Aicha Ly Opinion Editor
On Twitter, there is a video circulating of a 14 year old who just recently died from leg injuries sustained when she was riding her bike on the streets of Ukraine, attempting to fight to live until she could not anymore. A young Ukrainian couple has gone viral for suiting up to fight off Russian invaders right after getting married. Families have been torn by the devastation of a war raging with Russia, choosing between life and death as all men aged 18 to 60 (peoples brothers, partners, friends, fathers, sons) have been ordered to stay and fight alongside their 6th, and current president–Volodymr Zelensky. Some people have decided they would rather die fighting than to leave the country they love so dearly, whereas others find themselves with no choice but to leave for the sake of future ambitions and loved ones. Regardless of the variety of choices and situations, one thing remains clear: Ukranians are not going down without some sort of fight, and were clearly underestimated by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Another key point to realize is that this situation is much more complicated than social media makes it appear.
No matter how the story of this war is spun, Russia is the aggressor. But, why is this conflict even happening? Some who support Russia may say that Russia was forced to become an invader because of security threats implied by Ukraine’s interest in joining NATO, which stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is a coalition of countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, created after World War II as a collective source of security. If any country in NATO is attacked, all countries in NATO must also attack that common enemy. The issue is that Russia has only relatively left its role as the USSR, which collapsed in 1991. Therefore, Russia still has some socio political ties to communism and other institutions that are not supported by Western states such as the United States that carry strong influence in coalitions such as NATO, leading to a difference in interests. The Russian concern is that Ukraine joining NATO would pose a threat to Russia because they would be sharing a border with a country that carries a conflict of interest and would suddenly have more military aid. There is some speculation as well that Putin wants to restore the USSR, with plans to invade and take over states that left the Soviet Union–gaining independence in the 1990s like Ukraine did. Some people believe that Putin only had military presence on the Ukrainian border to intimidate Ukraine into backing down from interest in NATO but would have looked weak if he retreated due to all the international media attention on him. However, only time can really tell and at the end of the day no one can say with certainty what Putin’s motivations were and are except for him.
From the Ukrainian perspective, mass media reveals that Ukranians did not expect to be invaded. Paired with the relatively recent independence of Ukraine, and Zelensky’s demonstrated loyalty to the people of his country, there seems to be a high level of patriotism which has resulted in the Ukrainian drive to fight back whether it is with stones, words, protests or guns. Ukrainians, who are scared and angry yet demonstrate great courage and strength, were turned into refugees overnight by a country who has been acting like a helicopter parent of sorts–surveilling the interests and actions of Ukraine even after they gained independence from Russia and responding with intimidation and violence that impacts both soldiers and civilians when Putin did not get his way. Some people have wondered, in confusion and horror, why there seems to be a lack of military intervention from other countries. This is because of NATO. If the United States, or any other country in NATO, were to send troops to Ukraine this would prompt a military response from Russia. Consequently, there would be a third world war since other countries in NATO would be obliged to participate. Presumably China, which is also not a part of NATO, would ally with Russia if they join the war since they have some overlap in interests and strong militaries. A concerning amount of countries in this situation are known to have nuclear weapons and in the worst case scenario the world would be microwaved by these weapons. NATO stipulations, and the stakes, are why the United States and other countries have not militaristically intervened in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Instead, they are focusing on political and economic punishments targeted towards Russia.
Overall, as the conflict continues to progress, I believe it is important to be informed on the historical, sociopolitical, and economic context of this situation. It is important to consider international relations in order to examine what is at stake for whom and how this may factor into next steps, allowing for logical predictions and discussions. I also strongly believe it is important to be able to separate leadership from the people of a country. Unlike Americans are able to in the United States, Russians are not able to democratically elect their leaders. Putin is a dictator. Russians did not vote for him, therefore he does not necessarily represent the desires, needs, values and opinions of everyday Russian people. Russians, like people all around the world who recognize the injustice of this invasion, are protesting. They are being arrested for this in wide numbers as well, risking their safety in solidarity with Ukraine. We must support Ukraine, while keeping other states going through similar injustices such as Syria and Palestine, in mind without persecuting people who are not responsible for the crimes committed by their corrupt leadership.