Russia’s Invasion and Ongoing War Against Ukraine Explained

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 shocked the world. This full-scale military attack on a sovereign country has led to immense suffering and displacement of millions of Ukrainians. As the war continues with no end in sight, many questions remain about how and why this conflict started and what may happen next. This comprehensive guide examines the background, causes, timeline, impacts, global response, and possible outcomes of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Background of Russia-Ukraine Relations

  • History of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union controlling Ukraine
  • Ukraine gains independence in 1991 after fall of Soviet Union
  • Russia loses influence over former Soviet states like Ukraine
  • Ukraine drawn between aligning with Western Europe or Russia
  • Russia opposes Ukraine joining NATO and the EU

Post-Soviet Relations in the 1990s-2000s

  • Political and economic ties remain between Ukraine and Russia
  • Russia works to maintain influence over Ukraine
  • Disagreements emerge over natural gas supplies and prices
  • Pro-Russian leader Yanukovych elected President of Ukraine in 2010

Euromaidan Protests and Revolution in 2014

  • Yanukovych rejects EU association agreement, sparking protests
  • Yanukovych ousted, pro-Western government installed
  • Russia annexes Crimea, supports separatists in Donbas
  • Conflict emerges between Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels

Buildup to 2022 Russian Invasion

  • Disputes continue over Crimea, Donbas, NATO expansion
  • Russia masses troops on the Ukrainian border starting 2021
  • Failed diplomacy, heightening tensions precede invasion

Causes and Motivations Behind Russia’s 2022 Invasion

Reestablishing Russian Sphere of Influence

  • Putin seeks to regain dominance over former Soviet states
  • Preventing Ukraine from aligning with the West seen as critical

Opposing NATO Expansion

  • Fears of NATO encroaching on Russian borders
  • Blocking Ukrainian membership in NATO as a buffer

Reclaiming Lost Russian Territory

  • Restoring Russian control over Ukraine, especially Crimea
  • Reuniting ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers in Ukraine with Russia

Boosting Putin’s Power and Nationalist Support

  • Invasion plays to Russian nationalist, anti-Western sentiment
  • Provides Putin a boost as strongman leader standing up to West

Disabling Ukraine as a Country

  • Weakening Ukraine as an independent pro-Western state
  • Forcing a regime change in Kyiv favorable to Russia

Timeline of Key Events in Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Buildup to Invasion: Fall 2021

  • Russia begins amassing ~150,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders
  • US intelligence warns of imminent plans for an invasion

Eve of the Invasion: February 2022

  • 2/21 – Putin recognizes breakaway regions, orders Russian “peacekeepers”
  • 2/24 – Full-scale invasion begins across Ukraine with air strikes, ground forces

Initial Assault and Battle for Kyiv: Late February-March

  • Russia attacks major cities like Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy in the north & east
  • Assault on Kyiv anticipated but encountered fierce Ukrainian resistance
  • Russia forced to abandon advance on Kyiv at end of March

Shifting Focus to the Donbas: April-May

  • Russian forces regroup to concentrate on the Donbas in the east
  • Intense fighting and bombardments along Donbas frontlines
  • Russia captures strategic port city of Mariupol after lengthy siege

Grinding War in Eastern Ukraine: June-August

  • Russia makes slow, incremental gains in Donetsk and Luhansk
  • Ukrainian counteroffensives limit Russia’s advances
  • Attacks continue on cities like Kharkiv and Mykolaiv

Ukrainian Counteroffensive: September

  • Ukraine launches surprise counteroffensive in Kharkiv region
  • Recaptures large amount of territory, forces Russian retreat
  • Puts Russia on defensive, raises Ukraine flag over Izium
  • Russia annexes occupied regions, calls up reservists

Stalemate and Ongoing Missile Strikes: October-Present

  • Frontlines stall, both sides entrenched
  • Russia relying heavily on missiles and drone attacks nationwide
  • Targeting energy infrastructure and civilian areas far from frontlines
  • Neither side able to make significant breakthroughs amid attrition

Impact and Implications of the War in Ukraine

Humanitarian Crisis

  • Over 14 million Ukrainians displaced from their homes
  • 6.5 million refugees fled to neighboring countries
  • Food and medicine shortages for those unable to evacuate
  • Targeting of residential buildings, hospitals, schools

Environmental Damage

  • Contamination from unexploded ordnance and landmines
  • Disrupted agriculture and loss of cropland
  • Risks from fighting near nuclear plants like Zaporizhzhia
  • Harm to biodiverse ecosystems from warfare

Global Food and Energy Disruptions

  • Shortages and price increases for grains, cooking oils, fertilizers
  • Fossil fuel supply concerns especially for Europe
  • Exacerbates inflation and cost of living issues

Geopolitical Realignments

  • NATO and EU unity strengthened against shared threat from Russia
  • Increased military support for Ukraine from US/UK/Europe
  • Accelerated moves away from Russian energy dependence
  • China and India maintain ties with Russia, limit cooperation with West

Economic Impact of Sanctions on Russia

  • Billions in foreign assets frozen, trade and transactions restricted
  • Russian stock market crashed, ruble initially plummeted
  • Deep recession projected going forward

Risk of Wider War and Escalation

  • Potential for miscalculation and direct NATO-Russia confrontation
  • Talk of Russia resorting to nuclear weapons as losses mount
  • Unclear how far Russia may go to avoid admitting defeat

Costs of War for Russia

  • Tens of thousands of Russian soldiers killed or wounded
  • Loss of tanks, aircraft, other military equipment
  • Domestic economic strife from sanctions and global isolation
  • Reputation as a major military power undermined

Global Response to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Military Support

  • Advanced weapons like HIMARS rocket systems from the US
  • Air defense systems from Germany and other NATO members
  • Crucial intelligence sharing and satellite surveillance

Humanitarian Aid

  • Food, medical supplies, shelters from UN, Red Cross, NGOs
  • Over $60 billion in financial assistance pledged
  • Taking in millions of Ukrainian refugees

Economic Sanctions

  • Targeting Russian banks, oil exports, technology access
  • Freeze on Russian central bank assets, SWIFT removal
  • Oligarch asset seizures, import/export restrictions

Diplomatic Isolation

  • Condemnation from UN, suspension from Human Rights Council
  • Limiting Russia’s participation in forums like G20
  • Adding pressure via bilateral negotiations

Media and Messaging

  • Global coverage and sympathy for Ukraine’s plight
  • Keeping Russian atrocities in the spotlight
  • Combatting Russian propaganda and narrative

Potential Outcomes and Resolution Scenarios

Russian Military Victory

  • Russia overwhelms Ukraine’s forces to control most of the country
  • Ukraine forced to accept territorial losses and Russian puppet government

Stalemate and Partition

  • Fighting settles into protracted stalemate along current lines
  • De facto partition solidifies between Russian and Ukrainian held areas

Ukrainian Victory

  • Ukraine continues to repel Russian assaults, regains territory
  • Russia exhausts resources, forced to withdraw from Ukraine

Negotiated Settlement

  • International pressure compels both sides to negotiate end to fighting
  • Ukraine may concede some demands to avoid further bloodshed

Regime Change in Russia

  • Economic costs and military failures spark unrest in Russia
  • Elites turn against Putin’s leadership, install new government

Further Escalation and Expansion

  • Conflict expands beyond Ukraine’s borders, widens to global war
  • Worst case scenario with immense instability and consequences

The path ahead remains highly complex and uncertain. Russia maintains significant military capabilities despite losses. However, Ukraine has exceeded expectations in its resistance. The outcome will depend on the ability of both sides to replenish weapons and troops and the willingness to bear costs. There are no easy solutions, but the world hopes that ultimately diplomacy can prevail to end this devastating conflict.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the status of Crimea before Russia annexed it in 2014?

Crimea was an autonomous republic within Ukraine following Ukraine’s independence in 1991. Russia maintained a key naval base in Crimea at Sevastopol. Tensions emerged in 2014 when pro-Russian forces seized the Crimean parliament and organized a disputed referendum on joining Russia.

Are the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics fully independent states?

No. The breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics were only recognized by Russia, not the international community. They were Russian proxy states with Russian support since conflict emerged there in 2014.

What is NATO’s role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict?

NATO has no direct combat role but has provided military aid, training, and intelligence support to Ukraine. NATO has also deployed more forces along its eastern flank. Russia views NATO’s eastward expansion as a key security threat.

What part of Ukraine’s population speaks Russian as their first language?

About 30% of Ukrainians reported Russian as their native language in the last census in 2001. Russian speakers are concentrated in parts of southern and eastern Ukraine. Russia has used protecting Russian speakers as a justification for intervention in Ukraine.

How much territory in Ukraine has Russia occupied since invading in 2022?

At its peak in March 2022, Russia occupied up to 20% of Ukraine’s internationally recognized territory including Crimea. By October 2022, Ukraine had liberated over half of that. Russia still controls Crimea and parts of four Ukrainian provinces.

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How dependent was Europe on Russian natural gas before the war, and how has that changed?

In 2021, Europe imported ~40% of its natural gas from Russia. Since the invasion, Europe has scrambled to reduce its reliance through steps like securing alternate suppliers and accelerating clean energy transitions. Russian gas imports could fall to less than 10% for winter 2022.


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has set off the largest military conflict in Europe since WWII. This unprovoked war has taken an enormous toll and disrupted the lives of millions across the region and around the world. While Ukraine has put up brave and spirited resistance, Russia still retains significant military might. Momentum has shifted back and forth, but as the war drags on the costs accumulate for both sides. There are no simple solutions or easy paths to peace. However, it is hoped that through continued diplomacy, pressure, and resistance, this crisis can ultimately be resolved in a way that restores Ukraine’s sovereignty and removes the specter of further violence. The world continues to watch events closely as this complex conflict unfolds.

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