What does the Russo-Ukraine crisis mean for global politics?

The Russo-Ukraine crisis of 2022 has escalated quickly, with the recognition of two breakaway regions of Ukraine by Russia followed by a military invasion of Ukraine. This has followed weeks of aggression by Russia, and retaliation by NATO-allied forces. What impact does this crisis have for global politics and international relations?

This article will look at the core themes of the Russo-Ukraine crisis, and how it can be used as an example for the Global Politics exam. These examples are best used for the Power and Developments, and Political and Economic Global Governance units in the Edexcel specification. The Summer 2022 exams will include assessment on different forms of government, and this could be a useful example for this.

Background to the Russo-Ukraine Crisis

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been high since the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. After Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014, which was met with strong condemnation by the West, there has been constant tension between the two states. In December 2021, Russia requested the West to sign a treaty that Ukraine would not be allowed to join NATO, and NATO troops would be reduced in Eastern Europe.

NATO was established in 1949 to protect against aggression from the Soviet Union (USSR) and its allies in the Warsaw Pact. It has seen its membership expand to 30 members across Europe and North America. This is despite the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union’s dissolutions in 1991.

Throughout January and February 2022, a build-up of Russian troops across the borders between Ukraine and Russia and Ukraine and Belarus (a key ally of Russia) was met with strong condemnation by the UK, US, EU and other Western allies. US President Joe Biden said that Russia was looking for a reason to invade Ukraine, whilst Russian leader Vladmir Putin said that the troops were in routine military training.

On 21 February 2022, Putin signed an order recognising the separatist Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Met with fury by the United Nations, NATO and others, many sanctions were placed on Russia as a result of the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. The UK sanctioned five of Russia’s largest banks and three of their wealthiest individuals, and Germany ordered the operation of the gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 to cease.

On the morning of 24 February, Putin declared a “special operation” that would help to “denazify” Ukraine, and protect the newly declared states. However, attacks were reported in cities like Kyiv, Odessa and other areas towards the West of the country. Over 150 lives were taken in the first day of conflict in this escalation of the Russo-Ukraine crisis.

Hard Power

Hard Power is typically defined as the use of military and economic sanctions to deter one from a particular action. In the case of the Russo-Ukraine crisis, the invasion by Russian troops of Ukraine is a form of hard power, looking to take control of the country in order to protect those in Luhansk and Donetsk. Assisted by Belarus, whose government is in contention over the late 2020 elections, Russia’s widespread invasion has been met with fierce condemnation, even by its own citizens. Furthermore, the retaliation of economic sanctions by NATO allies is also a demonstration of hard power.

Realist thinkers would accept that hard power is necessary as a strong stance to prevent an act from taking place. It is clear that this escalation of tensions in the Russo-Ukraine crisis shows that hard power is still in use today.

Soft Power

Soft power, the use of diplomacy and reason, has also been used throughout this crisis. Conversations have been held between Russia and Western leaders, but to no avail. The West had hoped to reach a diplomatic solution to the Russo-Ukraine crisis, however this was taken off the table at the 24 February invasion. Soft power is consistent with the liberal view that diplomacy is the best way to reach solutions in the twenty-first century.

Smart Power

There is another type of power that is referenced within international politics, and this is ‘smart power’, which is a term coined by Joseph Nye. It looks to combine methods of hard and soft power, such as economic sanctions with the use of diplomacy. This is a method the West had been using, but the subsequent invasion of Ukraine could demonstrate the inapplicability of smart power.


The recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent by Putin as part of the Russo-Ukraine crisis is a violation of the Minsk Protocol, which helped to end fighting between Russia and Ukraine in 2014. It is a violation of the principle of state sovereignty, which guarantees a state the right to its internal workings and international relations.


Russia is seen to be a rising power, as part of the BRICS group of states (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). As part of the Soviet Union and bipolarity in the 1990s, Russia’s power had decreased in recent years. However, the rise of Russia as a military power in the 21st century could show that multipolarity is replacing the unipolarity that the USA has dominated for years.

The unity of the NATO alliance is also a historic move towards multipolarity. Article 5 of the NATO charter states that an invasion of one NATO member is an invasion of all. Whilst Ukraine isn’t a member of NATO (it’s request for membership is part of Russia’s reasoning for the heightened tension), it is a strong ally.


The Russo-Ukraine crisis has clear impacts on global politics in many aspects. Much of the assumptions about international relations are being tested with the escalating tensions. The Russo-Ukraine crisis will be one for the history books, and the unity in the West will be a defining characteristic of the future of the conflict.

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The Russo-Ukraine Crisis of 2022

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