Understanding the Russia-Ukraine crisis: Yahoo News Explains

Leaders and government officials around the world are sounding alarm bells that Russia appears poised to launch an attack on Ukraine at any moment. Though the Kremlin has publicly refuted these allegations, large-scale troop movements along the Ukraine border — and the recent history of Russian military incursions into Ukraine — point toward an imminent conflict. Yahoo News National Security Correspondent Zach Dorfman explains the context of the growing crisis and the uncertain path forward

Video transcript


- US officials believe Russia is laying the groundwork to invade Ukraine.

- More than 100,000 Russian troops remain deployed on Ukraine's borders.

- The Kremlin insists it's for drills and training. But the West fears Russia is on a war [? footing. ?]

JEN PSAKI: We're now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine.

ZACH DORFMAN: People talk about Russia invading Ukraine. That's not what's happening. Russia is basically already at war with Ukraine. It is not a Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is another Russian invasion of Ukraine.

- This war has been going on for years now. It's not reported much, but there's still fighting every day.

ZACH DORFMAN: The Russians invaded Ukraine in 2014 and annexed part of sovereign Ukrainian territory and then backed pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country that have basically also carved out a piece of the country. So it's important to think about this as a continuation of a process that began in 2014. The kind of troops and equipment that are being moved are precisely those that you would expect to proceed a land invasion of Ukraine.

Over time, what the Russians have done is they've moved those troops there under different kinds of cover-- for instance, training exercises. But then what you'd normally do is you take the heavy equipment that is used in those drills and you put them back where they came from. But in this case, the stuff is staying.

- Russia has deployed around 100,000 troops at the border, but denies that it's planning to invade.

- Ukrainian officials are worried Russia is building up troops along its border in preparation for an attack. Moscow denies the claims and accuses Ukraine of the same.

ZACH DORFMAN: The Russians are clearly talking out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to having no designs on a potential attack or invasion. They seem to suggest that they would not make the first move, but there's also been the intelligence that showed the Russians were potentially planning on making it appear like the Ukrainians had attacked them.

JOHN KIRBY: We do have information that indicates that Russia is already working actively to create a pretext for a potential invasion.

ZACH DORFMAN: So by them saying, well, we would never attack, you know, you could imagine a world in which that becomes a semantic distinction, right, where they claim to be attacked, it's a false flag operation, and then they roll over the border.

- Russia is laying out demands for scaling back its military presence near the Ukraine border. The proposal includes not allowing Ukraine to join NATO. It also asks US to refrain from developing any military cooperation with former Soviet states that are not already in NATO.

ZACH DORFMAN: This is a conflict that doesn't seem to have an answer. Because the conditions that Russia is setting are themselves impossible for the US and the West to accede to. One of the foundational principles of NATO is that independent countries should have the freedom to decide to join the alliance should they wish to do so and meet the qualifications for doing so. Ukraine is the most important, you know, post-Soviet country that's not a NATO member that is viewed by the Russians as critical to their security.

And what they're trying to do is basically set the conditions in which they get to kind of go behind Ukraine's back and maybe speak to the US and other Western European powers that are part of NATO and make a deal. But that's a nonstarter for the US and for NATO in general. So if they're setting up impossible conditions, it probably only means one thing, which is that they are going to invade further.

The question is, how far are they going to go? Is it the land bridge to Crimea? Is it annexation of the breakaway provinces? Is it a larger land invasion that marches close to or into Kiev? It's not really clear what their calculus is yet. And I think that's why this is such a dangerous moment for Europe. Because we really, you know, we really do not know what they are planning to do.

And, in fact, many US policymakers think that Putin doesn't know what he's planning on doing yet, that he hasn't actually decided what his ultimate objectives are in Ukraine. And that also is dangerous because then it's a really fluid situation where negotiators don't know what the endgame of the person opposite the table is.