Making Sense of Ukraine | The Times in Plain English

Map of Ukraine and current fighting.

Go back to the Russian Revolution of 1917. A Czar ruled Russia. Revolutionaries overthrew him, and a Communist regime took over. The revolution took place during World War I (1914-1918). Germany was at war with Western countries. The war ended with the defeat of Germany.

A worldwide depression began around 1930. A Communist madman named Joseph Stalin led Russia. By the mid-thirties, a madman named Adolph Hitler led Germany. Between starvation and mass exterminations, millions of people died in both countries.

During World War II (1940-1945), Russia sided with the Western nations. Their enemy was Germany. The Western Allies, Great Britain, France, and the United States defeated Germany again.

Russia was the supreme power in the eastern part of Europe after the war ended in 1945. It used its strength to take over smaller European countries, such as Poland, Hungary, and Ukraine. The takeovers led to an “Iron Curtain,” a phrase coined by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

And it was the start of the ”cold war.” Western countries such as the United States, Great Britain, and France faced off against Russia, now called the Soviet Union. Both sides had atomic weapons. The idea was that, with both sides having nuclear weapons, neither side would use them.

After World War II, western nations formed an alliance called NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance).

By the late 1980s, the Soviet Union was falling apart. Countries, among them Ukraine, claimed their independence.

People speak of the 70 plus years without war among the great powers in Europe. NATO is one of the reasons. The Alliance has a guiding principle that an attack on one nation is an attack on all member nations.

In addition to the United States and Canada, ten other countries became part of NATO in 1949. Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, and Britain.

Since then, 18 more European powers have joined. Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Turkey, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.

Some European countries have, over the years, avoided joining NATO, including Sweden and Finland.

It is now 2022. The Soviet Union has become the Russian Federation. Ukraine is not a member of NATO. Ukraine abuts Russia and has a large Russian-speaking population near the Russian border. Russia has long claimed that parts of Ukraine belong in Russia.

Vladimir Putin is the head of Russia. He has turned Russia from a start-up democracy to an autocracy. And he obsesses over Ukraine. He currently is using the idea that Ukraine might join NATO as a pretext for invading it. And the invasion has begun.

Ukraine is an independent country with an elected president. Russia is in the grip of a madman who wants to return Russia to its former “greatness.” Observers say that if Putin succeeds, he will not stop with Ukraine. He wants to disrupt the West.

NATO will do everything to support Ukraine, short of sending forces in to fight the Russians. Western countries and businesses are using economic pressure.

Will it be enough?

See The New York Times for more.


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