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Spotlight Brief 1/22

The Strategic Circumstances of the Russo-Ukraine War


As the origin of its name implies, ‘borderland’,1 Ukraine has long served as a buffer state between Eastern and Western Europe. Its history reflects the continued and often violent contest for its allegiance, if not ownership. Ukraine’s importance has been recently underscored by its invasion on 24 February 2022 by the Russian Armed Forces. This was a significant escalation of the conflict which commenced with Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and its explicit support to separatists in the Donbas region in 2014. Russia’s most recent action against Ukraine has drawn global condemnation of Russia as well as support for Ukraine. However, the punitive actions of the European Union (EU), and others, and support provided by nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) risks wider escalation given Russia’s history with, and strategic interest in Ukraine.

This article is the first of several Spotlight Briefs which will examine the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War. As the first, this Brief examines Ukraine’s strategic circumstances in order to provide context to the current conflict. For the purposes of this analysis, strategic circumstances are those macro-strategic factors or variables which the national power of a state is founded upon, or is bound by. This analysis is conducted through the lenses of geography, history, demography, economy and diplomacy. The initial examination of Ukraine’s geographic location highlights its importance to both Europe and Asia. This is followed by a broad historical overview from the establishment of the Kievan Rus in the 9th Century to Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in the late 20th Century. This overview provides the basis for subsequent discussion of Ukrainian demography, economy and diplomacy in the 21st century. Given this context, subsequent Spotlight Briefs will examine the application of military power in the conflict and the lessons that it may offer.