February 23, 2022 saw 76 years of relative peace in Europe shattered with an invasion of Ukraine by Russian and Belarusian military forces. This attack follows weeks of military buildup and sabre-rattling from both Russia and the West surrounding Ukraine’s desire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO.
At dawn, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a video which stated “Russia cannot feel secure with [the threat from] Ukraine,” announcing a special military operation with the expressed intent of the “demilitarization and denazification” of the second-largest country in Europe by landmass. Very soon after this, locations across Ukraine were attacked by a series of cruise missiles aimed at anti-air defenses. A few hours later, Russian troops began pouring into the country from almost all sides - in the south through the Crimean Peninsula, east from Russia, and north from Belarus.
The first day of fighting has seen Ukrainian forces hold their own against the onslaught of Russian soldiers and air support, managing to stage successful counter attacks to maintain large urban areas like Kharkov and airfields like Hostomel, but other strategic regions have fallen including the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the north of the country. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has now offered weapons to any civilians able and willing to take up arms in defense of the country as costly battles between Ukraine’s armed forces and Russian and Belarusian troops continue.
The international community has overwhelmingly criticized President Putin’s actions in the region as overly aggressive and in violation of the United Nations Charter. Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s UN Ambassador, called out Russia’s actions during a meeting of the UN called in response to the invasion; Russia’s Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia currently holds the rotating presidency of the UN Council. During his statement, Ambassador Kyslytsya confronted Ambassador Nebenzia directly, stating, “There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell.”
United States President Joseph Biden gave a statement in the afternoon of February 24, announcing new and harsh sanctions against the Kremlin in response to what the President referred to as an attack “without provocation, without justification, without necessity.” Russia’s “flagrant violation of international law” would not be without consequences as the US and its allies have imposed harsh sanctions against the Eastern European nation’s ability to borrow money overseas and use the Russian ruble abroad. This comes as Russia’s stock markets tumble and crash amidst uncertainty surrounding the war.
President Biden assured Americans that no U.S. troops would be deployed to Ukraine, but instead thousands of American service personnel will be sent to bolster the defense of NATO allies in Eastern Europe. The US currently has 90,000 soldiers stationed in Europe, primarily in Germany and Poland, working in cooperation with other NATO forces. NATO members in the Baltic States invoked Article 4 of the Alliance not long after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine; this article allows for the 30-nation bloc to assess the threat posed to one of the nations in the alliance and gives the Supreme Commander of NATO’s combined armed forces a go-ahead to deploy troops within the borders of NATO members as a form of deterrence.
Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but if any of the 30 nations in the bloc are attacked, the alliance would invoke Article 5 - that an attack on one of the nations is considered an attack against all. While it is unlikely that such an event would occur, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized a need to be ready to “respond to all contingencies.”
“Peace on our continent has been shattered,” Secretary-General Stoltenberg added, “We now have war in Europe on a scale and of a type we thought belonged to history.”
China’s government has been hesitant to join the almost universal condemnation of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Hua Chunying, China’s assistant foreign minister, refused to label the invasion as such, instead pointing blame at the US for “fueling the flame, fanning up the flame.” President Biden alluded to China’s hesitancy during his speech, saying any country backing Russia’s decision to invade would be “stained by association.”