, as a consequence, his position as president will become almost certainly untenable. And that makes many nervous as to his next steps.

So why are UK and Nato forces not going in to help Ukraine?

There is no denying it sits uncomfortably that a 'friend of the West' is being attacked and, other than sanctions, no military troops are being deployed to assist. But to do so could be hugely dangerous.

If Nato nations were to become embroiled then it would put Nato in direct conflict with Russia. Such a move could escalate rapidly and the prospect of a Third World War would become very real with all the anxieties that would generate.

An 'no-fly zone' is being resisted by Nato countries for fears of engaging directly with Russian forces
An 'no-fly zone' is being resisted by Nato countries for fears of engaging directly with Russian forces

Much has been said recently of imposing a 'no-fly zone' over Ukraine airspace. However to introduce such a ban, which would effectively ban Russian aircraft from flying over Ukraine, something deemed likely to increase as Russia steps up its bombardment of key cities and targets, it would mean military enforcement. And the call is for that to come from Nato.

Should Nato fighter jets start shooting down Russian planes it would put two hugely powerful, and nuclear-armed, forces in direct conflict.

As painful and unjust as it appears, such a move could ignite a conflict currently confined to Ukraine into a much wider, and more sinister, one.

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The solution so far has been the imposing of sanctions on Russia. And the impact of these should not be under-estimated – they will have both immediate and long-lasting impacts on the Russian economy.

From financial restrictions imposed on those close to the Russian president and government to the likes of Apple and Nike limiting access to its products and McDonald's and Starbucks closing outlets, the Russian people will feel the effects as well as its economy. The value of the Russian rouble has fallen to record lows.

Protests have been taking place across Kent at Russia's invasion
Protests have been taking place across Kent at Russia's invasion

The aim is to block Russian access to funding and hit it hard in the pocket. That is also why we are seeing many nations scrap, or dramatically reduce, gas deals with Russia - one of the main backbones of its economy.

Sporting organisations have also imposed plenty of regulations with FIFA and UEFA blocking Russian national and club teams from major tournaments while the International Paralympic Committee has barred Russian and Belarusian athletes from March's Winter Paralympics in Beijing.

Could Putin use nuclear weapons - and should we be anxious?

On February 27, the Russian president issued a stark threat. In the face of what he described as "aggressive statements from the West" he put his nuclear deterrent forces on high alert. It ratcheted up tensions.

Russia retains a large nuclear arsenal.

Ukrainians hold a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine outside Downing Street. Picture: Yui Mok/PA
Ukrainians hold a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine outside Downing Street. Picture: Yui Mok/PA

However, many suspect Putin's decision to publicly announce such a move was one to scare the West and remind them to not get involved in the Ukranian conflict for the sort of retaliation it could face.

It would seem at odds with Putin's previous claims that Ukraine is traditionally part of Russia were he to deploy such weapons on the country.

While question marks remain over Putin's approach to world affairs, nothing can, in truth, be ruled out. But it has long been felt the escalation of conflict to incorporate the use of nuclear weapons would result in mutually assured destruction – namely both sides would be completely annihilated. So, for now at least, it seems unlikely.

How is the invasion progressing?

Given no-one has a hotline to the Kremlin to discuss its strategy before or after the first shots were fired, it is impossible to know, for certain, what Russia's military plans for Ukraine were or, for that matter, are now.

People arrive at a border crossing in Medyka, Poland. Picture: Visar Kryeziu/AP/PA
People arrive at a border crossing in Medyka, Poland. Picture: Visar Kryeziu/AP/PA

The most commonly held theory is that Russia expected to roll into Ukraine and seek to take control of its government within a matter of days.

However, it has met with fierce resistance from Ukranian forces which have demanded all men aged between 18-60 help in the war effort.

While Ukraine bravery has been much admired, there is an impending sense of doom. The Russian military might is significant and it is felt only a matter of time before Putin's forces look to mount an attack on Kyiv, the nation's capital. Take Kyiv and Ukraine is likely to fall. It is thought around 2million Ukranians have left their homes seeking safety in neighbouring nations, while the United Nations predicts around 4m could ultimately leave as a result of the conflict - 10% of the total population.

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Few expect the Ukranian nation – despite being supplied by weaponry from the West – will be able to withstand forever. And with Putin keen not to lose face, the fear is that he will use increasing levels of force in order to be able to declare a victory in his mission.

The common held theory is that Moscow, after its forces overthrow the existing government, would install a 'puppet' government – one which would be controlled by the Kremlin.

Moscow's plans for Ukraine remain in doubt
Moscow's plans for Ukraine remain in doubt

However, the tough stance on Russia's actions and criticism of Putin has muddied the waters as to what his long-term proposals will be.

Where will it all end?

Peace talks have taken place between Ukraine and Russian officials but so far resulted in little in terms of cease fires or agreements, while fierce diplomatic talks are taking place constantly.

Pressure is being applied on China – long an ally of Russia – to help broker an agreement. The question is whether one can be agreed to the satisfaction of all parties. And that, increasingly, seems unlikely.

There are fears the war could rage for weeks, months or even years. So called 'humanity corridors' which Russia have said to have created - to allow civilians to leave cities under attack - have, according to Ukranian officials, not been accompanied by the necessary cease fires to permit safe passage. Further anger was created when passages were created but only for civilians to flee to Russia or Belarus - Putin's ally in the assault.

Expect gas prices to surge yet higher
Expect gas prices to surge yet higher

How will we feel the effects?

In an era where energy bills are such headline news, Europe's reliance on gas from Russia has come under a sharp spotlight since the conflict began.

Around 40% of the continent's gas comes from Russia – although the UK's total is considerably lower at around 5%.

However, the price we pay for gas is closely aligned with that of Europe meaning increased costs there will be reflected in our bills. There is, however, unlikely to be any shortage in supplies in the UK given our sourcing of gas from elsewhere.

With gas already in short supply, we can expect to see yet further rises in energy bills. Gas has already reached record highs during the conflict.

Boris Johnson addressed the nation following the outbreak of hostilities
Boris Johnson addressed the nation following the outbreak of hostilities

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has used the situation to once again issue a warning that "we must collectively cease the dependence on Russian oil and gas that for too long has given Putin his grip on western politics”.

A more notable impact will be at the fuel pumps with petrol and diesel prices – already at record highs – likely only to increase over the coming weeks and months due to uncertainty over supplies and the rise in the cost of crude oil.

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