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.
Current Situation – Geopolitical Instability
The current crisis is indeed the biggest political unrest in Europe since Yugoslavia. It is still unknown whether the crisis has to be termed with an international link, as Russia has not taken any responsibility for military intervention or political support of any sort, nor are the actions threatening other bordering nations. However Russia’s strategic importance towards Ukraine should not be undermined followed by the geopolitical importance of Ukraine has brought back the faded memories of Cold War.
Many experts suggested that Ukraine should follow the peaceful plan laid out by the Finnish and the Austrian model.
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, in the first place. Their presence increased further with continued military operations in the two breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and multiple exercises by the Russian Army near the southern borders in the summer of 2014. NATO conducted military training in September in the Lviv Region in the Western part of Ukraine (Operation Rapid Trident) at the same time that peace talks took place in Minsk. Russia, allegedly, sent its soldiers to fight on the side of the separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as initiating five humanitarian aid convoys (as of the beginning of November 2014), which were initially regarded as an undercover invasion of Ukraine. Events escalated further in November 2014, when the Ukrainian government sent military troops to protect the occupied cities. 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.
Many experts agree to the fact that Russia’s ultimate goal of reuniting its dominance in the region as been achieved. Largely supported by the propaganda, Russia has confined its policies to recollect itself in establishing the old Soviet Union. On the contrary NATO has begun expanding towards the east, after covering the regions of Baltic and Poland, now bordering Russia. Russia has been deprived from invitation of G8 summits, which has also denied the discussion of the alleged accession of Crimea. If the incidents continue to escalate then heated conflict between the two sides is certain. The change of events occurred when several Russian warplanes were discovered hovering in the NATO airspace, from Baltic regions all the way to England. In addition to this, the Ukrainian President alleged that President Putin stated in a private telephone conversation that if he wanted to, “Russian troops could, in two days, be not only in Kiev but also in Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw, and Bucharest”. It is also important to look at the fact that all the players in this game of dominance are equipped with nuclear arsenal, although the international community is doing its best to resolve this already escalated situation, carefully enough to avoid a civil war.
Conclusion – Ending not so soon
All the four actors, the UN, the EU, Ukraine and Russia have stated on numerous occasions that “military solution” cannot resolve this conflict. However in this crisis, there are too many players in the game with almost everything to lose, hence de-escalation of Donetsk while withdrawal of Russian troops from the region has to be a part of solution.
India being the wisest democracy in Asia doesn’t support Russia’s accession of Crimea rather it believes that the actions taken by the President Putin was just as the president was acting under national interest.
The first step to a “peaceful solution” should be that the breakaway regions, Donetsk and Luhansk should be a part of Ukraine, a step to protect this sovereign nation’s integrity intact. They however should be granted with an autonomous status.. Many experts suggested that Ukraine should follow the peaceful plan laid out by the Finnish and the Austrian model.
The Boisto group, consisting of “American and Russian experts and former officials including an ex-director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service and a top Russia advisor to George W. Bush” met in Finland to discuss a step by step resolution for this issue. They designed a 24 step resolution. The resolution begins with neutralising the area by recalling both Ukrainian and Russian troops from the region, and establishing a UN peacekeeping mission. The governments of both the conflict nations have denied this.
Russia considers Ukraine to be one of its closest allies and a ‘brother nation’. Kiev was originally “Kiev Rus”, which had a significant image of multicultural state. In the past few years Russia has done everything it could to keep Ukraine close, economic deals while pressuring the Ukrainian government over gas deals, followed alleged poisoning of President Yushchenko in 2004. The Russians have also granted Yanukovych asylum. Russia recognises the government under Yanukovych no matter whether he is still in play or not, followed the self proclaimed governments of Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia allegedly annexed the Crimean peninsula under the guise of “protecting the Russian communities” (which constitutes approximately 60% of the total population of the region). Russia amid heavy criticism is still playing “the game of oppressions”. Under heavy economic sanctions Russia is still enjoying its relationship with Asian nations by signing USD 400 billion gas contract with China. Due to the economic sanctions placed on Russia, the falling price of oil, and a drop in the rouble against the US dollar, Russia has fallen into recession.
China like in all conflicts has a more neutral role as its interests are not affected by the conflict.
United States of America
The US has been supporting the Ukrainians since beginning. It has on numerous occasions condemned Russia on its old habits of accession over Crimea. It has imposed harsh sanctions over Russia, depriving the nations with basic trade. President Obama has sent a very clear message; more succession means more sanctions, ultimately destruction of this post World War II nation. He has ensured continued support to NATO forces followed by continued assistance to Ukrainian authorities against Russia’s “dark tactics”.
“NATO believes that a sovereign, independent and stable Ukraine, firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law, is key to Euro-Atlantic security”. The cooperation, which was created in 1991, has strengthened in light of the current conflict, and NATO is determined to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Ukraine is a long-standing partner of NATO and is part of some of the Alliance’s programs. At the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, NATO leaders agreed that Ukraine might become a NATO member in the future. During its summit in Wales on September 4th, Allied leaders issued a statement pledging to further support the Poroshenko government, strengthening its military capacities and insisting that Russian forces retreat from Ukraine.
China like in all conflicts has a more neutral role as its interests are not affected by the conflict. It is the Russia’s “friends in arms” and is considered to be the “biggest winner” in the whole conflict. The crisis has resulted stronger economic ties with Russia, while giving the nation a strong player to stand with amid US–India relations in Asia. It believes in peaceful solutions.
India is the “oldest friend” of Russia as it is one of key allies of Russia in BRICS. In March 2014, the MEA (Minister of External Affairs) issued a statement with respect to escalations in Crimea, and stating Russia’s response as “legitimate”. However India being the wisest democracy in Asia doesn’t support Russia’s accession of Crimea rather it believes that the actions taken by the President Putin was just as the president was acting under national interest. President in its statement to press thanked idea for its “restraint and objectivity” towards the crisis. India has also congratulated the newly elected president Poroshenko for his victory in Ukraine. India shows a very balanced response to the conflict, looking at the growing Russia-China relationship in one end and while intense fighting and human rights violation in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk on the other. It seeks a balanced solution to the crisis. According to Ranjit Gupta, a former member of the Indian National Security Advisory Board, “India’s stance in relation to events in Ukraine has been somewhat ambiguous and decidedly nuanced, but admittedly tilted in favour of Russia”.