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Susan O'Rourke | February 11, 2022

Over the past few months, we have increasingly turned our attention to the rising tensions between Ukraine and Russia. Much news coverage has discussed the diplomatic talks, meetings between global leaders, and possible threats of invasion. As we study these events with students, it is important to understand the key moments in geopolitical history that led to this moment as well as the possible impacts on the global economy, Ukrainian national identity, and foreign diplomacy.

We have turned to the work of researchers and reporters to better understand this crisis. In an interview with UNC Global, Prof. Graeme Robertson, the director of Carolina’s Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies and a supporter of UNC World View, provided historical context for the recent escalation between Ukraine and Russia. He explained that:

“Over the past 30 years, many countries on Russia’s periphery have wanted to become members of NATO and the European Union in order to extricate themselves from Moscow’s sphere of influence. They have wanted integration into the West for a variety of reasons…So, the EU and even more so, NATO, have crept farther and farther east. The Baltic States, which were once part of the former Soviet Union, are in NATO, but also the East European states of Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Montenegro, with North Macedonia as the most recent member.”

Prof. Robertson goes on to explain the recent tensions in Ukraine have roots in Ukraine’s recent movements demanding improved (and less corrupt) leadership and asserting greater national independence. The Atlantic Council also notes that

“protests [including the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2014 Revolution of Dignity (Maidan evolution)] served as a national awakening, establishing Ukraine’s democratic credentials and setting the country on a path that diverged sharply from the increased authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.”

Yet, during the latter revolution, Prof. Robertson reports, “Russia moved in and annexed the peninsula of Crimea, the home to an important Russian naval base in Sevastopol.” Further, tensions and fighting have continued up to today. Robertson explains that “there’s been a low-level war in Ukraine going on since then in which at least 14,000 people have been killed.”

Recently, leaders from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and other European countries—including England, France and Germany—have held diplomatic talks to try to de-escalate the tensions as troops continue to build up in Russia. As of Thursday (February 10, 2022), The New York Times reported that the talks have “dim prospects of success.” On Thursday, “Russia and Belarus [launched] joint military drills near Ukraine’s border” and Ukraine also performed such drills in the border region, The Times further reported.

We will continue to follow this important diplomatic and geopolitical event. To prepare for discussions in your classroom, check out the resources below:

Educator Resources

Contextual Information:

Lessons and Guides