Could Ukraine defeat Russia? Experts answer your questions

Russia At War

(NewsNation Now) —  Russian troops launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine in the early hours of Thursday, as President Vladimir Putin cast aside international condemnation and sanctions and warned other countries that any attempt to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen.”

NewsNation is committed to answering your most pressing questions about the Russia-Ukraine conflict, its impact on Americans and more. If you have a question, submit it in the form at the bottom of this article and we will try to get answers from our on-air and online experts.

Why is Putin opposed to NATO?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed as a counterbalance to the Soviet bloc following World War II. In response to NATO, the Soviet Union formed a separate agreement, the Warsaw Pact, with other Central and Eastern European nations. 

“So you had the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance on one side, led by Russia, and you had the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which still exists, NATO, led by the United States and Western European countries,“ explained NewsNation D.C. Bureau Chief Mike Viqueira.

The Warsaw Pact has since been dissolved but NATO remains and has added multiple former Warsaw Pact nations such as Poland and Romania to the fold. Putin has railed against the expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe and views it as an act of aggression. 

“That is why you’re seeing this dire struggle here that has geopolitical reverberations,” Viqueira said.

Ukraine is not currently a member of NATO.

Will Russia use nuclear weapons?

There is no evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “eager to initiate the use of nuclear weapons,” former National Security Council official Jon Wolfsthal told NewsNation on Wednesday.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, Russia has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal with more than 6,200 nuclear weapons. The U.S. has 5,600. The weapons of mass destruction have the potential to do devastating damage, with the power to kill hundreds of thousands of people at once.

Last week, President Biden said he does not believe Putin is considering the use of nuclear weapons. 

“I don’t think he is remotely contemplating nuclear, using nuclear weapons,” Biden said.

Which areas of Ukraine are under attack?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine began early Thursday morning with reports of explosions in Kharkiv, Odessa and the capital Kyiv. There have also been reported attacks in the western city of Lutsk, which is near the Polish border. The U.S. currently has about 9,000 troops stationed in Poland.

Up to this point, Russia has launched attacks in 14 Ukrainian regions, primarily in the east and south of the country, according to Ukraine’s state emergency service. 

Ukrainian police say Russia has carried out 203 attacks since the beginning of the day. So far, at least 40 people have been killed and dozens more wounded, according to Ukraine’s leadership.

By Thursday afternoon, an adviser to the President of Ukraine said the country had lost control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after a fierce battle with Russian troops, the Associated Press reported.

How is Ukraine responding?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared martial law Thursday and cut diplomatic ties with Moscow as Russia launched its attack on Ukraine.

Zelenskyy made it clear that Ukraine intends to defend its country and that the conflict will not be a repeat of 2014 when Russia took Crimea without firing a shot. Overnight, he told Ukrainians that the government would arm anyone willing to fight.

Does Ukraine have nuclear weapons? If so, would they use them against Russia?

“There used to be nuclear weapons on Ukrainian soil when it was part of the Soviet Union. … As part of the deal to grant Ukraine its independence, and form the country of Ukraine, it signed a deal with Russia, among other signatories, to give up the nuclear weapons that were on its territory. They essentially gave them back to Russia. So no, Ukraine does not have nuclear weapons at this point,” NewsNation’s Viqueira said.

How is the US responding?

On Thursday, President Biden authorized new sanctions against Russia that are intended to punish the country economically. The new package of sanctions aims to cut Russia off from U.S. financial markets and includes freezing the assets of major Russian banks, including VTB Bank, the nation’s second-largest bank.

Biden said the sanctions will cut off an estimated 50% of Russia’s high-tech imports. 

The U.S. will also deploy additional troops to Germany and Biden reaffirmed his position that the U.S. will not engage with Russian forces in Ukraine but will defend its NATO allies.

“Our forces are not and will not be engaged in the conflict with Russia in Ukraine,” said Biden, “the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power.”

The president also vowed to respond to any cyberattacks against U.S. companies. 

What would it take for US troops to become involved in a combat situation?

Ukraine is not a member of NATO but nearby countries including Poland, Hungary and Romania are. 

“The larger danger is, what are the chances of a spillover into Eastern European countries that are allies by treaty with the United States?“ Viqueira said. “Could there be forays — accidental or intentional — in order to provoke allies and engage a larger conflict? We don’t know what’s in the heart of Vladimir Putin.”

Is there a possibility that Ukraine could defeat Russia?

On Wednesday, retired U.S. Lt. Gen. Richard Newton told NewsNation that Ukrainian forces are “not a match” for the Russian army and warned that a worst-case scenario could see Russia attack from the north, south and east, with the possibility of a simultaneous cyberattack.

“I believe there will be casualties, significant casualties certainly on the Ukraine side, but also on the Russian side, as well,” Newton said on “NewsNation Prime.” That scenario began to play out Thursday morning as Russia launched a wide-ranging attack by land, air and sea.

Prior to Russia’s invasion, Newton said he expected an extensive air attack followed by ballistic missiles and rockets. On Thursday morning, some of Ukraine’s largest cities, including Kharkiv and the capital Kyiv, reported explosions from Russian missiles and airstrikes.

Where are US troops positioned?

The U.S. has committed thousands of troops to bases in Poland, Germany and Romania as an act of deterrence against Russian aggression. The move is intended to bolster NATO allies in Eastern Europe but not engage in direct combat in Ukraine.

Many of the U.S. soldiers sent to the region have been deployed from Fort Bragg, North Carolina — so far, 5,000 U.S. troops have been sent from the base, approximately 10% of the military personnel stationed there.

How many people could be impacted by the conflict?

As of Wednesday evening, U.S. officials estimate the fighting could kill up to 50,000 civilians, 25,000 Ukrainian military personnel and 10,000 Russian soldiers. These figures assume only conventional weapons are used.

The number of people displaced from their homes could be far higher as Central European countries brace for a wave of refugees from Ukraine, a nation of 44 million people. German media have cited estimates that between 200,000 and 1 million people may flee to the European Union from Ukraine.

Where will those fleeing Ukraine go?

Neighboring countries including Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have announced plans to support those impacted by the conflict in Ukraine. 

Poland is preparing a medical train to transport Ukrainians wounded in Russia’s attack, the country’s health ministry said, adding that Polish hospitals were ready to receive thousands of patients. Poland has also set up reception points on its border to process fleeing refugees.

Slovakia will send up to 1,500 troops to its border with Ukraine, where additional crossings will be set up, said Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad. Hungary has also said it will send troops to its border to help process refugees.

Germany has also offered humanitarian help to countries bordering Ukraine. German media have cited estimates that between 200,000 and 1 million people may flee to the EU from Ukraine.

Romania is ready to grant humanitarian aid if needed, President Klaus Iohannis said on Thursday. 

Bulgaria is preparing to evacuate more than 4,000 ethnic Bulgarians from Ukraine and is ready to host other Ukrainian refugees, President Rumen Radev said.

How to watch our coverage

As the conflict in Ukraine continues, NewsNation will bring Americans the latest developments from abroad and insights into its impact at home throughout our newscasts. We’re dropping the paywall on our livestream so it’s available to everyone. You can watch NewsNation’s programming, including the latest on Ukraine, at the top of the hour from 7 to 10 a.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. ET.

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