Russia and Ukraine: What You Need to Know

To help students make sense of the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Pine Needle staff has assembled ten things you need to know about the conflict.

Fighting is moving quickly toward the Ukrainian capitol.

Shortly after Russia invaded the Ukraine, they took over Chernobyl; if the structure is damaged and there are explosions near it, it’s likely that more radioactive emissions could cause issues. Currently Russian soldiers have reached the capital city, Kyiv. Many believed Russia would take this city quickly, however Ukrainians aren’t going down without a fight and many have brought up arms to stay and defend their city. So far sources claim 137 military and civilian Ukrainians have been killed. The Ukraine army blew up a bridge over the Teteriv river to slow Russian advances. However, Russia is currently in full control of major parts of the Ukraine, including a key airbase near Kyiv. (Blake Bush and Kiran Kelly)

Read more at the NY Times.


Putin claims Ukraine is the real bad guy.

Vladimir Putin believes that Ukraine was part of Russia from the start and that Ukraine’s rise to nationhood was illegitimate. In a recent speech, Putin called his actions a “special military operation” whose “goal is to protect those who have been abused by the genocide of the Kyiv regime for eight years.” He said, “We will strive for the demilitarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine, as well as bringing justice to those who committed numerous bloody crimes against civilians.” (As Putin claims Nazis are running Ukraine, it is notable that the president of Ukraine is Jewish.) Putin has called NATO’s expansion a plot to destroy Russia. (Austin Wong)


NATO is key to American involvement in the conflict.

Begun in 1949 after WWII, NATO (which stands for North American Treaty Organization) is a political and military alliance formed to provide freedom and security for its members. The key element of NATO is Article 5, which states that an outside attack from a country on one of its members will be an attack on all of its members.

Original NATO members include the United Kingdom, the USA, Canada, and France; it now involves 30 countries, mostly from western Europe, and of particular note are members Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, which all share a border with Ukraine.

In the NATO’s short history it has only invoked Article 5 once, it was their response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. At this time NATO has said it will not get involved unless Russia fires the first bullet. (Maggie Sattler and Brooke Brey)


The U.S. is trying to make Russia stop by applying economic sanctions against it.

A sanction is when one country stops allowing its people to interact normally with another country’s people. Typically this means a country will disallow its citizens to trade goods with a country or will refuse to let another country use its banks. With Russia, the United States has sanctioned a number of large Russian banks—so none of those banks can do business with American banks, and if they have money held in American accounts, the U.S. government will not allow them to withdraw the funds. Similar freezes were applied to Russian oligarchs’ bank accounts so they cannot use any of their money that is held in American or many European banks (these ‘oligarchs’ are rich and powerful Russian people). Additionally, American companies can no longer send certain products to sell in Russia—like computers, lasers, and security equipment. Other European countries have applied similar sanctions, and Germany stopped Russia from selling gas to Europe through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. These country hope they are making it difficult for Russia to keep a war going. (Mr. Sheehy)

Read more at CBS news.


Sanctions efforts may be weakened by Russia’s large crypto currency holdings.

It may be difficult for sanctions against Russia to work since since Russia has likely been preparing for them. At the announcement of war, Bitcoin prices dropped suddenly but have now leveled back off. Russians own an estimated $22.9 billion worth of crypto. In October, The U.S. Treasury Department warned that Cryptocurrencies posed an increasingly serious threat to the American sanctions program. Since Bitcoin is decentralized and transactions can be easily hidden/covered, sanctions can be evaded by Russians that hold crypto (Grace Bianas).

Read more at the NY Times.


The US has troops in Europe, but not to fight in Ukraine.

As of this moment Russia invading Ukraine isn’t a major threat to the US, and Biden, as stated in his address to the nation on Tuesday, does not want to engage Russian troops and invoke a world war. However, the US has taken precautions by repositioning and deploying forces throughout Europe. There are about 90,000 US troops in Europe, with the largest grouping, about one-third of those troops, located in Germany. “We have no intention of fighting Russia,” said Biden in his address to the nation, “We want to send an unmistakable message, though, that the United States and its allies will defend every inch of NATO territory.” The President and Pentagon officials have made it very clear, that at this moment, the US is in defensive mode, and we will not strike, in chance of starting a world war. (Jersee Kepler)

Read more at USA Today.


Ukraine was part of the USSR until 1991.

In 1991, Ukraine became an independent state after serving as a founding member of the USSR alongside Russia. By the end of the 20th century, Ukraine’s economy had fallen into one of its lowest points. Around the same time, Ukraine was the third largest nuclear power but due to costs, they were forced to transfer some of the power to Russia. (Julianna Lawrence)


Today’s conflict really began in 2014.

It seems like the conflict in Ukraine started last month but it has actually been going for sometime now. The crisis began when Russian troops took control of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014. Russia’s President Vladmir Putin’s reason for that annexation was “to ensure proper conditions for the people of Crimea to be able to freely express their will.” Before Russia annexed the peninsula, a majority of Crimeans had voted to join the Russian Federation in a widely disputed vote. This invasion sparked a house fire of ethnic divisions between Ukrainians and Russians, and in May 2014 pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk held a vote to declare independence from Ukraine, starting a proxy war between Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels. Since April 2014 casualties in the region were estimated around 10,300 people and 24,000 injured as fighting continues. The main difference between 2014 and 2022 is that war has been declared and Ukrainians are directly fighting the Russian military. (James Parr)

Read more at the Council on Foreign Relations.


How will the Ukrainian War be felt in America?

Any conflict that will be felt here truly depends on how much the U.S. is involved. Ukraine and Russia are major oil, natural gas, and barley producers. JP Morgan analysts projected that distributions to oil flows from Russia could push oil prices to $120 per barrel. For context, oil per barrel was $60 just a year ago. At the pump, consumers can see gas prices soar to $3.50 a gallon, possibly reaching $4.00 a gallon. Russia is the largest wheat producer in the world while Ukraine is a higher producer of corn and barely, but is known as the breadbasket of Europe. The US Central bank is extremely worried about the rate of inflation. The US has not seen inflation this high since 1981. We soon could see a 10% inflation rate up from the 7.5% in the case of a full-scale invasion. If the bank must combat inflation forcefully it could raise borrowing costs for consumers and private companies, affecting business loans and mortgages to student debt. (Mackenzie Nelsen, Izaak Gunderson, and Grace Bianas)

Read more about gas prices at Vox and about the economic impact at PBS Newshour.


What do the nations have to say?

The United States is an ally with Ukraine and the president has called the attack unjustified. Like the United States’ stance, the United Kingdom and Canada declared Russia’s actions destructive, as did the European Union. China notably refused to condemn Russia’s actions. (Caitlyn Swanson)

This website provides brief information on how every nation is reacting to the war and was extremely helpful.


Header image: UA NYC Protests Feb 24 MQ (3 of 15) by Andriy Yatsykiv on Flickr