Ukraine is situated in the Eastern part of Europe bordering Belarus, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia and Slovakia. It is home to almost 44.3 million citizens (it grows to 45.4 million if we include Crimea). Territorially it is the largest country in Europe. After the fall of Soviet Union, Ukraine has maintained closer economic ties with Russia, and an estimated Ukrainian exports to Russia is 15.8million USD every year. It accounts for about 5% of the total Russia’s imports – the largest among the commonwealth of Independent nations and overall fourth largest. Ukraine is also a pipeline state which connects Russia’s gas supply to the west. One of the Russia’s five divisions in the Russian Navy, the Black Sea Fleet, is stationed at Svetsapol, Crimea.
The crisis began with the interference of Russia in the internal politics of Ukraine followed by the involvement of “green men” in assisting the separatists to claim independence…
Historically speaking, Ukraine is divided into two fronts, the Western and the Eastern fronts, which differs in ethnic compositions, political workings and identity. The Eastern part of the nation comprises Russian speaking majority, while the western part comprises of Polish, Moldovan and Hungarian speaking communities followed by other minorities, all under the Ukrainian identity. The division in two separate dominions has been a major factor in issues, such as strengthening Ukrainian as the national language, which has been discussed many times in the Ukrainian parliament and is the key factor dividing the nation into two. This divide has been actively noted after the coming of pro western government in the centre, which won an undisputed majority in the eastern part. This divide is the “deep root” of the current conflict.
On August 24th, 1991 Ukraine gained its independence. It was very close to Russia when Leonid Kuchma was in power. After the end of Kuchma’s term, Ukraine saw two candidates, vastly different from each other, instituting different policies and different methodologies, Viktor Yushchenko, widely known for his pro western attitude, and Victor Yanukovych, who was very keen in continuing relationship with Russia.
Yanukovych the pro Russian candidate took power in 2010 while pledging the people of Ukraine for stronger ties with Russia. He was leading in the second poll, which took place in the November 2014, the same time when protests in the nation began. Yanukovych leading the polls was questioned by local media sources followed by Ukrainians. This sparked protests in the country.
The recent events stretch back to 2013 when, under intense pressure from Russia, the then Ukrainian president refused to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which would have benefitted Russia with a free trade corridor. The agreement saw immense protests in Maidan Nesalezhhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev which later on escalated to a full scale revolution. Russia condemned the protestors for their actions and described them as new Nazis while EU and the US government supported the Euromaidan protestors. This sparked the wave of civil unrest, massive demonstrations against the Yanukovych government. In February 2014, 77 protestors were shot dead in the Independence Square which led to the ousting of president, and later on he escaped to Russia, as the government – opposition agreement was on way.
According to NATO, Russia moved its troops to the separatist-occupied territories.The Russian Government however denied this action. This action increased tensions further and turned into an escalated form of Cold War.
Events were intensive in the March of 2014, when “Little Green Men”, soldiers of unknown origins (which were later assumed to be Russian), entered Crimea and helped the local separatist movements to take power, while conducting a political referendum in the region. This referendum resulted in Crimea being “illegally” annexed by Russian authorities. This was deemed illegitimate by the Ukrainian government followed by the US and the western powers, as it was a clear violation of Budapest agreement of 1994 that took place between US, UK and Russia, guaranteeing territorial integrity of Ukraine. This had to be stopped, so EU and the US imposed economic sanctions on Russia. The success of separatist movement in Crimea was a moment of inspiration for other separatists groups in Ukraine, especially those in Donetsk and Luhansk which were now motivated to draft their own agenda’s. This caused massive outbreak along the Russian border, and when, Petro Poroshenko, a businessman turned politician, won the presidential election of May 2014, who had massive support from the EU and the West, military actions grew intense in these breakaway regions. The issue intensified when a commercial Airliner MH 17 was shot down over the Donetsk region, killing all crew and 298 passengers on board. This drew enormous media attention followed by attention of the UN and the EU. More economic sanctions were imposed on Russia.
The issue of “allegedly Crimean accession” was discussed numerous times in the United Nations Security and General Assembly sessions. The resolution (A/RES/68/262) was passed in the General Assembly strictly advising member nations not to recognise any alternations. Amid heated arguments UNSC seemed to be controlled on the discussion as it only passed the resolution condemning the shooting of MH17 (S/RES/2166 (2014))18 in several press meetings as the resolution pertaining the situation in Crimea was vetoed by the Russian Federation.
Unclaimed and Undenied– The Struggle for Donetsk and Luhansk
The situation in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk began intensive in 2014, when protestors which were claimed by the media was pro western, occupied numerous buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv (although the situation was not as violent as the other two). Protestors largely inspired by the Crimean accession demanded independence from Ukraine and requested Russia’s succession. In May the separatists proclaimed themselves as the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’. These newly formed governments held referendum and declared independence. They also requested Russia’s support. No acknowledgment was sent by the Russian authorities nor it was discussed in the Russian parliament. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, did, however, admit to provide assistance to the separatists.
It is also important to look at the fact that all the players in this game of dominance are equipped with nuclear arsenal…
In May 2014, the newly elected Ukrainian president, Pedro Poroshenko, established military operations in these regions, including the seizure of the airport in Donetsk, leading to heavy casualties on both sides. Throughout May and June, separatist groups expanded their territories, and occupied two strategic military bases in the Luhansk region and shot down several Ukrainian military planes.
The EU–Ukraine Agreement was signed on 27th June which angered a lot of pro Russian supporters while violating the previously adopted ceasefire. After heavy casualties on both sides, Ukraine authorities were able to recapture military and strategic installations in the region. Angered by their losses, the separatists retaliated by shooting down Ukrainian aircrafts. On July 17th, the separatists shot down the commercial airliner MH17, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala-Lumpur, with 298 people on board. The plane was shot down with a Soviet made anti aircraft weapon which made it difficult to identify the source. However a preliminary report suggested that the plane was shot down by mistake and no Russian involvement was found. This attracted international communities as international media began criticising Russia’s “Vodka policy”. Amid immense criticism from the global communities, EU and the US imposed more sanctions on Russia.
The United Nations Security Council meeting was convened on 24th October 2014, in the presence of Assistant Secretary General of Human rights Ivan Šimonović, who submitted his report on current civilian casualties. He informed the Council that the death toll during the conflict had risen to 3700 which was increasing than the previous estimated account of 2200 victims. By November 2014, the death toll had risen to 4400 people with over 9000 injured and million displaced. In his address to the UNSC session on October 14th, he advised the members “to work towards this urgent issue speedily before it consumes the whole nation” as the progress was too slow to handle an already escalated situation.