Eight years have passed, since Russia invaded Crimea, organized a referendum, and annexed it. Eight years of bloodshed in the Donbas, between the Ukrainian army and Russian-sponsored rebels, which has claimed thousands of lives on both sides, and which has crumbled the economy of one of Ukraine’s most developed regions. Almost a year has passed, since Russia started to pile on forces on the border with Ukraine, amassing more than 200 000 troops, as well as tanks, artillery, warplanes, and warships in the Black Sea. All of this culminated in Russia’s recognition of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic on the 21st of February, which claim much wider swaths of territory, than what is currently held by separatists.
Credit: OLGA Zhukovskaya, istockphoto
This was the prelude to the next era in European geopolitics and a new chapter of European and World history.
At around 6:00 o’clock Moscow time on the 24th of February (around 3:00 UTC) Vladimir Putin announced the beginning of a “special military operation” in Eastern Ukraine. Minutes after this broadcast, missiles started falling in dozens of Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv. Border guards started reporting attacks on border posts coming from Russia and Belarus. Hours later, thousands of troops entered Ukrainian territory, capturing border cities and encircling Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv. It quickly became apparent that this wasn’t an operation, which would be contained in Eastern Ukraine in the separatist regions. Troops advanced from Crimea, capturing territory North of the peninsula, stalling at the Dnipro River near the major city of Kherson. Russia has also captured the Snake Island in the Black Sea, which is right next to Romania, killing all soldiers, stationed there.
An hour before the invasion commenced, martial law was declared in Ukraine by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Sirens have been blaring in most Ukrainian cities.
Although Russia has made progress in capturing some border cities, bombing military targets and airports, and capturing the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the city of Pripyat’, the Russian offensive has been stalled severely, meeting strong resistance at every corner, being harassed in the countryside, being refused food and fuel. Although Kharkiv has been encircled, Ukrainians are successfully repelling the attacks, fortifying the ring road of the city. All attacks on Kyiv have been met with a fiery response. Russia also hasn’t been able to penetrate the demarcation line in the separatist regions, which have been fortified for 8 years. Ukraine has mobilized a huge number of troops, and it has supplied civilians with weapons and instructed them to make Molotov cocktails.
Ukraine has not only managed to recover some lost territory, but it has also launched bombardment campaigns against Russian military airbases in the Rostov Oblast. Russian morale has been low from the very beginning, with most Russians being opposed to the war. Thousands have already been arrested at anti-war protests in Russia. The war is not going to be a blitzkrieg like Russia wanted. It is going to be long, bloody, and heavy, with an enormous number of casualties, especially on the Russian side. However, tens of thousands of soldiers are still waiting on the border for orders, which might make the situation worse for Ukraine.
Although Russia has explicitly stated they won’t target civilians and civilian buildings, they have already committed this type of war crime by the second day of the invasion. There have been reports of civilian buildings being targeted and bombed, and there have already been civilian casualties in the conflict.
Due to the ongoing situation, Finland has expressed the desire to join NATO. This was met with threats of war by Russia, escalating the situation even further. This shows the readiness of Russia to become a target of an international conflict.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainians are already fleeing the country to neighboring Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Hungary, and to almost neighboring Bulgaria. All of these countries have expressed their support towards fleeing Ukrainians, allowing them unrestricted access.
Bulgaria has been even more supportive towards refugees, as there are hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian Bulgarians, which are fleeing to Bulgaria. The government has expressed that any and all Ukrainian citizens are welcome to stay in Bulgaria, empty buildings are being transformed into residential buildings for Ukrainian refugees, hotels are accepting Ukrainians free of charge, and many citizens are helping Ukrainians with accommodation, food, and even job opportunities. Russian airplanes and Russian citizens as a whole have been banned from entering Bulgarian territory (millions of Russians view Bulgaria as their favorite tourist destination).
Sanctions have already been imposed directly on Putin and Lavrov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. There has been a massive package of sanctions already, imposed by the EU, the US, and other Western Allies. However, much more would be needed to properly punish Russia for its actions.
With the possibility of this conflict spiraling out of control, we can’t know what to expect in the future. Russia might annex Belarus, target Moldova due to its Transnistria region, target Georgia because of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, or it might try to reclaim Kazakhstan due to its large Russian population. The conflict might even spiral further with Russia attacking Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Poland, Romania, or Bulgaria, which would eventually lead to a conflict between Russia and NATO.
China might also use the chaos of a war in Europe to fulfil its own expansionistic and chauvinistic desires and launch an invasion of Taiwan.
We have entered a new chapter of history, beginning with a global pandemic, and proceeding with a bloody war in Europe. The only way to overcome this is to stay united and strong in the face of pain and aggression. For Europe to survive threats from Russia and China, and to become less reliant on help from the USA, it must unite. The time for a stronger Europe has come.