Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the biggest military mobilization in Europe since World War II. Here’s a guide to how it came about, and what’s at stake for Russia, the U.S. and NATO.
It felt like a scene from the Cold War, a perilous episode from a bygone era. An unpredictable Russian leader was amassing troops and tanks on a neighbor’s border. There was fear of a bloody East-West conflagration.
Then the Cold War turned hot: Vladimir V. Putin’s ordered Russian forces to invade Ukraine. The repercussions were immediate, and far-reaching.
Now, following the launch of Russia’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, the largest mobilization of forces Europe has seen since 1945 is underway. So far, Moscow has been denied the swift victory it anticipated, and has failed to capture major cities across the country, including Kyiv, the capital. It has been weighed down by an ill-prepared military and has faced tenacious resistance from Ukrainian soldiers and civilian resistance fighters. Still, Russia has superior military might, and Mr. Putin has indicated that he likely won’t back down from his ultimate goal of capturing Kyiv, toppling Ukraine’s democratically elected government, and subsuming the country into Russia’s orbit.
The invasion threatens to destabilize the already volatile post-Soviet region, with serious consequences for the security structure that has governed Europe since the 1990s. Mr. Putin has long lamented the loss of Ukraine and other republics when the Soviet Union broke apart. Now, diminishing NATO, the military alliance that helped keep the Soviets in check, appears to be part of his mission. Before invading, Russia made a list of far-reaching demands to reshape that structure — positions NATO and the United States rejected.
With the war grinding on, U.S. intelligence agencies say Mr. Putin has been frustrated by the slow pace of the military advance and Russian commanders have been increasingly intensifying attacks on civilian targets and infrastructure and resorting to tactics used in previous wars in Chechnya and Syria: flattening cities with overwhelming and indiscriminate firepower.
The war has unleashed a devastating humanitarian toll and claimed thousands of lives. It has also prompted more than two million people to flee Ukraine in less than two weeks, spurring what the United Nations has called the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II.
In the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, a Russian strike on a maternity hospital this week killed at least three people. The city has no electricity or water, and people have been boiling snow for water, felling trees to burn for heat and digging trenches to accommodate the city’s mounting numbers of bodies.
Several rounds of diplomatic talks between Russia and Ukraine have failed to stop the war. The United States and the European Union have mobilized to impose some of the toughest economic sanctions ever on Mr. Putin’s government. Hundreds of Western businesses — manufacturers, oil companies, retailers and fast-food chains like McDonald’s — have suspended operations in Russia, turning back the clock on the country’s opening to the west.