One year ago, Russia launched Europe’s biggest war since World War II, sending Ukraine’s civilians scrambling for basement bunkers and governments around the world imposing stringent sanctions in an attempt to pressure Vladimir Putin to abandon his invasion. Against all odds, Ukraine’s military has held its ground, reclaiming control of broad swaths of occupied territory and fending off Russian attempts to push deeper into the country’s east.
But it’s not just Ukraine’s resolute defense that is driving the conflict. It’s also its own deep dissatisfaction with corruption and a rigged economy. That was the root cause of Euromaidan, which saw then-President Viktor Yanukovych back away from a European association agreement in the face of mass street protests. The protests ultimately brought about his downfall and ushered in billionaire businessman Volodymyr Zelensky as president. His pro-Europe leanings have galvanized Ukraine’s military, which received billions in Western military aid and honed its combat effectiveness over the years since Russia illegally annexed Crimea.
Meanwhile, a wave of virulent propaganda has inflamed Russia’s domestic population and reinforced the notion that Ukrainians are hostile to “Russians,” as Putin frequently puts it. He has claimed that the two nations comprise “one people” whose shared history implies they should share a common political fate. This largely unchallenged rhetoric has made its way into elite discourse and policy making in Russia.