Why is Putin invading Ukraine? Russia conflict explained

22 February 2022, 17:28 | Updated: 24 February 2022, 07:50

Putin is attempting to put a stop to Ukraine joining Nato
Putin is attempting to put a stop to Ukraine joining Nato. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Zoe Adams

Russia has launched a "special military operation" in Ukraine - but what are the reasons behind President Putin's decision to invade?

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Russia began a "full-scale invasion of Ukraine" on Thursday morning, after having surrounded Ukraine with troops in recent weeks.

It comes after the Russian parliament gave Putin the green light to use force outside Russia's borders.

Putin ordered his troops into two rebel-held regions of Ukraine, in Donetsk and Luhansk, which were previously recognised as independent states by Russia.

Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said: "Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

"Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes. This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win.

"The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now."

Here’s a brief look at what is behind the conflict between Russia and Ukraine:

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Putin has placed Russia's troops around Ukraine
Putin has placed Russia's troops around Ukraine. Picture: Alamy

A brief history: Why is Russia invading Ukraine?

There has been tension between Moscow and Kyiv since Ukraine declared itself independent in 1991.

Since then, Putin has attempted to resist Ukraine’s moves towards European institutions such as Nato and the European Union.

Putin believes Russian dominance in Ukraine is key to the security of Russia. He sees Russian dominance of Ukraine as fundamental to Russian security and has gone as far to suggest he believes Ukraine may not even be a sovereign state in its own right.

He believes Ukraine joining Nato risks the country launching military action to reclaim control over areas like Russian-annexed Crimea or the rebel areas in eastern Ukraine.

His biggest issue surrounds the West and Ukraine joining forces under the Nato agreement which will give them a defensive alliance of 30 countries - a prospect he fundamentally stands against.

There are further historical theories on what really drives Putin - some suggest it’s because he wants to reunite former Soviet republics which are now independent, such as Ukraine and Estonia.

Others believe it’s because he wants to remind the West of the power Russia holds.

What does Putin want now?

Putin outlined three demands - first and most important that he wants a legal document outlining that Nato does not expand further, especially with Ukraine.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said: "For us it's absolutely mandatory to ensure Ukraine never, ever becomes a member of Nato."

He’s also demanded Nato does not deploy "strike weapons near Russia’s borders", and that it removes forces and military infrastructure from those states that joined Nato after 1997. This includes Ukraine bordering countries such as Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland.

Has Putin declared war?

Putin said on Thursday morning that Russia was launching a "special military operation", with explosions later being heard in the Ukrainian capital - Kiev.

It comes after he sent troops into Luhansk and Donetsk, which was named a "dark day for Europe".

An estimated 190,000 troops were previously said to be surrounding Ukraine, according to Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Russian tanks, fighter jets and long-range missile batteries were moved in preparation for the attack.

What do we know so far?

Vladimir Putin announced during a televised address on Thursday that the invasion would be taking place.

Russian troops attacked from both Belarus as well as Russia itself, Ukraine's border guard service said.

Ukraine, which has since mobilised its military reserve, declared martial law after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia targeted Ukraine's "military infrastructure and our border guards".

Meanwhile, world leaders have been quick to condemn Russia's actions.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine" and is holding a Cobra meeting to discuss the response to the attack.

US President Joe Biden said the world will hold Russia to account, saying: "Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way."

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