The conflict in Ukraine has consistently made headlines lately and the entire world is watching the tense situation that is presently taking place. There are so many new updates and complications to the Ukrainian story that it is hard to keep track of what is going on. Here is a synopsis of events that will help you understand the basics of the situation: Ukrainians protested against the government because of President Yanukovych’s refusal to join the European Trade Union and his insistence that Ukraine be allied with Russia. After a considerable amount of violence, the Ukrainian people ousted President Yanukovych and he fled the country to take asylum in Russia. Russia then decided to invade Crimea, a region of Ukraine, because it believed the new government was unconstitutional and unstable. Many Ukrainians and other world powers, including the United States, denounced the Russian invasion for violating international law.
The latest occurrence in Ukraine has escalated the situation to a dangerous point. It has been reported that warning shots were fired at Ukrainian troops on Tuesday, March 4th in Crimea, Ukraine by Russian soldiers. This standoff was fostered by a 5 a.m. deadline that Russia reportedly ordered, stating that if the Ukrainian forces did not surrender, a real assault would begin against units and divisions of the armed forces in Crimea. This ultimatum was deemed “total nonsense” by an authority from Russia’s Ministry of Defense. The Crimean Parliament has since substantiated that Russian troops have invaded Crimea, and are not “volunteer” troops, which President Putin claims they are.
This Ukrainian crisis began after months of protests when President Yanukovych of Ukraine rejected joining the European Union. Anti-government protesters gathered in Independence Square in Kiev to protest President Yanukovych’s unwillingness to join the European Union, which would link them to trade agreements with European nations. Yanukovych dissented and preferred to remain allied with Russia against the wishes of the majority of Ukrainians. Russian President Vladmir Putin put significant pressure on Yanukovych to stay allied to Russia by threatening to cut off all natural gas supplies from Russia during the Ukrainian winter. Protestors were asking for Yanukovych to resign, which he initially refused to do, but eventually fled Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, when the protests escalated. According to CNN the anti-government protests resulted in clashes between demonstrators and security forces leaving 80 dead. Ukrainian authorities have issued a warrant for Yanukovych’s arrest last week over civilian deaths during the protests. After his departure, Ukrainian civilians were shocked to see the lavish palace where Yanukovych lived because he had claimed to live modestly. Ukrainians also discovered the extent of his corruption by reports that he siphoned off approximately $120 billion to private bank accounts, according to The Guardian The blatant misuse of taxpayer money to build his palace and rob the country of billions of dollars further supported the actions of the Ukrainian people in ousting Yanukovych.
Putin is now angry because he believes that the Ukrainian people rejected his political values by wanting to join the European Union and not stay allied with Russia. As reported by Sky News “Earlier, Mr Putin spoke for the first time since the crisis began, warning he would use “all means” to protect Russian citizens against what he called an “unconstitutional coup” in Ukraine. He has deployed 16,000 Russian troops to Crimea, which is a coastal region of Ukraine. Many Russian loyalists live in Crimea, so it is not surprising that Putin would use this as grounds to invade the currently vulnerable country. Russian soldiers are stationed at a military base in Crimea, preventing Ukrainian soldiers from traveling in and out of the military base there. Putin also justifies his military presence in Ukraine by claiming that Viktor Yanukovych sent him a letter asking him to use Russian force to “restore law and order in Ukraine.” The Crimean Parliament has announced that a referendum will be held in Crimea on March 16th to decide if Crimean citizens want to be aligned with Russia or Ukraine. Crimea has its own parliament since the area is already semi-autonomous and will be deciding on complete autonomy from Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has traveled to Kiev, offering $1 billon in aid to shore up financial stability of the government, and to negotiate with Russia.
Russia has strong ties to Ukraine since they are both part of the former Soviet Union. Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 although 24% of the population speaks Russian and 17% are ethnic Russians according to the CIA World Factbook. Russia has economic and military interests in the Crimean area and wants to assure their influence and allegiance by a show of military force.
The United States’ has responded by supporting the interim government of Ukraine and denouncing the military involvement of troops by Russia. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has traveled to Kiev, offering $1 billon in aid to shore up financial stability of the government, and to negotiate with Russia. He has asked Putin to withdraw Russian troops from Crimea to de-escalate the situation and to engage in diplomatic talks to end the conflict peacefully. The European Union and the United States are deciding on sanctions that will be imposed on Russia if they do not withdraw troops from Crimea and allow Ukraine to hold elections without intimidation. The sanctions would include throwing Russia out of the G8 group (a meeting between the eight most industrialized nations), asset freezes and travel bans for specific Russian citizens. The U.S. and the EU have also stated that they will not recognize the referendum in Crimea as legitimate. An interim Ukrainian President, Oleksandr Turchinov, and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk have been appointed in Kiev to stabilize the government until elections can be held in May. As of now Putin is not backing down and continues to maintain that Russian troops are not in Crimea and that terrorists were responsible for threatening Ukrainian troops.
This crisis is changing by the hour and hopefully can result in a peaceful settlement without more Ukrainian lives being lost. One possible resolution for this situation is that the United States and European Union offer Ukraine ample loans and support so Ukraine can survive as an independent country. Another, less promising outcome is Russia reclaiming Crimea, and possibly all of Ukraine, for its own since it is unlikely that economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure will have any affect on Putin’s strategy. Hopefully the Ukrainian people will have a chance to be independent from Russia and have the ability to establish a democratic state, free of corruption.
– Katrina Luque