United Nations General Assembly Aims to Defuse Tensions

international politics, Politics

By: Elizabeth Boyle, Staff

Tuesday, Sept. 13th kicked off The United Nations (UN) 77th Annual General Assembly. Tuesday September 20th marked the beginning of formal discussions. The General Assembly was created in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations. The General Assembly is a valuable tool of the international community because it brings together the leaders of the countries who signed the UN Charter, and it acts as an open conversation between countries where policies can be discussed and/or developed.

The theme of this year’s Assembly is “a watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges.” This year’s discussion topics include the COVID-19 pandemic and its lasting effects, the War in Ukraine, climate change, and various humanitarian challenges.

On Sept.r 21 President Biden addressed the Assembly. He commented on key topics that will be discussed in the Assembly. He spoke about the war in Ukraine saying that he hoped all 141 nations in the UN General Assembly would condemn Russia’s actions. Biden said, “the United States is also working closely with our allies and partners to impose costs on Russia, to deter attacks against NATO territory, to hold Russia accountable for the atrocities and war crimes.” He said, “I reject the use of violence and war to conquer nations or expand borders through bloodshed.” President Biden emphasized his vision for a world “that is grounded in the values of democracy.”

President Biden included comments about China in the portion of his speech concerning democracy. Biden explained, “We do not seek conflict. We do not seek a Cold War. We do not ask any nation to choose between the United States or any partner. But the United States will be unabashed in promoting our vision of a free, open, secure, and prosperous world…”

At the Assembly, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi said that China wishes to keep peace in the international community. Yi said, “turbulence and war can only open Pandora’s box, and he who instigates a proxy war can easily get himself burned.” U.S. and Chinese comments sound promising for diplomatic solutions to on-going disputes, but the U.S. and China still have two significant sources of tension: the status of Taiwan and Chinese claims to territorial authority over the South China Sea. China believes that Taiwan is officially part of the Republic of China, and the U.S. has practiced “strategic ambiguity” by saying there is one China but recognizing Taiwan as an autonomous state. As far as the South China Sea, China claims the sea as part of its sphere of influence, while the U.S. is adamant that the waterway through which more than 22% of global commerce passes is international water that can be freely traversed by the international community.

Tensions between the U.S. and China increased when the U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan on August 2, 2022. When Pelosi visited, China’s military announced air and sea drills near Taiwan with “potential” testing and launching of conventional missiles. Pelosi said, “We cannot stand by as the Chinese Communist Party proceeds to threaten Taiwan – and democracy itself.” China did not approve of Pelosi’s visit and said that it damaged peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. During Pelosi’s visit tensions were high in the U.S. yet no harm came to Pelosi or her motorcade during the visit despite the disagreement between countries.

In President Biden’s Speech to the General Assembly, he mentioned Taiwan by saying, “We seek to uphold peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits. We remain committed to our One China policy, which has helped prevent conflict for four decades and we continue to oppose unilateral changes in the status quo by either side” Chinese Minster Yi also mentioned Taiwan during the Assembly by stating that Taiwan has been “an inseparable part of China’s territory since ancient times.” Yi says the One China policy is an accepted norm in the international community. He then went on to say that “Any move to obstruct China’s reunification is bound to be crushed by the wheels of history.”

In both President Biden and Minister Yi’s speeches any reader or viewer of the Assembly can see that the two leaders have a disagreement over the “ownership” of Taiwan. But, with both countries emphasizing a desire for peace there may be a potential for future diplomacy between the US and China about Taiwan’s place in the international community.

Discussions about the war in Ukraine and climate change are promised as the Assembly continues over the next week.

Ukraine Advances Against Russia

international politics, Politics

Elizabeth Boyle, Staff 


         The war in Ukraine ever since Russia invaded in February 2022. Ukraine has asked for and received help from much of the Western world while trying to defend its territory. In the month of September, we have watched Ukraine start to change the tide of the war. President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Ukraine has recaptured 6,000 square kilometers since the start of September. 

This past weekend, as part of a broad counter-offensive, Ukraine took back the Kharkiv region from the Russians near the Russian-Ukrainian border. Ukrainian forces took control of the town of Velykyi Burluk, located 65 miles east of the city of Kharkiv, and within 15km of the international border. The US think tank, the Institute of the Study of War (ISW) has stated, “Ukrainian forces have inflicted a major operational defeat on Russia, recapturing almost all Kharkiv oblast in a rapid counter offensive.” 

Under the Ukrainian onslaught Russian forces have abandoned their defensive positions and retreated in an undisciplined manner. The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Syniehubov, said, “[the] enemy hastily abandons its positions and flees deep into the previously occupied territories” and that “in some areas of the front, our defenders reached the state border.” Ukrainian Military Intelligence said that the Russians who are retreating have engaged in, “mass looting, loading generators, telephones, and computers taken from Ukrainians on to their cars.” There are reports that schools have robbed and sports equipment stolen from gyms, the GUR (Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Center) said. 

         The Russian response to the Ukrainian territorial gain has included missiles aimed at the nationwide power grid. This has resulted in the Ukrainian people going without power, gas and running water. President Zelensky responded by rhetorically asking the Russians, “Do you still think you can intimidate, break us, force us to make concessions?” he said, “Cold hunger, darkness and thirst for us are not as scary and deadly as your friendship and brotherhood. We will be with gas, lights, water, and food and without you.” 

         The Allegation of Russia war crimes in Ukraine has persisted since the inception of the Russian invasion. After Ukraine took back Kharkiv, a Ukrainian member of parliament said that on Monday four “corpses with signs of torture” were found in the liberated city.   

       The US has been closely following tactical developments and consistently sending money and weaponry to support Ukraine since the initiation of hostilities. Last week, the US announced that it would be supplying an additional $2.8 billion in military assistance, e.g., weapons, information system, reconnaissance platforms and ammunition to Ukraine. US leadership is expressing concern about Russians war tactics involving energy. On Sept. 8, President Biden held a meeting with other Western leaders over a video chat. His main message was to stay unified in punishing Russia for trying to weaponize energy. US officials currently believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to wear down the Ukrainian economy and demoralize Western Europe. By turning off the Russian pipeline that runs into Europe, Russia seeks to keep fuel prices rising until Europe waivers in its military and financial support for Ukraine and encourages Ukraine to accept peace on unfavorable terms. One US official stated that Putin’s attempt to strangle the European economy has had the opposite effect on morale by saying, “if anything, we believe Russia’s actions have actually only increased unity among Europeans,” the message that Russia is sending every European is that it is not reliable. So the European animosity towards Russia is just increasing”

Lindsey Graham Abortion Bill

national politics, Politics

Ceara Grady, Staff


On Sept. 13, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a bill that would impose a federal ban on abortions after 15 weeks. Such a bill would allow laws in conservative states that ban abortion earlier to remain in effect but would impose restrictions on liberal states that do not currently restrict abortion. Abortion is an incredibly polarizing issue in the United States today, particularly since the overturning of Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June. With the Senate’s current 50-50 split and elections in November with the potential to shift the majority one way or the other, including in Pennsylvania, debates around abortion draw more attention than ever before.  Considering that banning abortion is unpopular nationally and that, since Roe was decided, Republicans have argued that aboriton should be an issue left to the discretion of the states, there is very little support in the Senate for Senator Graham’s bill. Many Republican Senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have come out and said that Senator Graham’s proposed bill does not speak for the Senate GOP conference and that it is unlikely to garner much support. This distancing from Senator Graham’s bill without commenting on its content signals the Republican recognition that abortion is an issue on which they are in the national minority and one that will lose them important votes in their upcoming races.

Upon introduction of this bill, many Pennsylvanians turned their attention to their Senate candidates for the upcoming November election: Democratic nominee Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and Republican nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz. Fetterman did not hesitate to unequivocally denounce Senator Graham’s bill. He confirmed his position that he rejects any effort by the government to impose restrictions on abortion and that he, as a Senator, would support legislation to codify the right to choose. Dr. Oz has been more hesitant and less clear about his views on Senator Graham’s bill. A spokesperson for his campaign made the following statement: “Dr. Oz is pro-life with three exceptions: life of the mother, rape, and incest. And as a senator, he would want to make sure that the federal government is not involved in interfering with the state’s decisions on the topic.” Fetterman’s team was quick to highlight Oz’s roundabout answer to a question important to many voters. Pennsylvania voters can expect to see this topic, among many others, debated by Fetterman and Oz on Oct. 25.

EU Energy Prices Soar as Russia Cuts off Natural Gas Exports


Ian Krysztofiak, Staff

Energy prices skyrocketed on Monday as the state-controlled Gazprom PJSC announces the shutdown of the Nord Stream Pipeline that supplies the EU with 40% of its natural gas. The Nord Stream Pipeline runs from Vybord Russia under the Baltic Sea to Greifswald Germany. The Kremlin says western sanctions has made maintenance of the pipeline impossible yet declines to send the gas through other functioning pipelines. Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, wholesale natural-gas prices in northwest Europe were at around seventy euros a megawatt-a hour, as of Sept. 5, 2022, the price per megawatt-a hour is 252 euros.

Europe is on the front lines of this economic war with Russia, the soaring electricity prices and natural gas shortages has hindered the European economy and has them concerned about blackouts and shortages in the winter months when energy demand picks up. Heading into the winter, the analysts believe Europe will be able to survive without state-directed rationing. European utilities companies are working endlessly to find replacements to Russian gas, the U.S. and the middle east are sending them a supercooled liquified-natural gas alternative.

EU governments fear that power markets are posed to break due to the massive cash payments that these companies are required to make to trade on energy exchanges. Officials see that these failed payments could promote financial instability creating a vicious cycle of volatility.

By cutting gas supplies to Europe creates risk for Moscow, recently the EU has agreed impose a price cap on Russian oil to limit Russia’s ability to finance its war with Ukraine. Russia has threatened to retaliate by cutting off oil and gas exports to countries that implement this price cap.

But German Chancellor Olaf Scholz mentioned earlier this week that his country was “much better prepared” to secure enough national gas for Germany to avoid blackouts during the winter than they were a couple of months ago. He also mentioned that “we can deal quite well with the threats that are coming our way from Russia.”

Russia to officially declare war on Ukraine, U.S. officials speculate

international politics, Politics

Elizabeth Boyle, Staff
Header Image: BBC

Just weeks after the Russian military was accused of war crimes by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Western officials are speculating that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be moving towards an official declaration of war against Ukraine. The speculation comes in preparation for “Victory Day” in Russia on May 9. The day commemorates Russia’s victory against the Nazis in 1945. The day is symbolic to the Russian people and Putin himself. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Putin “is probably going to declare on this May Day that ‘we are now at war with the world’s Nazis and we need to mass mobilize the Russian people.”

U.S. officials have begun to speculate the Declaration of War may be coming on May 9 after reviewing Putin’s language in the months since Russian troops invaded Ukraine. Putin has been careful to avoid the word “war “and called the invasion a “special military operation.”

If Russia is moving towards declaring war it could mean Putin could move all of his troops in the reserves to action in Ukraine.According to Russian Generals, it looks like their eyes may be on Moldova next. 

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991 Moldova became independent. Russia then led a separatist movement into Transnistria which declared itself independent from the Moldova Republic. If the trend continues that Putin wants to rebuild Russia’s empire by taking over former countries in the Soviet Union, Moldova is a logical target. Last week the senior Russian Commander explained that his goals for Russia’s next move into Ukraine is to gain access to Southern Ukraine and move into Transnistria. 

Transnistria is a strip of land approximately 1,350 square miles wide in-between Ukraine and Moldova and is not internationally recognized. There are roughly half a million people who live there that have their own constitution, military and flag. The majority of those people are Russian speakers. Russia has previously used the justification for freeing oppressed “Russian speakers’” when invading Ukraine. By going through southern Ukraine and securing Transnistria, Russia would also gain access to the Ukrainian port city of Odessa on the Black Sea.

Moldova is increasing security measures after an explosion occurred in the towns of Maiac and Tiraspol located in Transnistria to the northeast of Moldova. Moldova has implemented military checkpoints in its cities and canceled its annual victory day parade on May 9. 

An expert on Moldova, Bob Deen, who is a senior research fellow at the Clingendael Institute think tank in the Netherlands says, “We have seen that the topic of Transnistria is becoming discussed more openly in the Russian public domain. Russian recent statements could be an indication of the ambitions Moscow has there.” 

In addition to Russia’s military operations increasing in Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that “NATO is essentially going to war with Russia through a proxy.” President Biden addressed these comments saying that calling out NATO is a sign of “desperation that Russia is feeling about their abject failure.”

Russia pulls out of Kyiv, U.S. meets with Ukraine to discuss aid


Elizabeth Boyle, Staff

Header Image: Kyiv Post

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Kyiv, Ukraine to meet with Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. While in Ukraine they engaged in a three hour meeting where they discussed the turning tide of the war, Russia’s strategy, and what aid Zelenskyy needs. 

After the Russian Military failed to take Kyiv, they turned their attention to the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine. The Donbas region has had Russian supporters fighting there for years, since 2014. The region is on the Russian border, so it makes it easier for Russia to fight there. They are close to supplies and reinforcements from Russia. The Donbas region changes the nature of the fighting because it is a flat and open space. Russia retreating from Kyiv is progress for Ukraine, but they now must focus on using long-range weapons, such as artillery, to fight the Russians from a greater distance. Russia’s repositioning away from Kyiv was one of the topics brought up during the meeting and Blinken said, “When it comes to Russia’s war aims, Russia is failing. Ukraine is succeeding. Russia has sought as its principle aim to totally subjugate Ukraine, to take away its sovereignty, to take away its independence. That has failed.”

Blinken and Austin demonstrated the US’s continuing support for Ukraine. They are the two highest-level Americans to visit the Ukrainian capital since the war started in February. They were cautioned of the dangers of traveling to Ukraine, but Blinken explained, “We had an opportunity to demonstrate directly our strong ongoing support for the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people. This was, in our judgment, an important moment to be there, to have face-to-face conversations in detail…The strategy that we’ve put in place, massive support for Ukraine, massive pressure against Russia, solidarity with more than 30 countries engaged in these efforts are having real results.”

The next step to help Ukraine is to send military equipment that meets current needs, especially long-range weapons such as howitzers and anti-artillery radars. On Thursday, April 21st President Biden announced, “An additional $800 million in military aid will be sent to Ukraine.” This aid includes howitzers and artillery ammunition, tactical vehicles, and drones. The US has provided an estimated $3.4 billion worth of aid since February 24 at the start of the war. President Biden has also accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of genocide and war crimes in Ukraine. 

The US is not the only country to help Ukraine and more continue to join. Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have all offered to give military aid to Ukraine. English Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “They need support with more artillery; that is what we will be giving them.”

The US embassy in Ukraine has remained closed since the beginning of the hostilities, but President Biden announced Bridget Brink as his nominee for Ukrainian ambassador on Monday, and this, along with SecState Blinken’s assurances on Sunday signal the embassy may be up and running in the next few weeks.

Secretary of State Blinken returned to Washington after the meeting, but Secretary of Defense Austin did not accompany him. Austin traveled to Ramstein, Germany along with 20 other representatives for a North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) meeting. In the April 26 meeting assistance to the war in Ukraine was discussed along with long-term remedies for the current conflict in Europe. 

War crimes in Ukraine: easy to see — hard to prosecute

international politics, Politics

Elizabeth Boyle, Staff

Header Image: Euronews

The world watched with horror as Russia invaded Ukraine in mid-February. Russian forces surrounded Ukraine from the east on the Russia-Ukraine border all the way to the Belarus-Ukraine border to the northwest of Ukraine. Currently, there are an estimated 24,000 deaths and over 565 billion dollars worth of property damage in Ukraine. 

As part of the Russian operations in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin’s forces tried to take Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, but were met with stiff Ukrainian resistance and were unable to take the capital. 

Bucha, Hostomil, Irbin and other surrounding suburbs of Kyiv were effectively destroyed by Russian forces. When those forces withdrew to pursue operations in the east of Ukraine, over 400 civilian bodies were found in the suburbs of Kyiv’s nearby towns. Ukraine has accused Russia of committing war crimes through the unnecessary killing of non-combatants. European leaders, as well as President Joe Biden, have condemned these actions. There have even been claims from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other officials that Ukrainian civilians have been tortured and killed in cold blood. The amount of civilian property damage, torture and mass killings of non-combatants continues to grow. Mass graves discovered in the town of Bucha contained the bodies of Ukrainian civilians. Others like them have been found in other locations outside of Kyiv.

War crimes are classified as “Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949,” according to the U.N. Office on Genocide Prevention. International laws have been established to maintain humanitarian decency and respect for personal dignity during wars. War crimes are best understood to be cruel and/or unusual acts in which people are unnecessarily harmed during a time of war. Examples would be the willful killing of civilians, genocide, torture or inhumane treatment, taking hostages, unnecessarily destroying civilian property and compelling prisoners of war to fight for an opposing faction.

Zelenskyy described the destruction around Kyiv as “a scene from a horror movie.” He reported that he had seen such atrocities as corpses of women who were raped, killed and then burned. He said, “This is genocide.” He is calling for the West to employ more sanctions on Russia, and is asking for more weapons to defend Ukraine.

Zelenskyy spoke to the United Nations Security Council on April 5, 2022, and said that those responsible for these crimes should be immediately brought in front of a court similar to the one established at Nuremberg after World War II. Zelenskyy told the Security Council, “The Russian military searched for and purposely killed anyone who served our country. They shot and killed women outside their houses when they just tried to call someone who is alive. They killed entire families, adults and children, and tried to burn the bodies. They used tanks to crush civilians just for their pleasure.” He said that the Russians who gave the orders and performed the actions “must be brought to justice immediately for war crimes.”

Biden spoke out on the issue saying that Putin was acting brutally. The U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that when looking at the images from Bucha he saw that it was “not the random act of a rogue unit” but “a deliberate campaign to kill, torture — to rape — to commit atrocities.” Blinken said that he found the reports of war crimes in Ukraine to be credible.

How will Russia’s alleged war crimes be investigated and prosecuted? One truism of war crimes is “The victor determines what is a war crime and who gets punished.”

Three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery convicted of federal hate crimes

national politics, Politics

Jada Urbaez, Staff

The three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery, Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., were convicted of federal hate crimes last week. 

The murder took place on the coast of Georgia on Feb. 23, 2020. Brunswick, GA had been home to Arbery and his family since his “peewee football days,” says Aaron Morrison, a reporter who sat with the victim’s family. 

On that February day, Arbery, 25, was going on an afternoon jog in a surrounding neighborhood known as Satilla Shores. Gregory McMichael reported to police that Arbery had fit the description for the suspect who allegedly committed break-ins in the area. The suspects claimed to have been doing a citizen’s arrest. The police confirmed there had been no break-ins, and therefore there was never a suspect. 

Travis and Gregory McMichael were both armed with a pistol and shotgun when they surrounded Arbery with their truck. Bryan Jr. joined the McMichaels in this encounter, utilizing his pickup truck, and three shots were fired by Travis McMichael, killing Arbery. 

The McMichaels were arrested over two months later, on May 7, and Bryan Jr. was arrested on May 21, 2020. The three men were indicted by the state of Georgia on nine counts. These include: one count of false imprisonment, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of malice murder and one count of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. 

According to Georgia state law, malice murder is commited when one, “unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being.” Travis and Gregory McMichael are sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Bryan Jr., the third suspect who later joined and filmed the Arbery encounter, would be eligible for parole after thirty years. 

Last week, however, a federal jury found the three murderers guilty of federal hate crimes. To convict someone of a hate crime, the jury must see if the actions of the suspects were racially motivated. 

What aided in this conviction was a suspects’ internet usage that shows a history of racial slurs, offensive/racist memes and conversations. For many consecutive years, Bryan wrote content that mocked Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Travis McMichael left a comment in a 2018 Facebook post, “I’d kill that (expletive).” Gregory McMichael shared a post that implied disregard for slaves’ suffering in the U.S. The post said that Irish slaves suffered more than any race in American history. 

In addition to internet use, there is direct evidence provided by witnesses who testified and shared that they heard the suspects make racist comments and slurs. 

The case’s prosecutor, Christopher Perras, stated that there was no evidence that 25-year-old Arbery was a threat, but the suspects assumed so because he was Black. The suspects pleaded not guilty to the hate crime charges, but were found guilty and must serve their respective sentences for their murder charges.

COVID-19 standards in the military

national politics, Politics

Elizabeth Boyle, Staff

Recently amidst all the negative news and the war raging in Europe, some positive news has come to light in Philadelphia — no more mask mandate. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced that on March 2, 2022, the city is moving into the “All Clear COVID-19 Response Level.” This change means the indoor masks mandate is dropped effective immediately. 

Military bases have been instructed to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) community COVID-19 guidelines. These guidelines will indicate whether active duty military, civilian employees, and visitors need to wear a mask on military bases. The CDC has determined that masks and screenings are no longer mandatory when the Community Level of COVID-19 is determined as low. When deciding this level, they take into consideration the hospital admissions, the percentage of inpatient beds taken by COVID-19 patients, and the number of new cases in a given community. Where Community Levels of COVID-19 are considered medium, the screening will continue but indoor mask mandates may be dropped. This means that DOD employees and service members can remove their masks based on where they are stationed.

The issue of military base locations is complicated in places such as the Army’s Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, and Marine Corps bases in Coronado, Point Loma and Camp Pendleton in California. These bases are spread over three or more counties each. These are some of the largest military bases in the U.S. and they will be waiting for further instruction from the CDC. For example, Fort Bragg covers four counties that are in a variety of ranges for COVID-19 Community Levels. 

As military bases reach lower COVID-19 levels their facilities are being opened up to include more people per building. The Pentagon has increased the occupancy of buildings from 25 percent to 50 percent. This can have an impact on efficiency as well as morale, such as when the service members express excitement for “more options for seating in the food court,” as mentioned in an email circulating to base personnel.

As for COVID-19 vaccines in the military, the Pentagon has announced they are going to be investigating COVID-19 exemptions. The Pentagon’s Inspector General has announced that he will inspect exemption requests, and if they are unsatisfactory proper punishments will be handed down. He stated that punishments are “in accordance with Federal and DoD actions.”

An intense conflict has arisen as federal legal cases have been filed by service members who have refused the COVID-19 vaccine. The judges reviewing the cases have stated that there may be issues stemming from flaws in the exemption process. Those who are petitioning have stated that “the record creates a strong inference that the services are discriminatorily and systematically denying religious exemptions without a meaningful and fair hearing.” In Texas, actions against a group of special forces sailors were stopped by the judge based on how their exemptions were handled by the Navy. In court, Navy Seals claimed that “ their accommodation requests are futile because denial is a predetermined outcome.” 

As civilian vaccines and boosters are available, the mask mandates are being lifted day by day. For our service members, rules on masks will apply based on the location they are stationed. As their mask restrictions are lifted, a struggle continues between the Pentagon and DOD for service members who do not wish to receive the vaccine or have a religious exemption. 

Russia-Ukraine situation, an update, and some insight

international politics, Politics

Elizabeth Boyle, Staff

Russia has gained a global audience because of its tensions with Ukraine. After positioning approximately 190,000 soldiers, armored military units, and naval vessels outside the Ukrainian border for several months, Russia has officially invaded Ukraine. Russia invaded the southeast region of Ukraine on Russia’s border, specifically Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Both provinces have Russian-backed separatist-held areas. The world is talking about the reasoning behind Russian President Vladimir Putin’s motives for the attack. Here are five potential rationales and the arguments that go along with each.

1. Russia was threatened by NATO expansion.

            Putin, on more than one occasion, has claimed that NATO expansion is the central driver of Ukraine versus Russia crisis. Many believe that NATO was trying to play off of Russia’s insecurities by putting pressure on it. Putin responded violently to his perception of a threat from NATO when he invaded Georgia in 2008 and, to a lesser degree, when he annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Some believe that if Putin can prevent Ukraine from becoming a NATO member, he will no longer feel threatened by NATO expansion in Ukraine. By invading Ukraine, Putin has, in the short term, eliminated the potential for Ukraine to become a NATO member because NATO will not accept a country that is under the partial control of Russia.

2. Russia was threatened by Ukrainian democracy.

            Many who believe that Putin is not threatened by NATO believe that he is threatened by Ukrainian democracy. These people look at history over the last 30 years and claim that while NATO is a variable in the conflict between Russia and the West, it is not the major contributor. Instead of looking at NATO expansion, the people who agree with this argument look at the increase of democracy in Europe and Asia as a threat to Putin’s autocratic rule. NATO expansion by including Ukraine in the alliance was not a short-term threat because Russia had already invaded and seized part of Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine would not be admitted into NATO as long as Russian forces were operating on its soil, as they have been in Crimea and the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. If NATO were to admit Ukraine while the Russian military operated on its soil, Ukraine could invoke Article 5 of the NATO charter calling for NATO military action in the collective defense of one of its members. This eliminates the argument that NATO expansion is the cause of Putin’s invasion because he had already prevented Ukraine from becoming a member of NATO by invading Ukraine in 2014. As an autocrat, essentially President-for-Life, Putin does not want Ukraine to stand as an example to the Russian populace. Putin’s goal is to return Ukraine to the control of one of his selected colleagues, such as former President Viktor Yanukovych, who was removed by Ukraine’s parliament in February 2014 due to his close ties to Russia.

3. Russia wants to expand its sphere of influence.

            If Ukraine were to fall under Russian control, it would greatly increase the power Russia has. Although many people don’t realize it, Ukraine is an important country in terms of natural resources, agriculture, and industrialization. Ukraine is the second-largest country by land in Europe, second only to Russia. Ukraine has the second-largest iron ore reserves in the world at 30 billion tons. It ranks in the top three in Europe in terms of mercury ore reserves, shell gas reserves, and recoverable uranium ores. Ukraine places in the top five in the world for the production of rye, potatoes, corn, barley, and sunflower oil. Ukraine also ranks in the top five in the world for the largest natural gas pipeline system and iron, clay, titanium, and turbines exportation. Having access to these resources would increase Russia’s economic independence and its economic influence in Europe. The argument could be made that modern-day Russia looks to America as an example. The U.S., after its founding, continued to expand its influence into Latin America and the Caribbean and assisted in the removal of European powers from the Western Hemisphere. Secretary of State Richard Olney, in 1895, said, “The United States is practically sovereign on this continent and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition.” As a country such as the U.S. grows into a hegemonic power with a large sphere of influence, it begins to fear for the economic and political consequences of challenges to its power. Within a country’s sphere of influence, it has the power to influence regional and global aggression beyond its borders. If Putin were to increase Russia’s sphere of influence through the use of Ukraine’s resources and Western proximity to NATO countries, he would be able to increase Russia’s economic and political power within Europe and beyond.

4. Russia wants to reestablish the historic Russian empire.

            As mentioned in rationale number three, Ukraine’s resources help it economically compete on a global scale. If Russia were to gain control of Ukraine, it would have access to these resources. By looking at history, one can see that, for hundreds of years, Russia was a strong empire full of many people and cultures and had a great amount of global power by virtue of its geography and economic potential. One potential reason for Putin’s invasion is a want to return to that powerful Russian empire. The old empire was able to control resources including the productive capacity of the people by gaining land and its resources by conquest. By annexing Ukraine into Russia, Putin would be able to move Russia a step closer to returning to the historic and powerful Russian empire. 

5. Russia wants to reestablish the geographic contours of the Warsaw Pact.

            In this argument, one must read Vladimir Putin’s speech to the Russian people. Putin starts his speech by saying, “I would like to emphasize again that Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space.” Putin goes on to say that Ukraine was “entirely created by Russia or to be more precise by the Bolshevik communist Russia.” Putin talks about the borders that the USSR used to have and praises Stalin’s leadership there. The way he talked could lead one to believe that Putin is worried Russia’s borders will shrink in the coming future. This leads to the fifth reason why Russia would want to invade Ukraine: to reestablish the geographic contours of the Warsaw Pact. There was no independent Ukraine when the Warsaw Pact was signed and Putin’s speech could lead one to think he wants to see that again. In April 2005, Putin referred to the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Those who believe in this rationale think that the combination of the Russian and Soviet empires collapsing is what Putin aims to reverse with the goal of bringing the Russian empire back to its previous power and borders. He wants to undo the “catastrophe” of the demise of the USSR.

Now that you’ve read five highly popular theories on why Putin invaded Ukraine, what do you think? Is Putin worried about the spread of democracy in Europe? Is he trying to ruin Ukraine’s eligibility of entering NATO for fear of NATO expansion? Or maybe Putin is trying to increase Russia’s power and align their sphere of influence with the past Russian Empire, which includes increasing its borders as they were when the Warsaw Pact was signed?