The Russian Federation, led by Vladimir Putin, has advanced troops into the eastern part of Ukraine known as the Donbas region. This area has “Russian-backed” separatists who are autonomous as well as Ukraine-controlled areas that may or may not wish to join the separatists. The separatists either want to remain autonomous or join the Russian federation. Most people in the far eastern part of Ukraine speak Russian and are ethnically Russian. It is only when one goes further out west and north toward Poland that people identify as Ukrainian nationally. A recent poll says that only 60% of Ukrainians want to align themselves with Western Europe and/or NATO.
Vladimir Putin recently announce the “independence” of states in the Donbas region who wish to separate from Ukraine. This may not necessarily mean that Putin is giving these states the blessing to become independent nations. He most likely means that he is encouraging their separation from Ukraine to ultimately join Russia. Putin has had his eyes on Ukraine for a very long time. Crimea, the formerly southern-most part of Ukraine, was taken by Russia back in 2014 to little outrage or fanfare. The same thing appears to be happening right now with the Donbas region. Not much is happening outside of a few sanctions from the United States.
Sanctions are a fool’s errand that has already been proven ineffective. After Russia annexed Crimea, sanctions were levied against them. That did not deter them from not only keeping Crimea but then advancing into another region of Ukraine. Russia can turn off the oil/natural gas spigot to Europe and the United States if they want to directly combat the sanctions. That probably won’t be necessary because of Europe’s dependence on Russia for energy.
Germany has halted the operation of the fully-constructed oil pipeline from Russia called “Nord Stream 2”. This does not, however, stop oil from coming through Nord Stream 1 which is directly beside NS2. As soon as the political issues the US and Russia have over Ukraine subside, NS2 will most likely return to full operation. Russia provides the entirety of Europe with 35% of its natural gas. Large countries like Germany cannot afford to bend to the will of international politics that do nothing for their people. At least not over an extended period of time.
Ukraine is pretty much on its own here, unfortunately. Russia may wind up taking everything east of Kyiv and the Dnieper River in Ukraine if they do not just stick with Donbas. And the reason for this is the encroachment of NATO on Russia. NATO was formed after World War 2 to prevent Russia from encroaching on Europe. The balance of that agreement and other subsequent agreements appear to be working against Russia so they want to correct it. Russia also sees Ukraine as a puppet state of the west that is a little bit too close for comfort.
Ukraine: Putin recognizes Donetsk, Luhansk as independent regions
Putin Orders Troops to Separatist Regions and Recognizes Their Independence – The New York Times
Ukrainians are ready to join the European Union and NATO says survey – EU Reporter
Factbox: What are Europe’s options in case of Russian gas disruption? | Reuters
Russia-Ukraine crisis: How Europe may cope if Putin shuts off gas | Oil and Gas News | Al Jazeera