Why would Russia want to invade Ukraine? Putin’s aims explained and what’s happening now as fears of war grow

Downing Street has warned Moscow could be planning to invade Ukraine “at any moment” and the UK has called for Britons to leave the country.

In a bid to bring Russian President Vladimir Putin “back from the brink” of war there will be renewed diplomatic efforts this week.

Boris Johnson will travel to Europe later this week, while Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will take part in meetings with international counterparts to discuss the crisis.

US officials have discussed receiving intelligence that Russia is considering Wednesday as a target date to strike.

Russia has amassed more than 147,000 troops along the border of Ukraine and has engaged in military drills with its ally Belarus.

And while Mr Putin has repeatedly denied he plans to invade, he will not back down on his demand that Ukraine should never join Nato.

Why does Vladimir Putin want to invade Ukraine?

There are a number of theories, principal among them is his aim to restore Russia’s influence in eastern Europe.

He opposes Ukraine’s wish to join Nato and Kyiv’s links with the EU. He has regularly lamented the “loss” of former Soviet republics such as now-independent Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine.

In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula after the Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president was driven from power by mass protests.

Russia went on to support a separatist insurgency that broke out in Ukraine’s east. More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting in the region, known as Donbas, and at least two million people have forced to flee their homes.

While a 2015 agreement brokered by France and Germany helped end large-scale battles, efforts to reach a political settlement have failed.

Mr Putin sees Ukraine’s ambitions to join Nato as a direct threat to Russia’s power in the East.

And Russia claims the United States and Nato have gone back on pledges allegedly made in the early 90s that the alliance would not expand into the former Soviet bloc.
The US government and Nato say no such promise was made, and
east European states who have joined Nato say they their membership is a vital part of ensuring their secuirty against a potential threat from Russia.

Over the years, Mr Putin has made his feelings abundantly clear regarding Ukraine’s bid for membership in Nato.

In 2008 he said: “No Russian leader could stand idly by in the face of steps toward Nato membership for Ukraine. That would be a hostile act toward Russia.”

And in December, Mr Putin lamented the 1991 break up of the Soviet Union. “It was a disintegration of historical Russia under the name of the Soviet Union,” he said.

“We turned into a completely different country. And what had been built up over 1,000 years was largely lost.”

Ukraine dispute Mr Putin’s interpretation of history, and emphasises the country’s separate identity.

There is also the theory that Mr Putin could be using an invasion as a message to the West that Russia is, at least in his eyes, still a superpower.

What is the situation with Ukraine’s membership of Nato?

Kyiv applied to join Nato in 2008. It is currently one of Nato’s “enhanced opportunity partners” – a status afforded to non-member nations that have “made significant contributions to Nato-led operations and missions”.

There has been confusion following comments made by Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK at the weekend which suggested the country could consider dropping its ambition to join Nato to avoid war.

Vadym Prystaiko told BBC Radio 5 Live on Sunday night that the country, which he said was being threatened and blackmailed, would consider “serious concessions” including removing the goal of joining the Nato alliance from the Ukrainian constitution.

However, on Monday he told BBC Breakfast: “We are not a member of Nato right now and to avoid war we are ready for many concessions and that is what we are doing in our conversations with Russia. But it has nothing to do with Nato, which is enshrined in the constitution.”

What are the latest Nato efforts?

Mr Johnson will hold talks with world leaders before a trip to Europe during this week’s “window of opportunity” for de-escalation.

The Prime Minister is understood to be working with allies to provide further defensive and economic support to Kyiv, with an announcement expected in the coming days.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister will continue to work tirelessly alongside our allies to get Russia to step back from the brink.”

Meanwhile, the US is closely monitoring for a potential “false flag” operation by Moscow as a pretext for a full-scale invasion.

Nato nations had been helping with military training for Ukrainians and some have supplied weapons and military equipment.

But there is no appetite for sending troops in should there be an invasion.

On Saturday UK armed forces minister James Heappey said: “There will be no British troops in Ukraine if there is any conflict with Russia.”

This echoes US President Joe Biden, who when asked whether there was a scenario that could prompt him to send troops, replied: “There’s not. That’s a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another. We’re in a very different world than we’ve ever been.”

Western leaders have threatened Moscow with a damaging package of sanctions in the event of a further incursion into Ukrainian soil.

Meanwhile, Moscow denies it is planning an invasion and Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the White House of stoking “hysteria”.

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