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Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Thousands have been killed and millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes; meanwhile the conflict has driven up food and energy prices around the world

Russia

Ukraine

Vladimir Putin

Volodymyr Zelensky

Why is Russia at war with Ukraine?

Russia’s war against Ukraine stems from the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, when Ukraine and 14 other independent states emerged from the wreckage of the communist empire. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who came to power in 2000, has always viewed the collapse of the USSR as a tragedy and has tried to reassert Moscow’s control over its former satellites.

Ukraine’s post-independence history has been dominated by its struggle to free itself from Kremlin influence. First came, the Orange Revolution in 2004, followed 10 years later by what Ukrainians call the Revolution of Dignity. Both uprisings saw pro-European crowds protest Moscow’s attempts to control their country. The 2014 revolt ended with pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych ousted from power after deadly street battles in Kyiv.

Mr. Putin responded to the 2014 revolution – which he claims was a Western-backed coup – by seizing and annexing the strategic Crimean Peninsula. The Kremlin also launched a proxy war in the southeastern Donbas region of Ukraine that killed 14,000 people between 2014 and 2022.

When Ukraine refused to accept Moscow’s terms for peace in Donbas, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its smaller neighbour on Feb. 24, 2022.

How has the war gone so far?

Starting Feb. 24, 2022, Russian troops invaded Ukraine from the north, east and south and initially made rapid progress. They captured the southern city of Kherson, surrounded the Azov Sea port of Mariupol and entered the suburbs of both Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

But the Russian offensive was halted by fierce Ukrainian resistance. In April, Russia abandoned its attempt to seize Kyiv. After its troops withdrew from the region, widespread destruction and atrocities were revealed in places such as Bucha and Borodyanka.

Since September, Ukrainian troops – aided by billions of dollars’ worth of Western military assistance – have also liberated the eastern Kharkiv region, as well as the city of Kherson in the south. Russia has responded to the humiliating battlefield defeats with escalated missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, leading to regular blackouts in Kyiv and other cities. Water and heating systems are also under strain as winter sets in.

There are few reliable counts of casualties, but it’s clear that thousands of civilians have been killed, and millions more Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes. Both sides claim to have killed tens of thousands of the other country’s soldiers.

The conflict has driven up food and energy prices around the world. Before the invasion, Ukraine was one of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat, corn and vegetable oils. Russia, meanwhile, remains one of the biggest producers of oil and gas but is facing crippling Western sanctions. Moscow has responded to those sanctions by cutting its exports of natural gas to Europe.

Who are the two leaders?

Vladimir Putin is a former KGB agent who rose to become President of Russia in 2000, when Boris Yeltsin suddenly resigned. Mr. Putin was supposed to serve a maximum of two four-year terms, but he has bent and rewritten his country’s constitution to stay in power.

During his time in power, Russia has transitioned from a fledgling democracy to an outright authoritarian state, as the Kremlin has crushed free media, independent courts and all genuine political opposition.

Inside Russia, the past two decades have been marked by the assassinations of anti-Putin figures such as journalist Anna Politkovskaya and politician Boris Nemtsov, as well as the poisoning and jailing of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

On the international stage, Mr. Putin, who recently turned 70, has waged a succession of wars in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria and now Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, 44, is a relative neophyte. He worked as a television comedian until his stunning election victory in 2019 – a turn of events that mirrored his most famous TV role, in Servant of the People, which sees an ordinary citizen elected president after suddenly becoming famous for an internet video.

Mr. Zelensky was elected on a platform of promising to make peace with Russia, something he says Mr. Putin was never serious about. While many Ukrainians worried before the war that Mr. Zelensky wasn’t up to the task of leading a country in wartime, he won his people over with his decision to remain in the capital even as Russian troops approached, famously refusing a U.S. evacuation offer with the line: “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

He has continued to inspire his country via nightly video addresses.

What has Canada’s role been?

Canada has strongly supported Ukraine since the initial outbreak of hostilities in 2014. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ottawa has promised $1-billion in military aid, which so far has included everything from winter uniforms and drone components to anti-tank weapons and a quartet of M777 howitzers.

Canada has also joined the United States and the European Union in imposing sanctions on a hundreds-long list of Russian state agencies, companies and individuals – though Canada’s large Ukrainian diaspora believes Ottawa could do more. The Ukrainian government has also called for Canada to take a leadership role in establishing an international tribunal to prosecute those accused of committing war crimes in the conflict.

Dozens of Canadians have also travelled to Ukraine to help defend the country against Russian aggression, with many of them joining the controversial International Legion. At least two Canadians have died in the fighting so far.

When and how will the war end?

The war seems unlikely to end any time soon.

Russia says it is willing to negotiate peace, but Mr. Putin has also claimed to have annexed four more regions of Ukraine – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – in addition to Crimea. Since Russia’s constitution (which Mr. Putin revised in 2020) forbids making any territorial concessions, the Kremlin’s formula for peace appears to involve Ukraine accepting Moscow’s claim to more than 22 per cent of its territory.

That’s very unlikely now, with Ukrainian forces on the advance. Officials in Mr. Zelensky’s office now speak hopefully of liberating all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, though they acknowledge that could take at least another year of war.

Western leaders have put pressure on Mr. Zelensky to agree to talks, amid fears Russia will escalate the war even further to avoid defeat. In the same speech in which he announced the annexation of the four regions of Ukraine, Mr. Putin said Russia was willing to use “all weapon systems available to us” – a barely coded reference to nuclear weapons – to defend what it claimed as its territory.

Experts are deeply divided on whether Mr. Putin is bluffing.

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