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What you need to know about Russia and Ukraine conflict

So, what is at the heart of the conflict that has been going on for more than seven years?

What is now Ukraine, Russia and neighbouring Belarus were born on the banks of the Dnieper River, almost 1,200 years ago in Kievan Rus, a medieval superpower that included a huge chunk of Eastern Europe.

But Russians and Ukrainians parted ways linguistically, historically and, most importantly, politically.

Putin has, however, claimed repeatedly that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people”, part of the “Russian civilisation” that also includes neighbouring Belarus. Ukrainians reject his claims.

Ukraine went through two revolutions in 2005 and 2014, both times rejecting Russia’s supremacy and seeking a path to join the European Union and NATO.

Putin is particularly enraged by the prospect of NATO bases next to his borders and says Ukraine joining the US-led transatlantic alliance would mark the crossing of a red line.

Backing the rebels

After Ukraine’s 2014 Revolution of Dignity, which saw months-long protests ultimately topple pro-Moscow Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, Putin used the power vacuum to annex Crimea and back separatists in the southeastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The rebels carved out two authoritarian, economically weak “People’s Republics”, where the death penalty was restored. They ran dozens of concentration camps where dissidents were tortured and executed.

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credit aljazeera

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