As we’ve been hearing for weeks, Russia has approximately 100,000 soldiers amassed close to the border with Ukraine, appearing ready to invade. President Biden, while he has explicitly said that U.S. troops won’t be sent to Ukraine, has threatened Russian President Vladimir Putin with severely punitive economic sanctions if the invasion takes place. He has also ordered about 5,000 U.S. troops to be ready for possible deployment, not to Ukraine, but to neighboring Eastern European countries–countries that are members of NATO (see below)–to make sure Russia knows better than to invade those countries and, perhaps, as a symbolic show of support for Ukraine. The U.S. is also providing arms to Ukraine. Great Britain is totally supporting the U.S. in all this; Germany and France are supporting the U.S. somewhat.
To make sense out of any of this, it’s important to identify exactly what NATO is and where it fits in. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 when the Cold War was heating up. At that time, Russia was the Soviet Union and had installed Communist satellite dictatorships in most Eastern European countries in the aftermath of World War II. (World War II started in 1939; the U.S. entered it at the end of 1941. The U.S., Britain, and the Soviet Union were fighting on the same side against Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany.) NATO, at the time of its founding, consisted of the U.S. and its mostly Western European allies, with the mutual pledge that an attack on one was an attack on all, designed to inhibit the Soviet Union from attempting to extend its control into Western Europe. The Communist countries of Eastern Europe had their own alliance with Soviet Russia, known as the Warsaw Pact.
It also needs to be noted that in the years of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet regime collapsed in 1991, Ukraine (like several other countries including Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) became an independent nation-state. In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine and took control of a region called Crimea, which had previously been part of Russia and had a fair proportion of Russian sympathizers in its population.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a number of Eastern European countries, though not including Ukraine, have joined NATO. (Here’s NATO’s website with the full list. Note, by the way, that in the years of the Cold War Germany was divided between the Communist East and the anti-Communist West, and it was West Germany that joined NATO in 1955.) Putin doesn’t like that, nor does he like having a country moving toward being a Western-style liberal democracy right on Russia’s borders. (Putin has no intention of letting Russia be any sort of democracy.) Putin is demanding a promise that Ukraine will never join NATO; he also wants NATO to pull back its involvement in Eastern Europe.
And now a note on the punitive economic sanctions being threatened. France and Germany get a lot of their fuel from Russia. Biden would like to see France and Germany punish Russia by cutting back on their purchases, but actually, Russia is in at last as good a position to punish France and Germany by cutting off sales completely.
Whatever Putin plans to do, it’s going to wait a few weeks, because there’s apparently an understanding between Russia and China that Russia isn’t going to do anything that will upstage the Winter Olympics that are about to be held in Beijing.
The news feeds attached to this OpenLab site have constant updates on this crisis as well as other political news; interested persons should check those out. Here’s a report on NPR, January 31, 2022, and here’s an article about the British role on the Politico site, January 31, 2022.