Several recent events along a geographical line of unofficial demarcation in the tension-addled zone of influence currently contested by both the Russian government and the governments of the Western alliance (including the United States, Canada, and the members of the European Union) have once again altered the character of the conflict itself. So what is going on? Why do countries such as Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia matter to United States policymakers? What in the world (or at least Eurasia) is going on over there, and why is such a complicated situation of concern to the U.S. and Europe?

Instead of bludgeoning you, the reader, with quotes and references, this article is designed to be a small explainer piece—something to help the reader understand, in a generic sense, the conflict between Russia and the West. It’s not a thorough historical analysis of ethnic territorial battles, wars of nationalism, or a high-minded academic piece on the causes of war. It’s meant for you, the reader, to find a bit more clarity as to why events in the past year seem to lead from one into the next.

Some interesting byproducts of the conflicts beginning to boil throughout Europe are a rise in far-right parties in the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Finland, and Sweden. In this respect, the economic effects of the conflict are leading into political effects. The changing landscape of the conflict between Russia and the West is eliciting great consequences for the near and distant future of the European continent and Eurasia.

Former Soviet Republics

To begin, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia are former Soviet republics. Each traces its modern independence to the period following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Moldova is a good example of why recent political agreements are consequential to the events in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.

Recently, the European Union’s parliament has ratified an association agreement (AA) with Moldova, effectively placing Moldova on the path to membership in the European Union. In order for the AA to be officially recognized and implemented, it must now be ratified by the parliaments of the 28 member states. If a state votes against ratification of the AA, Moldova will remain outside of a clear path to membership status.

Given the recent parliamentary election in Moldova, one that eventually saw a slim margin of victory for pro-EU parties and a loss for those calling for closer ties with Russia, the former Soviet republic will require significant reforms in its political, judicial, and economic infrastructure to clear all of the hurdles required for eventual membership in the European Union. The AA provides a roadmap to that membership, outlining specific policy reforms that will ensure democratic governance, increase transparency, strengthen the judicial branch, and improve the economy of Moldova.

Both Moldova and Georgia signed association agreements with the EU on June 27, 2014. Ukraine had previously signed its AA on March 21, 2014 and finalized it along with Moldova and Georgia on June 27. Since the signings of these agreements, the war in Ukraine has continued to drive a wedge between Russia and the West. Russian officials have consistently reinforced and reiterated their opposition to the integration of former Soviet republics, the countries Russia considers its near-abroad, into the European community.