Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the former superpower broke up into different nations, two of them being Russia and Ukraine. However, Russia did not forfeit its dreams of a united empire in a 2018 poll by Reuters. More than 65% of Russians regretted the Soviet breakup. Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote an op-ed in 2021 in which he said “Russians and Ukrainians were one people”.
The Reuters poll and Putin’s op-ed may be able to explain the reason behind the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, however, they do not detail Russia’s larger ambition in Europe. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is not a simple geopolitical conflict but rather a larger Russian attempt to hinder democracy in Europe, which must be prevented to safeguard freedom in the European continent.
The Russian attempt to hinder democracy in Europe began by making European powers reliant on Russian energy. According to the Ministry of Infrastructure of the Swedish government, “around 40 percent of gas imports, 27 percent of oil imports, and 46 percent of coal imports to the EU come from Russia.” Additionally, Germany, with Nord Stream 2, was planning on furthering its reliance on Russian energy, a plan disliked by President Biden.
Even after Russia invaded Ukraine and European nations widely condemned the action they seemed to not have any power to inflict damage to Russia’s largest industry. Russian energy made up more than 40% of the nation’s economic revenue. There was also active meddling in European elections by Russia by hacking campaigns and spreading propaganda.
While Russia was attempting to dislodge European democracy by attempting to weaken European energy independence and attempting to meddle in elections through cyber means, there were still barrier states between European powers and Russia. However, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the threat to European democracy has increased as there is less physical separation between democratic Europe and autocratic Russia.
Furthermore, Russia has also threatened Finland and Sweden if they join NATO demonstrating Russia’s increasing aggression towards European democracies as Russia conquers land in Ukraine.
However, as European democracies may be under pressure from Russian aggression Ukraine and other nations have resisted. Rene Yaroshevsky, the Vice President of Model United Nations at Queens College, and a double major in Political Science and History said “Ukrainians are fighting for their right to life, freedom, and self-determination.” These are shared values across Europe given strong support for Ukraine in Europe. European nations are donating millions of dollars to Ukraine, showing the choice the European people have made, as Rene added “democracy is the expression of the peoples.”
Additionally, defending Ukraine is important because of the precedent it will set for any further action taken by Russia. As Neli Kotlyarova, the President of Model United Nations, said, “If Ukraine were to stop fighting, stop defending themselves, not only do they risk losing their entirety as Ukraine, but they risk setting the precedent that giving anything up to the aggressive outsider parties is better.” Therefore, defending Ukraine is important in order to set the precedent that democracy will always prevail.
The history of Russian attempts to destroy democracy, the current war in Ukraine, and its use of force in other regions explain the importance of defending Ukraine.