As an European citizen, the Ukrain war happening now is worrying me.

On side, the official Armed Forces of Ukraine and the separatists on the other side. Is this a civil war?

This is a little subject to interpretation, but I hope that you can show some historical examples in your answer, where similar conflicts are declared as civil war or something else.

Intuitively I would say yes. But the presence of russian fighters in the separatistic troops making this a bit unclear for me. Also, the fact that EU and USA endeavour to support the official Armed Forces with weapons and training is raising the term proxy war.


2 Answers 2


It is common for civil wars to involve substantial aid from foreigners. Sometimes this aid includes genuine volunteers; sometimes it includes hired mercenaries; sometimes it includes financial support; and sometimes it includes intervention by foreign armies and/or navies.

For example, there have been three major civil wars in what is now the United States:

  • During 1688 - 1691. This war was only settled after one faction of English (in England) invited the Prince of Orange to invade England. (Incidentally, the political turmoil allowed the Salem witch trials to get out of control.)
  • During 1775 - 1781. Most of the self-proclaimed "Patriot" troops were Americans (who had previously called themselves "Englishmen". The "Royalist" troops were a mix of Englishmen (from England), and German "mercenaries". Washington's continental army was trained by European volunteers. Starting in 1777, the French provided major amounts of funding. The French and Spanish navies fought against the English, and the Spanish unsuccessfully besieged Gibraltar. Washington coordinated his Yorktown campaign with the French navy, and the outcome of the war depended on a French naval victory against the English. The English continued to occupy Detroit for 14 years after the official end of the war.
  • During 1861 - 1865. The armies and navies involved in this war were American. Both sides' diplomacy was focused on whether England and/or France might recognize the Confederacy; Lincoln made a point of not fighting a war against either England or France at the same time.

It is common for civil wars to be instigated by émigrés returning from exile, using funds raised by other emigrants (or their descendants). Sometimes the return of a large number of armed émigrés is indistinguishable from an invasion. For example:

  • The French-sponsored Stuart "pretenders" of 1715 and 1745.
  • Castro's invasion of Cuba in 1958 started with a platoon, and rapidly grew until the government fell.
  • The Bay of Pigs invasion by CIA-sponsored émigrés.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union supported factions in many civil wars around the world. From the points of view of the inhabitants of the affected countries, some of these wars were "wars of liberation" against colonial powers, some were civil wars, and some were invasions. (Some were all three.) From the points of view of the United States and the Soviet Union, most of these wars were proxy wars.

Some of the wars involved multiple levels of proxies. For example:

  • The Soviet Union supported Cuban efforts in Central America and Angola.
  • The United States and South Africa supported a different faction in Angola.
  • The United States and the Arab Oil States provided support and training to the mujahideen in Afghanistan, via the Chinese and Pakistanis.

I think the best answer here is that there is no simple answer. You're right that it could be considered both a civil war within Ukraine and a proxy war between the EU/US and Russia. In a sense, it is both in spirit- the Ukrainian people are torn between Russia and the West, and have escalated to violence in order to settle that dispute. At the same time, the West and Russia are using Ukraine as a proxy for their own conflict- it is merely a pawn in a tug-of-war that's been going on since the end of WW2. But Russia has essentially erased the line between the two by throwing in it's own troops and hardware.

There are multiple ways of looking at it. You could say that Russia is attempting to conquer Ukraine and is recruiting from the Ukrainians in order to do so. Russia would have us believe that it's a purely civil war and they're not involved, just kinda going "we are pretty great, who can blame them?". At this point no-one's fooled anymore except the people that want to be fooled.

So in conclusion I would say it's not as simple as putting it in a single category. It is, I think, both a civil war and a proxy war. But frankly, this could easily evolve into a direct war if Western troops started fighting in Ukraine too. It is definitely something to be worried about, since Russia seems to be on it's way to outright, honest conquest. But they're hampered by the need for the support of the Russian people, who are, I think, less willing to go to war outright than the government.

  • 1
    Sorry, but -1. These are several inaccurate statements here; here's just one: in 1942-1945, over a 1,000,000 russian citizens (out of 34.5 million totally served, and mostly Russian nationals) who defected the Red Army and fought on the side of Nazi Germany (see, for example, Russian Liberation Army ), did not turn World War Two into a "civil war" of Russians versus Russians. The same applies to collaborationists who are not russian soldiers and who fight on the Russian side. Also, due to lack of training, most of them are dead. Feb 18, 2015 at 18:55
  • I was referring to the conflict (if you can call it that) between Russia and the EU/US. Please, let me know if any of it is wrong or if I can be more precise. Feb 20, 2015 at 8:41
  • I've edited the question to clarify. Perhaps you misunderstood- I never mentioned any civil war in Russia in WW2, I've never even heard of that. Feb 20, 2015 at 8:47

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