Explained: What is Russia's problem with NATO and what does it have to do with the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war?
Russia's problem with NATO and Ukraine: Weeks after Russia stationed its military troops along the borders with Ukraine, it declared war on the country.
Several Ukrainian cities were attacked by the Russian military, including the capital city Kyiv. The Russian military has also captured Chernobyl, the world's worst nuclear disaster site, after a fierce battle with Ukrainian troops.
According to the data presented by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, 137 civilians and military personnel have been killed, and 316 people have been injured amid the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia.
Read updates on Ukraine-Russia war: Explained: What is the conflict between Russia and Ukraine? Key reasons behind the Russia-Ukraine conflict
What led to the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war?
Over the past several months, Russia amassed over 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine. This sparked a warning of a possible third World War. Although US intelligence warned of a possible invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the latter continued denying it. It then presented draft security demands to the West, which they turned down but offered a dialogue.
The security pact presented by Russia to the West proposed a treaty with the United States and an agreement with NATO. Russia, in its security demands, wanted a guarantee from NATO that it will deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet Countries, de-escalate military deployments from Central and Eastern Europe, and halt its eastward expansion.
From the United States, Russia wanted a guarantee that it will refrain from sending its forces to regions such as the Baltic States and the Black Sea.
Two days after presenting the security demands to the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that their demands have remained unaddressed but they are ready to hold diplomatic talks.
In the second week of February, US President and his Russian counterpart held talks via video conference. Prez Biden expressed concern over the Russian invasion of Ukraine and highlighted the subsequent human suffering that the armed conflict will bring.
Three days later, Russia announced de-escalation of some of its troops along the border which Ukraine's Foreign Minister dismissed saying that they don't believe what they hear. If a real withdrawal follows these statements, they will believe at the beginning of a real de-escalation.
Days before announcing a war on Ukraine, Russia signed an agreement with the separatist leaders and declared two Ukrainian regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, as independent held entities. He then ordered Russian troops to maintain peace in the two regions, thereby providing a safe passage for the Russian military to enter Ukraine.
Russia carried out an all-out invasion of Ukraine by land, air and sea in the early hours of February 24, killing 137 civilians and military personnel and injuring 316 people. It has started advancing to Kyiv. With this, Russia seems to reverse the post-Cold war era by reasserting pre-1989 Russian military and political authority over Ukraine.
What is Russia's problem with NATO?
At the heart of the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war is NATO. Given the historical record of expansionism of the military alliance, the Russian side is wary of the eastward expansion of NATO and that the West with the help of NATO may barge in Russia.
Further, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that the US broke a 1990 security pact that guaranteed that NATO wouldn't expand eastwards.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Eastern European military alliance, NATO, and Russia inked the Founding Act on mutual relations, cooperation, and security in 1997.
Russia claims that NATO disregarded the very spirit of the Founding Act and underwent five rounds of enlargement in the late 20th century as it pulled ex-Soviet Countries into its orbit. NATO, however, has rejected the claims made by Russia and maintained that it is a defensive alliance.
Over the last two decades, a number of European nations have joined NATO. These are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Bulgaria.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
NATO is a military alliance that was founded in 1949 to counter Soviet expansion in Europe after World War II. The United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom were the 12 founding members of NATO. It currently has 30 member states.
North Macedonia is the latest country to join NATO member states while Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine are aspiring members of NATO.
What is Russia's problem with Ukraine?
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine gained independence. It annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after the then Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych was ousted by the citizens in their 'Revolution of Dignity'. The annexation of Crimea was the biggest land seizure on the European continent since World War 2.
Russia further attacked Ukraine's industrial heartland, Donbas, an allegation which Russia denies to date. Around 14,000 people were killed in the armed conflict.
Although Ukraine is a sovereign country, Russia still regards it as a sphere of its influence, rather than an independent state. It doesn't want Ukraine to become a NATO member over fears that Ukraine might try to take back Crimea by force. It is to be noted that Kyiv is currently a partner state of NATO and will be allowed to join the military alliance in future.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine means that it wants recognition of the Donbas and Crimea region, full control of the Sea of Azov coastline, domination of the Black Sea, and the return of Ukraine and ex-Soviet countries to its sway.