This backgrounder explains the significance and risks of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. See each question and answer included in this backgrounder on the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the bottom of this post.

Officially, neither Ukraine nor NATO provoked Russia into invading Ukraine. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky recently stated that his country wanted to join NATO “for years” but admitted that process was not advancing. Many commentators have noted that Putin invaded Ukraine to stop its movement westward and halt any further NATO advances toward Russia’s borders.

That is the big picture. There has been far more provocation in the details underlying that picture.

A recent guest article here at the End of History noted how the west isolated Vladimir Putin and Russia for the last twenty years, forcing him into the role of aggressor even when he showed signs of wanting to better integrate Russia with the west.

Russian troop buildup on Ukraine’s borders at the end of 2021 occurred at the same time as NATO countries expanded military activities in the Black Sea region and Ukraine. Last summer, a British destroyer sailed through territorial waters off Crimea. In November, a US strategic bomber flew within 13 miles of the Russian border in the Black Sea region. Meanwhile, western arms and military aid has poured into Ukraine in recent years.

As late as December, Foreign Affairs noted that Vladimir Putin has presided over four waves of NATO enlargement, American withdrawal from anti-ballistic missiles, intermediate long-range nuclear forces, and unarmed observation aircraft. From Putin’s perspective, Ukraine was his last stand. Russia has viewed Ukraine as a vital national security interest for decades.

Meanwhile, Volodymyr Zelensky, who came to power as a peace candidate in Ukraine, has sent mixed signals toward Russia. Before Russia’s military buildup and invasion of Ukraine, some commentators noted Zelensky’s often “erratic” behavior, such as withdrawing from peace negotiations with Putin over the breakaway Donbas region and sending armed drones into Donbas in 2021.


Learn more about the background and facts behind the Russian invasion of Ukraine through this set of backgrounds and explanations. Subscribe to the blog to stay up to date when new backgrounders are posted.

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JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at