On Monday, February 21, Russian President Putin signed a decree to recognise two Ukrainian areas, Donetsk and Luhansk, as independent states. 

The move has further heightened tensions between the countries and there are an estimated Russian 130,000 troops along the Ukraine border.

Russia has claimed to de-escalate the situation, however, UK defence minister Ben Wallace says 60 percent of Russia’s soldiers are still on the border and there is significant naval power at sea. 

But how did tensions arise and what does Russia want? Here's everything you need to know.

How did the conflict start?

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after President Viktor Yanukovych was removed from power amid mass protests. 

Russia backed a separatist insurgency that broke out in the east of Ukraine. 

The worst-hit areas from the fight are in the eastern industrial area called Donbas. 

Moscow has always denied allegations that they sent troops and weapons to the rebels. 

The Minsk II agreement was set up by France and Germany in 2015 to bring peace to the area and end the battles, where more than 14,000 people have died. 

However, Russia has denied its involvement in the conflict and therefore doesn't agree to be bound by the agreement. 

The Northern Farmer: A map of the Russia-Ukraine crisis (PA)A map of the Russia-Ukraine crisis (PA)

How did the situation escalate?

In December 2021, US intelligence officials said Russia was planning to send 175,000 troops to Ukraine's border.

The commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces also said there was around 2,100 military personnel in the rebel-controlled east. 

Russia has always denied the allegations and criticised NATO for providing Ukraine with weapons. 

Putin also said he does not want Ukraine in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and gave a list of security demands to the US in December 2021. 

Putin said Russia was seeking guarantees “that would exclude any further NATO moves eastward and the deployment of weapons systems that threaten us in close vicinity to Russian territory”.

The US and NATO have made it clear these demands have been turned down. 

President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “The United States is escalating tensions.

“We are watching these US actions with great concern.”

What will happen if Russia invades Ukraine? 

The US and European allies have said they will hit Russia with financial sanctions if he does invade Ukraine, although further details are unclear. 

It is possible that if Donetsk and Luhansk are invaded, Russian troops may be sent in under the guise of protecting its citizens. 

The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said: "If there is annexation, there will be sanctions, and if there is recognition, I will put the sanctions on the table and the ministers will decide."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of Putin's decision to recognise two Ukrainian areas as independent: "It's a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine."

"It is a repudiation of the Minsk process and the Minsk agreements and I think it's a very ill omen and a very dark sign."