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Friday, 14 November 2014

The Background of the Ukrainian Crisis

How did a series of riots turn into the current situation?
Since November of 2013 Ukraine has been one of the most major news events and with on November 12th with NATO Commander General Philip Breedlove saying that Russian troops have been seen crossing the Ukrainian border; something which the Russian government hotly denies. With talks of there even being a second Cold War developing it leaves us to wonder why did the situation deteriorate so quickly in Ukraine? The first signs of this can be seen in 1991. (Note: I live in the UK so only have a Western perspective of the events so if you are Russian please leave me your view). Information from the BBC and Al Jazeera.

The founding of Ukraine- The first seeds of today's problems could be seen with the formation of Ukraine in 1991. After a coup which tried to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev failed Ukraine declared independence with the wave of nationalism that spread across the USSR. Soon other nations declared their independence and the USSR collapsed. Most of the new nations drew their borders based on ethnic populations as well as their historical boundaries but Ukraine largely drew its borders on historic boundaries. From the days of Stalin trying to make Ukraine ethnically Russian there was a clear Ukrainian-Russian divide geographically in Ukraine, in the East being mostly ethnically Russian, which still lasts today. This is shown on the map below:
Map from
In Moscow the new non-communist leaders in the ensuing years after the collapse of the Soviet Union became worried with the West isolating them somewhat with former Warsaw Pact nations like Poland and Romania joining the EU and NATO. The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, (who were once apart of the USSR), even joined NATO which made Russia feel isolated. However in Ukraine the issue wouldn't be raised again until 2004.
The 2004 Orange Revolution
The Orange Revolution- In 2004 the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych was elected President however widespread reports of vote-rigging similar to the accusations that plagued Vladimir Putin in 2012. The opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, lead mass street protests in the November of that years and the color of his party, orange, became the de facto name of the protest: the Orange Revolution. Yushchenko was voted most popular in an election re-run the following month which Yanukovych challenged but resigned nevertheless, The Ukrainian independence sentiment was already being shown. In 2010 Yanukovych was elected again in a fair election which was uncontested but the following year his main rival Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was arrested for abuse of powers, (ironically for making a gas deal with Russia).
Yanukovych on the left and Putin on the right
The protests begin- By 2013 the EU and Ukraine had been building closer times and were on the verge of making an agreement to create closer trading ties which could have brought Ukraine into the EU. On November 21st 2013 Yanukovych's cabinet abandoned this agreement for closer ties with Putin. The protests start to begin with animosity against Russia and the fear that Ukraine could become too economically reliant on their former ruler. Through November and December protesters took to the streets of Kiev with the largest protest occurring on the 8th December when 80,000 people occupied Independence Square in the center of Kiev. The statue of Lenin was even tore down and pieces sold on the internet as it was 'a historic moment'. Yanukovych didn't help matters by accepting Putin's economic lifeline where he would buy $15 billion of Ukrainian debt which worried Ukrainians who felt they were becoming more of Russia's puppet. An anti-protest law was passed as anti-Yanukovych protests grew and 234 protesters were arrested; Ukraine was dangerously becoming much more authoritarian.
Independence Square descends into violence
The protests turn violent- With the anti-protest law the protests develop into riots with at least 88 being killed from the 19th to 20th February. Twenty days earlier Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned in protest of Yanukovych's actions and Parliament was forced to annul the anti-protest law. On the 20th the government started breaching human rights laws with videos showing uniformed snipers firing at protesters. The day after Yanukovych reached a compromise with opposition and on the 22nd he fled to Crimea and then Russia. On the 22nd a pro-West Parliament was formed and Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison to which Yanukovych denounced as a 'coup'. John Kerry pledged US support to new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and interim President Olexander Turchynov. However despite Western support the new government made a fateful error: banning Russia as a second official language. Angering the Russian section of society a virtual civil war began.
Pro-Russian troops in Crimea
Pro-Russia rises- During his rule Stalin decided to 'Russify' Crimea and today there is a large Russian population in Crimea. On February 27th pro-Russian gunmen seized Simferopol and on the 28th Sevastapol. The peninsular was under militant rule. Putin however once again showed his dark side, (apology to those in Russia who likes Putin I don't mean to offend). In an attempt to show his dominance in the region he got Russia's Parliament to allow him to use force to protect Russian interests which fanned the flames of animosity. Despite fears of persecution from the Tatar populace a vote in Crimea to secede from Ukraine took place which the West denounced as illegal. 97% of those who voted agreed to secede on March 16th and two days later Putin annexed Crimea. This is especially worrying as Putin has stated that Russia's greatest leader was Stalin and that 'worst event in history was the fall of the Soviet Union'. Fearful of Russian action elsewhere NATO and the RAF started flying test flights over the Baltic nations while Russia started to do the same in Siberia. Spurred on by the annexation of Crimea as well as support from Putin Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv saw militants seize key buildings but the government quickly recaptured Kharkiv. In May Luhansk and Donetsk declared independence in May.

Situations worsen- Across Odessa fighting claimed more lives and in May Ukraine elected a new President Petro Poroshenko. The West increased their sanctions on Russia and built closer ties with Ukraine but the greatest tragedy had yet to come.
298 innocent lives were lost in the violence
On July 17th Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile as it flew over militant controlled territory. Sadly 298 lives were lost as the aircraft was shot down. It was reportedly that the missile launcher was bought from Russia although this has been denied. Fortunately people were allowed onto the site to make sure those lives lost could be returned to their families, The US and EU issued a new wave of sanctions against Russia thanks to this but the fighting did not dissipate until September 5th when rebels and the government signed a truce and saw significant Russian withdrawal of troops from the eastern border of Ukraine. However the truce did not last long and Putin ordered thousands of troops to be stationed near the Ukrainian border and started to make gestures to NATO or to nations aligned with NATO such as sending planes near the Alaskan coasts and sending a submarine close to the Swedish coast last week, (written 14/11/2014). However tensions with the West did dissipate slightly on the 31st October when a deal was brokered with the EU and Russia to resume gas supplies to Ukraine.

The future?- What will happen next we cannot know. Recently the fighting has been less severe as it had been around May/June time. However the West and Russia must work together in order to solve the problem and I personally believe that earlier working together between the West and Russia after 1991 could have diverted the problem, (as suggested by notable critic of Putin Mikhail Gorbachev who has actually supported Putin). Although an issue over Crimean sovereignty may need to be addressed, especially with the Tatar population not being consulted about the referendum.

Thanks for reading and what is your views. If you live in Russia please tell me your view as living in the UK I've only seen a Western perspective and seeing a Russian perspective over the issue would be extremely beneficial. If you live in Ukraine also give me your opinion on the events that have transpired. Thanks and have a good day.

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