Timeline and Chronology of the Causes of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Russian invasion of Ukraine – On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, which marked a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian war that began in 2014. This invasion forced a third of Ukraine’s population to emigrate and caused 7 million Ukrainians to flee their country, triggering the European refugee crisis that fastest growing since World War II.

In 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, and Russian-backed separatists seized parts of the Donbas region in southeastern Ukraine, which comprises the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, sparking a regional war. In 2021, Russia begins a large-scale military buildup on the Russian-Ukrainian boundary, numbering 190,000 troops and equipment.

In a television address before the invasion, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, expressed views of Russian irredentism, questioned Ukraine’s sovereign rights, and falsely claimed that Ukraine was dominated by neo-Nazists who tortured Russians in Ukraine.

On February 21, 2022, Russia recognized the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, two unilaterally proclaimed statelets controlled by pro-Russian separatist forces in the Donbass. The following day, the Russian Federation Council authorized the use of military force outside Russia’s borders, and Russia sent troops to the two regions.

The invasion began in the morning (5:00 EET, 10:00 WIB) 24 February 2022, when Putin announced a “special military operation” to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine. Minutes later, missile and air strikes began across Ukraine, including on the capital Kyiv, which were followed by a large-scale ground invasion from various directions.

Zelensky declared martial law and undertook general mobilization of all male residents of Ukraine aged 18–60, who are not allowed to leave the country. Initially, Russia launched an offensive through a northern front from Belarus to Kyiv, a northwestern front towards Kharkiv, a southern front from Crimea, and a southeastern front from the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk.

In March 2022, Russia’s attack on Kyiv stopped. Due to heavy troop deaths and strong Ukrainian resistance, Russian forces withdrew from Kyiv Oblast on April 3, 2022. On April 19, Russia launched another offensive on a 500-kilometer (300 mi) front from Kharkiv to Donetsk and Luhansk, with offensives missiles on Kyiv in the north and Lviv in the west simultaneously.

The invasion received much international criticism. The General Assembly of the United Nations passes a resolution criticizing the invasion and demanding the complete withdrawal of Russian troops. The International Court of Justice ordered Russia to stop military operations and the European Council expelled Russia. Many countries have imposed sanctions on Russia, which affect the Russian and world economy, and have provided humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine.

Protests globally were against the invasion, while anti-war protests in Russia were met with mass arrests and media censorship, including banning the words “war” and “invasion”. The International Criminal Court opened an investigation into crimes against humanity in Ukraine since 2013, and war crimes in the invasion.

Background of the Russian invasion of Ukraine

1. The Post-Soviet Context and the Orange Revolution

Protesters on the Maidan Nezalezhnosti square in Kyiv during the Orange Revolution, November 2004.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine and Russia continued to maintain close ties. In 1994, Ukraine agreed to abandon its nuclear arsenal and signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Guarantees on the condition that Russia, Britain and the United States would provide guarantees against threats or the use of force against Ukraine’s territorial integrity or political independence.

Five years later, Russia is a signatory to the European Charter for Security, in which Russia “reaffirmed the inherent right of each participating State to freely choose or change its security arrangements, including alliance agreements, as they develop”.

The 2004 Ukrainian presidential election was controversial. In November, then prime minister Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner, despite allegations of vote rigging by election observers. The election results caused outrage among supporters of his opponent, Viktor Yushchenko. This then resulted in widespread protests against the results, which became known as the Orange revolution.

During the turbulent months of the revolution, candidate Yushchenko suddenly became seriously ill, and it was soon discovered by a group of independent doctors that he had been poisoned with TCDD dioxin. Yushchenko strongly suspects Russian involvement in his poisoning. After Ukraine’s Supreme Court overturned the results of the initial election, a second round of elections was held.

All these events ultimately led Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko to become the country’s leaders, while Yanukovych became the opposition. In 2009, Yanukovych announced his intention to become president again in the 2010 Ukrainian presidential election, which he won.

2. The Ukrainian Revolution and War

The Euromaidan protests began in 2013 in reaction to the Ukrainian government’s move to delay signing the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, in favor of closer ties with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union. After weeks of protests, president Viktor Yanukovych and leaders of Ukraine’s parliamentary opposition signed a settlement agreement on 21 February 2014 calling for early elections.

The following day, Yanukovych fled Kyiv ahead of an impeachment vote that stripped him of his powers as president. Leaders of the Russian-speaking eastern region of Ukraine declared continued loyalty to Yanukovych, causing the 2014 pro-Russian riots in Ukraine. The riots were followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the War in Donbass, which began in April 2014 with the creation of a quasi-state backed by Russia of Donetsk and the Luhansks People’s Republic.

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On September 14, 2020, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky approved a new National Security Strategy for Ukraine, “which provides for the development of a special partnership with NATO with the aim of becoming a member of NATO.” On March 24, 2021, Zelenskyy signed Decree No. 117/2021 approved the “deoccupation and reintegration of temporarily occupied territories in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and in the city of Sevastopol”.

In July 2021, Putin published an essay entitled On the Historical Unity of Russia and Ukraine , in which he reiterated his view that Russia and Ukraine are “one nation”. American historian Timothy Snyder describes Putin’s ideas as imperialism, while British journalist Edward Lucas describes them as historical revisionism. Other observers describe the Russian leadership as having a distorted view of modern Ukraine and its history.

Russia has said that Ukraine’s possible accession to NATO and NATO’s enlargement in general threatens its national security. On the other hand, Ukraine and other European countries neighboring Russia accuse Putin of trying to perpetrate Russian irredentism, namely the Russian Federation’s claim to the former Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union and pursuing an aggressive militaristic policy.

Timeline of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

1. Russian Military Preparations

Russian military buildup around Ukraine on December 3, 2021.

US paratroopers from the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment depart from Aviano Air Base, Italy for Latvia, on February 23, 2022. Thousands of US troops are deploying to Eastern Europe amid Russian military preparations.

The conflict began with massive military preparations, starting from March to April 2021 and then from October 2021 to February 2022. During the second military preparation, Russia made demands on the United States and NATO, through two draft agreements containing requests for so-called “guarantee security”.

The draft agreement includes legally binding promises that Ukraine will not join NATO, reducing NATO troops and combat equipment stationed in Eastern Europe, and threatening to take unspecified military action if NATO continues to stay on the “aggressive line”.

Russian equipment is marked by the symbol Z — which is not a Cyrillic alphabet — in white. This mark is visible on the side of the equipment during the stacking period. Tanks, combat equipment and other equipment bearing the markings were visible until February 22, 2022. Observers suspect the markings were used to avoid friendly fire incidents .

2. Russia’s Denial of Planning an Invasion of Ukraine

Despite increased military activity, Russian officials have repeatedly denied that Russia has plans to invade Ukraine for months. In mid-November 2021, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters that “Russia does not threaten anyone. Troop movements in our territory should not concern anyone.”

In late November 2021, Peskov stated that “Russia has never created, is not creating, and will never make plans to attack anyone… Russia is a peaceful country, interested in good relations with its neighbors”. In December 2021, Peskov said tensions over Ukraine were “created to demonize Russia and frame it as a potential aggressor”.

In mid-January 2022, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Russia “does not want and will not take any action of an aggressive nature. We will not attack, snatch, attack, quote, anything in Ukraine”.

On February 12, 2022, Kremlin foreign relations adviser Yuri Ushakov described discussions of the “so-called planned invasion of Russia” as “hysteria”. On February 20, 2022, Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, said that Russian forces “threat no one… no invasion. There is no such plan.”

3. Russia’s Accusations and Claims

Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, Olha Stefanishyna, together with NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, during a conference on January 10, 2022 regarding a potential Russian invasion.

In the run-up to the invasion, Putin and Kremlin officials engaged in a series of protracted accusations against Ukraine and demands directed at Ukraine and NATO, which Western officials described as efforts to produce a justification for war.

In December 2021, Putin spoke out about discrimination against Russian speakers outside Russia, saying: “I must say that Russophobia is the first step towards genocide”. On 15 February 2022, Putin told the press: “What is happening in Donbass is genocide”. The Russian government also criticized the law on language in Ukraine.

On February 18, Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, accused the US of condoning Russia’s forced cultural assimilation in Ukraine. In Putin’s speech on Feb. 21, Putin said that Ukrainian society “was confronted with a rise in right-wing nationalism, which quickly developed into Russophobia and aggressive neo-Nazism”.

Putin stated that “Ukraine has never had a genuine statehood tradition” and that the Soviet Union had erred in creating one. Putin’s claims are rejected by the international community. In particular, Russia’s claims of genocide that took place in Ukraine are widely rejected as unfounded. The European Commission also dismissed the allegations as “Russian disinformation”.

The US Embassy in Ukraine has branded claims of Russian genocide a “despicable lie”. Ned Price, a spokesman for the United States Department of State, said that Moscow made such claims as an excuse to attack Ukraine. Observers say that Putin is inventing a “false ‘Nazi’ narrative”, to take advantage of the bad memories and collaboration of World War II in German-occupied Ukraine, to justify Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

While Ukraine has right-wing (political leanings), such as the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion and Right Sector, Putin is seen as exaggerating matters, and there is in fact no support for this ideology in government, military, or election time.

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In response to Russian claims specifically, Ukrainian president Zelensky, who is Jewish, stated that his grandfather had served in the Soviet Army fighting against the Nazis; three members of his family died in the Holocaust. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum condemns Putin’s misuse of Holocaust history as a justification for war.

During the second preparations, Russia issued demands to the US and NATO, such as a legally binding promise that Ukraine would not join NATO, as well as a reduction in NATO troops and military fleets stationed in Eastern Europe. In addition, Russia has threatened sudden military action if NATO continues to stay on the “aggressive line”.

These demands were largely interpreted as unreasonable; new NATO members joined (to NATO) because their peoples preferred to move towards the security and economic opportunities offered by NATO and the European Union, and away from Russia. Demands for a formal agreement preventing Ukraine from joining NATO were also deemed inappropriate, although NATO has shown no intention of agreeing to Ukraine’s request to join.

4. Alleged Dispute (17–21 February 2022)

Fighting in the Donbas increased significantly on 17 February 2022. While the number of daily attacks during the first six weeks of 2022 ranged from two to five, the Ukrainian military reported 60 attacks on 17 February. Russian state media also reported more than 20 artillery strikes on separatist positions the same day.

The Ukrainian government accuses Russian separatists of shelling a kindergarten in Stanytsia Luhanska using artillery which injured three civilians. The Luhansk People’s Republic said its troops had been attacked by the Ukrainian government with mortars, grenade launchers and machine gun fire.

The following day, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic ordered the mandatory evacuation of civilians from their respective capitals, although it was calculated that a full evacuation would take months to complete.

Ukrainian media reported a sharp increase in the number of artillery shelling by Russian-led militants in the Donbass in an attempt to provoke the Ukrainian army. On February 21, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that Ukrainian fire had destroyed an FSB facility on the border, 150 meters from the Russian-Ukrainian border in Rostov Oblast. On the same day, the Luhansk thermal power plant in the Luhansk People’s Republic was shelled by unknown forces. The Ukrainian news stated that the power plant had been forced to shut down.

Separately, the press service of the Southern Military District announced that Russian troops earlier that morning killed a group of five saboteurs near the village of Mityakinskaya, Rostov Oblast. The group crossed the Ukrainian border in two infantry fighting vehicles; the vehicle has been destroyed.

Ukraine has denied involvement in both incidents and said Russia was only trying to find a scapegoat. In addition, two Ukrainian soldiers and a civilian were reportedly killed by shelling in the village of Zaitseve, 30 kilometers north of Donetsk. Several analysts, including the investigative website Bellingcat (a Netherlands-based investigative journalist), published evidence that many of the claims of attacks, explosions and evacuations in the Donbas were carried out by Russia.

5. Escalation (21–23 February 2022)

On February 21, 2020, after the recognition of the republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, President Putin ordered Russian troops (including mechanized units) to be sent to Donbass, in what Russia called a “peacekeeping mission”. The Russian military says it killed five Ukrainian “saboteurs” who crossed Russia’s border, a claim that Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba vehemently denies.

Later that day, several independent media outlets confirmed that Russian troops entered the Donbass. the February 21, 2022 intervention in Donbas was widely criticized by the UN Security Council and received no support at all. The Kenyan ambassador, Martin Kimani, compared Putin’s move to colonialism and said, “We must complete our recovery from the embers of dying empires in a way that does not plunge us back into new forms of domination and oppression.”

On February 22, 2022, US President Joe Biden declared that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had taken place. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that “further invasions” had taken place. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba stated, “There is no such thing as a small, medium or large invasion. An invasion is an invasion.”

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, stated that “Russian troops [have arrived] on Ukrainian soil in [not] a full-fledged invasion”. The same day, the Russian Federation Council unanimously authorized Putin to use military force outside of Russia. Ukraine responded with a conscription order for reserve troops from president Zelenskyy, while he has yet to commit to general mobilization.

On February 23, 2022, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada declared a 30-day state of emergency, excluding the occupied territories in Donbass, which took effect at midnight. Parliament also ordered the mobilization of all reservists of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. On the same day, Russia began evacuating its embassy in Kyiv and also took down the Russian flag from the top of the building. Ukrainian parliament and government websites, along with banking sites, were hit by DDoS attacks.

The UN Security Council convenes again on 23-24 February 2022. Russia invaded Ukraine as an emergency UN Security Council meeting aimed at defusing the crisis was underway. Secretary General Antonio Guterres declared: “Give peace a chance”.

Russia invaded while serving as president of the UN Security Council for February 2022, and has veto power as one of the five permanent members. In the early hours of 24 February, Zelenskyy made a televised speech in which he addressed Russian citizens in Russian and pleaded with them to prevent war.

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