Russia launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine early on Thursday, after an address by President Vladimir Putin. He announced the attack on state television, which he said is to defend separatists in the east from "genocide".
Putin has always expressed his desire to take Ukraine back in Russia's fold. He called it the “crown jewel” of Russia in a televised address a few years ago, and wrote an essay saying that the people of the two countries are a single unit.
The order to invade Ukraine came after weeks of diplomacy failed to achieve any breakthrough. The one thing that caused Putin to cross the line was Ukraine's growing closeness to the West, particularly the NATO.
What is NATO?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) - a military alliance - was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada, and several Western countries to provide collective security to its allies. The organization was created after the Second World War to limit to sphere of influence of the Soviet Union (which later disintegrated).
NATO was the first peacetime military alliance the United States entered into outside of the western hemisphere. The United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom were the 12 founding members of NATO.
Currently, the military organization has 30 members. Norsh Macedonia is the latest to join NATO in 2020.
The NATO promise
The organization says on its website that its membership is open to “any other European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area”.
On the political front, NATO promotes democratic values and enables members to consult and cooperate on defence and security-related issues to solve problems, build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict.
Militarily, the website says that NATO is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. If diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military power to undertake crisis-management operations. These are carried out under the collective defence clause of NATO's founding treaty - Article 5 of the Washington Treaty or under a United Nations mandate.
What is Russia's issue with NATO?
Russia wants an assurance from the West that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO. Kyiv is currently a “partner country”, which implies that it will be allowed to join the military alliance in the future.
However, US and its western allies are refusing to bar Ukraine from NATO, saying it is a sovereign country that is free to choose its own security alliances.
What are the other concerns flagged by Russia?
Kremlin says that the West is using NATO to encroach Russia and wants it to cease its military activities in eastern Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin claims the US broke a 1990 security guarantee that said NATO wouldn't expand eastwards.
NATO, however, has rejected these claims and said it's a defensive alliance.
However, in the last two decades, a number of eastern European countries – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Bulgaria – have joined the alliance.