Putin’s war on Ukraine, explained

Putin’s war on Ukraine, explained

Ukraine is under attack.

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On February 24th, Russia launched a military invasion of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin called it a “special military operation,” but the scale of the attack shows this is a full-scale war that has already caused more than 100 casualties and forced more than half a million Ukrainians to flee their homes.

Ukraine and Russia’s conflict goes back to 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and Russian-backed separatist forces took over parts of southeastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. But to understand the full context behind the invasion, it’s important to go even farther back, to the time when Europe’s current-day divisions began, and see how that shaped Europe’s power balance today.

To understand the current conflict’s history in less than 10 minutes, watch the video above.

Further reading:

For the latest on the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, read more from Vox: https://bit.ly/3hBNll2

Or listen to our podcasts that cover the history of the situation, pull in expert voices, and more: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0QVMmiEXj4S5NTz6Ze6N6Y?si=fbbeecfc70e14b8f&nd=1

For more information on the human impact this war is having on the ground, check out Human Rights Watch:

For the UN’s latest information on the displacement of Ukrainians click here:

For the latest on the situation on the ground you can check out the daily updates from the Institute for the Study of War:

And the International Crisis Group:

For a detailed look at Ukraine’s decision to pull out from the 2013 EU agreement, check this out:

To better understand the annexation of Crimea and what that meant for Ukraine, click here:

To understand Putin’s grip on power, we recommend this book:

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49 Responses

  1. Vox says:

    Correction: At 3:36, we say that NATO was brought to Russia’s borders for the first time in 2004 when Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined NATO. That’s inaccurate because Norway shares a small border with Russia and has been in NATO since 1949. But 2004 is significant because it marked the first time that former Soviet republics on Russia’s border joined NATO.

    • Santzzi says:

      @Oskar SkalskiI still think that maybe for the sake of Ukraine and for the peace of the land, they should not considering to join NATO. At least not in now. It is not worth it. Ukraine can develop a great army surely and keep an eye on their borders. Let me add when the Spanish empire tried to destroy England, they were destroyed by a supernatural storm at the coasts of England. Cannot Ukraine put their trust in God and not in NATO?

    • D S says:

      Another correction: Russia wants the ports in Ukraine because Russian ports are in the Arctic and they freeze for several months of the year (which is why they took Crimea in 2014). The NATO thing is secondary and we are not neutral. One planet, competing interests. The West will let Ukraine fall as compensation for the spread of NATO, but they’ll do it tactfully by throwing US play money at Ukraine.

    • Lionheart Merrill says:

      @JACOB FREDMAN How about Putin needs to be assassinated? Will that vanish? I guess we’ll see. Anyone that threatens nuclear use is a mental case Megalomaniac.

    • Himanshu Chaudhary says:

      @ᚨᚾᚷᛊᚢᛗᚨᚾ they will not talk about that. Doesn’t fit thier narrative.
      Also, Ukrainian Army are now taking immigrants hostage.
      Many asians, African are taken hostage and used as Human shield by Ukrainian Army.
      Also they are blocking many Indians, Chinese students and beating them woth Racist comments.

    • ᚨᚾᚷᛊᚢᛗᚨᚾ says:

      What about Ukraine govts genocide in donbass region and blocking of water supply to crimea

  2. mister shrek シュレック says:

    The worst thing about war is that civilians are the ones who suffer the most, there are many children who didn’t expect to experience such a situation

    • Replicant says:

      @Norman Beige So says the automaton?

    • Sailing Sinbad says:

      @Alexei Rumyantsev As soon as the Russian army leaves Ukraine and lets them free, all sanctions will be lifted.

      Put pressure on your government to end this war.

    • Replicant says:

      @Ray Ryan Soldiers are professionals who have a career in conflict. That’s what they do. I have no sympathy for their aspirations. However I do have sympathy for people in the private sector wishing to become doctors and teachers, and so on.

    • Replicant says:

      @Ray Ryan That meeting was about a Free Trade and Strategic Partnership Agreement. (A cooperative philosophy that perhaps Putin should have gotten on board with two decades ago.). As for NATO, the Ukraine was granted Enhanced Opportunities Partner – just like they had with other countries including Australia. Any notion of “military, support” was nowhere near the negotiating table considering Germany France and the US positions on Ukraine.

    • Norman Beige says:

      That’ll do donkey that’ll do

  3. Emma Norman says:

    One thing that rather bothers me is that people keep mentioning that “this is the largest war since WWII”. It is a very large and dangerous conflict, but have you all forgotten Yugoslavia 30 odd years ago?

    • Dana says:

      🇺🇸🚀💥🇦🇫 😑 did not say
      🇺🇸🚀💥🇮🇶 😑 did not say
      🇺🇸🚀💥🇵🇰😑 did not say
      🇺🇸🚀💥🇸🇾😑 did not say
      🇺🇸🚀💥🇱🇾😑 did not say
      🇷🇺🚀💥🇺🇦😡 I am against war

    • Scott Gibson says:

      @Danni Roma The young in the US are much more knowledgeable than many older people. My kids are getting a much better education than I ever received. This war is much more dangerous because of the threat of WW3.

    • aidan hart says:

      @Antonio Usai still fruit though

    • cd ab says:

      @J M Exactly.

    • John says:

      @Asep Kurnia  you funny. Russia is about to destroy itself with the little kids economy it has 😂😂
      The whole of Russia will be nuked at once while other nations have defences.

  4. IDK says:

    it would be great to see a more detailed video about all the sanctions and their long term implications, how in the heat of moment so much economic transformation has happened that major stuff swoosh from our sight

    • Frankie Little says:

      It would also be great to see how Ukraine was turning the water off to Crimea and also the United States funded bio labs in Ukraine’s borders.
      The west has spent the last 50 years saying how Russia is our enemy yet has no problem expanding NATO and pushing Russia into a corner

    • lolmetwice says:

      It would more great to see how people in Lugansk Donetsk and Donbas live and what they can say about your’e perfect Ukraina after 8 years of war and deaths.

    • Achyuth Thouta says:

      Putin is winning

  5. Τσάδιος says:

    “Biggest conflict in Europe since WWII”

    *Cyprus and Yugoslavia: am I a joke to you?*
    Seriously though, these two conflicts were ENORMOUS. Especially Yugoslavia. And have had a huge impact on the continent. Especially SE Europe for decades now.

    • Konstantin Decken says:

      @Ammar Haziq you make no sense rn

    • Typical Commenter I suppose says:

      @Wiq Waq I don’t think so mate, only 150+ deaths ? wdym, on the Ukrainian side or the Russians ? We’re in a week of the invasion and only 150 people have died ? You saw the bombings of Kharkiv, even in that bombing, several hundred injured and several dead. The overall death toll can’t be 150+ by all means.

    • Andreas Cleanthous says:

      @Ammar Haziq Cyprus is in the EU and the European Monetary Union. Cyprus’ official currency is the euro and Cypriots can freely live, work, travel and study anywhere in the EU, exactly like citizens of those countries. Is it the same in Egypt?

    • Connor Hartnett says:

      I think what’s meant by largest conflict is what could happen. Truthfully very little has actually happened yet as we are still in the beginning of this conflict, yet it has the potential to become much worse than what it currently is. Combined with the fact that this is the largest response by world leaders since the cold war and its easy to see why some might call it “biggest conflict in Europe since ww2,” even though as of right now that would be considered a hyperbolic statement.

    • Ilkka K says:

      @Stein871 Yes, but Ukraine isn’t over yet. In Ukraine they have problems to count them as soon as comes more. And on this stage of war they don’t tell all of civilian deads anyway.

  6. Jakub Buksiński says:

    “This is the largest war in Europe since WWII”
    Well, let’s not forget the Balkan conflict.

    • Muhammad Nursyahmi says:

      @Red Phoenix oh sorry, i made an egregious error in my comment.

    • Mr. Ash says:

      @Muhammad Nursyahmi Changing definition of civil war depending on situation huh

    • Mateja Ercic says:

      @Muhammad Nursyahmi No it wasn’t

    • Red Phoenix says:

      @Muhammad Nursyahmi no, it was a war between different countries. yugoslavia used to be 1 country, however croatia, slovenia and macedonia broke off from it in 1991, marking the beginning of its collapse and the war. nato “intervened” in 1999, where all but 1 of todays post-yugoslaiva countries were independent.

    • Milos Radenkovic says:

      Let’s not forget 18 countries attacked Serbia in 1999 and all those media that now spit on Russia was supporting that because US and Nato said it’s “OK”….

  7. rsmith02 says:

    Wish there were discussion of the pipelines running to Europe from Russia through Ukraine and how that plays into it as well as gas reserves off of crimea. Energy seems like an important part of the story for why Russia cares about Ukraine beyond just the vague threat of encirclement by NATO.

  8. Si Gr says:

    I wonder why nobody seems to talk about the promises made to ukraine by both russia and the west about 20 years ago, so they would give up their nuclear arsenal… Because I feel like russia would not have started this if Ukraine didn’t sign that deal.
    @Vox: could you explain how this Invasion is happening inspite of the Budapester Memorandum of 5.12.1994?

    • Rob MacKay says:

      Add to that there was a new agreement made in 2014 in Minsk which Ukraine and NATO have refused to implement.

  9. Glenn Davey says:

    So many people need this refresher. Or maybe they don’t. Perhaps we’re so familiar with this history that there’s such a huge response in the world. It’s other conflicts like Serbia and Yugoslavia and Kosovo etc that get forgotten.

  10. Reno Raines the BH says:

    As someone who gone thru countless sources on the Ukrainian situation. You made a great breakdown of the political reasons as to why is this happening. Let it be known, that politicians rather then being solution and preventing wars thru agreements failed us once more, not just that, but they are the very reason wars happen.

    • Rob MacKay says:

      @Casimir being unwilling to accept a democratic decision made by a population as valid does not promote democracy. It promotes war. All external observers except NATO said it was a valid referendum. Donetsk and Lugansk have been asking for recognition for 8 years, asking the world to recognize them. The UN and NATO refused to listen to the breakaway regions but finally Moscow did. Was that because they feared their house being destroyed by Russia or by Kyiv ?

    • John Smith says:

      @Casimir you have the wrong timeline. Pretty sure Ukraine gov in 2014 was being overthrown when Russia “invaded” to help support the gov they allied with. Pretty sure Ukraine government also pays groups to attack anyone who supports Russia literally labelling it “re-education”.

    • Kodah Ray says:

      That’s a very poor simplitions. Citizens empower those politicians…

    • DCookStaVideo says:

      @Junior Bercovich yes,we all have,we know who they are.

    • Ayush says:

      @architecture 369 us obviously

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