Explainer: Why is Ukraine under attack?

To understand the war in Ukraine, it’s helpful to know about NATO.

Washington Post (3/28/22)

If you have been paying attention to the news lately, you probably know that Russia has invaded Ukraine, its western neighbor. Ukraine (pronounced you-CRANE) had been part of the Soviet Union since 1922 but became an independent country when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (VLAD-uh-meer P00-tin) claims that Ukraine isn’t a real country and that its land and people are historically Russian. He says it should be part of Russia again.

Ukraine’s pro-Western government defends its right to exist and is fighting the invasion, which is the latest in a series of assaults by Russia over the past decade. Some people fear that the ongoing invasion could become the worst conflict in Europe in more than 75 years.

A key player in the struggle is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO is a political and military alliance of 30 nations, mostly European. The United States and Canada belong to NATO. Ukraine and Russia do not.

The heart of the NATO alliance is Article 5, an agreement that an armed attack on one member will be viewed as an attack on all, and that they will defend one another.

Ukraine wants to join NATO, which Putin opposes. There already are five NATO countries bordering Russia and its separate Kalingrad territory, and Putin doesn’t want another NATO country threatening his hold on power. He has demanded that NATO agree to never add Ukraine, which the alliance has refused to do.

NATO’s top official called Russia’s invasion a “brutal act of war” and “senseless.” Although Ukraine is not a member, NATO has sent troops and weapons to its member nations closest to Ukraine.

In addition, the United States, Germany and other member countries have imposed economic restraints, called sanctions, to punish Russia.

With Russian troops fighting in Ukraine and deployed in nearby Belarus, the risk for NATO has increased “enormously,” said Ian Lesser, a NATO expert with the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He said the situation could make it harder for the alliance to defend its eastern edge.

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