× Why Russia could be trying to invade Ukraine — and how Biden could stop it
Moscow has meddled in every major Western election since 2008.
The United States has responded by imposing economic sanctions and warning Moscow of an even greater extent of punishment.
This week’s images of captured Russian tanks near Ukraine and warnings from Ukrainian commanders of preparations for another Western-inspired invasion have again raised the prospect of military conflict in Europe.
Russia and Ukraine have fought two major wars in the past 15 years. The most recent, in 2014, ended in a stalemate after pro-Russian separatists took control of Ukraine’s southeastern cities in fighting that killed thousands. Russia has denied that it carried out the advance.
As Russia’s behavior has increased over the past five years, the U.S. response has hardened. The Obama administration approved a new round of sanctions in 2014 and 2013. Now the Trump administration, under fire for its lack of action on Ukraine, has promised to impose even more severe sanctions.
The civil war in Ukraine began after the ouster of the pro-Russian president in February 2014. Russia and separatists in the south of the country, feeling threatened by new Western sanctions, invaded the country’s southeastern cities the following month. The conflict lasted two years, making it the longest since the Second World War.
Ukraine and the West used it as a chance to confront Russia again. The Obama administration worked with others to organize the so-called Minsk negotiations, a complex effort to end the war.
In 2016, the Ukraine Crisis Group estimated that more than 10,500 people had been killed.
The latest images, published Wednesday in Russian media, included a tank standing on a road and carrying a body. An Associated Press journalist said he saw soldiers positioned in and around a truck carrying a similar vehicle.
Ukrainian border guards denied that Russia had illegally crossed its border but said it may have done so using a route through Belarus.
Ukrainian forces denied that they were approaching the Russian border at that time.
President Barack Obama called Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, to warn him of “greater consequences” if Russian forces crossed the border, according to a 2014 report in The Washington Post. Putin responded in kind.
The next year, the United States and other Western powers told Russia to withdraw its forces from the Ukrainian border. It’s not clear why, but that warning never got through. The United States did later accuse Russia of occupying and annexing Crimea.
In July 2016, the Russians released an intelligence-laden report saying, among other things, that NATO bases in Eastern Europe were being supplied with missiles to defend against attacks. Western governments said Russia’s dossier of anti-NATO chatter was false, but there has been little confidence in the matter since.
Biden testifies in 2015 about the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began in February 2014. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Last week, a video showed Ukrainian soldiers streaming from their tanks and heading into the battle zone with Russian troops in tow. It was, to say the least, curious behavior.
The incident was reminiscent of the crisis in Crimea in 2014.
The U.S. had successfully warned Putin not to take advantage of the crisis by annexing Crimea. That would have allowed Putin to flex his muscles and thumb his nose at the West. So when Russian soldiers and separatist rebels did take over the territory, the consequences were decisive.
That has not been the case in other regions Russia has intervened in.
Putin gambled in 2014 by annexing Crimea. If the Russian president gambles again, it will be easier for him to do than in 2014.
Mikhail Gorbachev said last year that he had warned Putin against trying to take over other regions, referring to Russia’s invasion of neighboring Georgia in 2008.
Gorbachev repeated the warning Friday. The U.S. and its allies must take steps to act against what he called the threat from Russia.
“I am sure that President Putin is worried about what he is seeing in Crimea and what he is seeing around his borders and around the region and around the rest of Europe,” he said. “That is why he wants to expand his sphere of influence and try to win influence over other parts of Europe.”