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Recap: What’s the Deal with Russia & Ukraine?

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Mohammad HussainNow,,,,,,,,,,

Tensions between the West and Russia are at its highest point since the Cold War era. Sanctions have been imposed on Russia by Western nations. Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia is at odds with his Western counterparts, most notably Barack Obama, President of the USA. Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 has been shot down over the conflicted region by Ukrainian militants, leading to the death of 298 people. All of this has dominated the news in every form for the past few months.

UKRAINE – 

Ukraine is a country situated in Eastern Europe bordering Russia, Belarus, Poland and others. It has been influenced heavily by their large neighbors, the Russian Bear – as they are called in the West. Russia gave control of Ukraine to the Germans in World War I and then took over the land after World War II as part of the Russian Federation.

The people of Ukraine speak Ukrainian, but majority of Ukraine’s population can understand and speak Russian. During his dictatorship in 1932, Stalin, the then dictator of Russia starved 2.5 million Ukrainians in a famine ‘Holodomor’, and relocated Russians to populate the land and make up for the dying numbers.

'Crimea is Ukraine': Pro-Ukrainian Demonstrators Show Their Support. Image Source: nbcnews.com
‘Crimea is Ukraine’: Pro-Ukrainian Demonstrators Show Their Support.
Image Source: nbcnews.com

CRIMEA –  The place the Russians want and the Ukrainians will not give:

Crimea is currently classified as lying in Southern Ukraine. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and is recognized by five United Nation members as part of Russia. The population of Crimea is mainly ethnic Russians, as well as a minority of Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars (A Turkic ethnic group). Crimea possesses several Natural Gas fields, both onshore and offshore, and is a part of the Ukrainian National Pipeline system. These were being prepped and beginning to be drilled by Western interests before the annexation.

The Ukrainian Civil Conflict: An aerial view shows Independence Square during clashes between anti-government protesters and Interior Ministry members and riot police in central Kiev February 19, 2014. Image Source: darkroom.baltimoresun.com
The Ukrainian Civil Conflict: An aerial view shows Independence Square during clashes between anti-government protesters and Interior Ministry members and riot police in central Kiev February 19, 2014.
Image Source: darkroom.baltimoresun.com

UKRAINIAN CIVIL CONFLICT, 2013-2014 – President flees, new government takes over and Russia is angry:

In the fall of 2013, the Ukrainian government was on the brink of signing a deal with the European Union. The deal not only dealt in trade, but also included the Western values which would be incorporated into Ukrainian society. At the same time, Ukraine was also trying to sanction a new deal with neighbors Russia to improve the quality of life of its people. Since the Ukrainians are closely tied with the Russians, this seemed to be an important factor in the Russian agreement.

Victor Yanukovych fled from Ukraine to Russia after months of protests against his government.  Image Source: nbcnews.com
Victor Yanukovych fled from Ukraine to Russia after months of protests against his government.
Image Source: nbcnews.com

The Ukrainian President, Victor Yanukovych, decided at the 11th hour that he would not sign the contract provided by the European Union, and opted to improve relations with Russia. Tensions broke out in Kiev after the announcement and spread like wildfire, consuming the nation. This led to the Yanukovych fleeing Ukraine. Russia accused the West of stirring up the demonstrations and refused to acknowledge the new government in Ukraine.

The newly sanctioned Ukrainian government put forward a few changes:

  • They signed the treaty with the European Union which was rejected earlier.
  • They promised to adopt vast changes in their judiciary systems to be on par with the European Union Standards.
  • The financial, judicial and economic policies of the nation will also be changed according to provisions in the agreement.

The government, though, had a lack of funds to carry out some of these promises. The International Monetary Fund then agreed to an $18 Billion loan agreement to help them out. Ukrainian gas prices were at that moment similar to international rates. This led to Russian troops being ordered to camp near the Russian-Ukrainian border and tensions rose further.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federation Council in Moscow's Kremlin on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Putin defended Russia?s move to annex Crimea, saying that the rights of ethnic Russians have been abused by the Ukrainian government. Image Source: www.aol.com
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federation Council in Moscow’s Kremlin on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Putin defended Russia?s move to annex Crimea, saying that the rights of ethnic Russians have been abused by the Ukrainian government.
Image Source: www.aol.com

ANNEXATION OF CRIMEA – Russia acts out, denies and justifies:

In March 2014, Russians forces in unmarked vehicles and uniforms slowly but steadily started penetrating through multiple points in the Ukrainian borders. Due to the crisis and panic that played in their favor, they slowly took over the Crimean Region. In the Donbass region of the nation, heavy clashes occurred between Ukrainian and Russian forces, but the Russians kept moving in further.

Putin and the Kremlin vehemently denied the Russian government’s involvement in the region. After videos popped up on social media, Putin stated that if the soldiers did breach Ukrainian sovereignty, it was mistakenly. In Russia, reports were surfacing stating that the Russian government was forcing the relatives of dead soldiers to keep mum about the involvement of the deceased. The Russians took on the official stance that the ones who were battling the Ukrainian forces were separated factions and those loyal to the ex-President. However, 2 months after, they accepted responsibility of their involvement in the Crimean region, and reasoned that it was a movement towards an independent ‘Republic of Crimea’. The United States was vocal in its condemnation of Russia and stated that the conflict in Ukraine was a result of Russian involvement.

A picture taken on July 17, 2014 shows bodies amongst the wreckages of the malaysian airliner carrying 295 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur after it crashed, near the town of Shaktarsk, in rebel-held east Ukraine.  Image Source: huffpost.com
A picture taken on July 17, 2014 shows bodies amongst the wreckages of the malaysian airliner MH17 carrying 295 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur after it crashed, near the town of Shaktarsk, in rebel-held east Ukraine.
Image Source: huffpost.com

The presence of Russians and their BUK missile systems caused further problems as Pro-Russian Separatists allegedly shot down Malaysian Airways flight MH17 over the disputed region. Putin also claimed that Russian forces were not present in Crimea, but Novorrosiya, the region which Lenin handed over during the 1920s.

The proof of Russian presence was overwhelming and after a heavy defeat incurred by the Ukrainian forces, it was clear that Russian soldiers and ammunition had definitely made their way across the border. During early September 2014, optimism rose as Russian forces were withdrawn and a ceasefire seemed very near. But, Russia sent in more convoys and the war wound flared up again. Russia is currently under heavy sanctions by the Western world for their actions, and has retaliated by freezing these nations’ interests on Russian soil.

In the Yalta Conference of 2014, Vladimir Putin has made it very clear that the annexation of Crimea was “Absolutely legal”, and will not be reversed under any circumstances.

As of September 28th, Russian Authoritative Forces took over the Crimean Tatars National Assembly building, and disposed of all staff forcibly.  And on the next day, it has been reported that 18 Tatar activists are missing, by the Crimean representative in the Ukrainian Parliament.

 

UKRAINE – Let’s think about the people:

The situation in Ukraine brings forth questions about national self-interest, international co-operation and the result of conflicting political agendas.  It is important that Ukraine comes to a consensus with its neighbors through diplomatic effort and dialogue for it will be the livelihood of the common man that will get caught in the cross-hairs if this turns into an armed war.