Why is Russia So Adamant About Annexing an Independent Ukraine?

As Russian troops continue to amass along the country's border with Ukraine, the heightened tensions recalled the rocky but critical history between the two nations.

Ukraine's struggle for freedom was even partially born out of Russia's own history. Ruled for centuries by a number of historic empires, a strong Ukrainian independence movement swept across the region after the Russian Revolution began in 1917.

A sovereign Ukrainian republic was declared later that year.

After World War II, Ukraine became a part of the Soviet Union until its eventual dissolution in 1991, after which the country gained full independence.

However, the former Soviet state seemingly never lost its desire to take back the Ukrainian nation that was once theirs. This is despite the Kremlin insisting that Russia would not invade Ukraine, despite the continuing militarization along the border.

"Russia's aggression in Ukraine has triggered the greatest security crisis in Europe since the Cold War," said the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

"Today, [Ukraine] is on the front lines of a renewed great-power rivalry that many analysts say will dominate international relations in the decades ahead," the CFR added.

Russia has been drawn to Ukraine, experts say, because of the deep historical ties that are still shared among the two countries.

"Russia has deep cultural, economic, and political bonds with Ukraine, and in many ways Ukraine is central to Russia's identity and vision for itself in the world," said the CFR. "Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, is sometimes referred to as 'the mother of Russian cities,' on par in terms of cultural influence with Moscow and St. Petersburg."

Kiev Skyline
Russia appears to be gearing up for a potential invasion of Ukraine. Here, the skyline of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv can be seen in a stock photo. iStock/Getty

It was also noted that Russia is likely significantly concerned with the welfare of the approximately eight million Russians living in Ukraine.

A developing country ranked 74th on the Human Development Index, Ukraine is among the poorest countries in Europe. It also faces significant struggles with government corruption, as well as continuing cycles of poverty among many of its citizens.

"The prevalence of a culture of poverty is not just a negative social phenomenon, but a long-term danger," Vox Ukraine said of the nation's conditions.

Beyond looking towards the interests of its people, Russia also has a number of other strategic reasons for wanting to annex Ukraine, according to the CFR.

This includes pressure from the Russian government to maintain significant political influence over Ukraine and the former Soviet Union as a whole. The country already reclaimed the mostly culturally Russian land of Crimea in 2014.

Some experts also pointed towards Russia's actions in 2008 after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expressed interest in adding Ukraine as one of its members.

NATO's push for Ukraine angered Russian President Vladimir Putin, who told the United States that the actions would result in further hostility. This eventually led to a Russian war against the country of Georgia, which NATO had also expressed interest in adding to its ranks.

Despite international concerns that a Russian invasion is on the horizon, the Kremlin continues to deny that this will occur.

Regardless, President Joe Biden has stated that an American troops presence in Ukraine will not happen. However, Biden reiterated his support to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a phone call on Thursday.

Newsweek has reached out to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.