By Rachel Skerker, Visual Editor
In December of 2013, Ukrainian protests swept across the country of Ukraine, after Ukrainian President Yanukvoych denied an European Union (EU) trade agreement, that according to Ukrainian protestors, would have opened borders to trade and triggered a new age of modernization and inclusion. The protests had started out peacefully, but soon turned into a swirling force of anger and resentment that threatened the Ukrainian regime. Since December, the protests have escalated to a full-blown revolution, even bigger than the protests that had occurred nine years ago during the Orange Revolutions. This revolution has ousted President Yanukvoych from his position of power, and he is currently in hiding.
The revolution in Ukraine had been triggered by a century-long conflict regarding its relationship to Russia. Ukraine, although autonomous, has a history of having very close ties to Russia. However, in recent years, Ukraine has become split between those who want to firmly establish themselves as a sovereign state and those who wish to remain under the influence of Russia. Yanukvocyh’s decision to back out of the EU agreement had been prompted by the fear of displeasing Russia. Russia is Ukraine’s largest trading partner. Russian President Putin had threatened to implement trade sanctions had Ukraine went ahead with the EU agreement.
Currently, the major issue in the Ukrainian conflict with Russia lies in the Crimean peninsula in Southern Ukraine. Despite being a part of Ukraine, Crimea is a bustling hub of pro-Russian sentiment. The region has about 2.3 million people, a majority of whom identify themselves as ethnic Russians and speak the Russian language. In the 2010 presidential election, many of the people living in Crimea had voted for the presently ousted Yanukovych. Although the region still remains legally part of Ukraine, Crimea is an autonomous republic within Ukraine, and elects its own parliament with the approval of the city government of Kiev. However, the protests had led to the appointment of pro-Russian leader, Sergei Aksyonov. Not only was this done without the approval of Kiev, but also Aksyonov has now asked Putin to help ensure peace in Crimea. Furthermore, discussions have begun regarding the succession of Crimea from Ukraine.
Over 11,000 soldiers loyal to Russia have since taken control of the peninsula and blockaded Ukrainian bases. However, Putin has claimed that he had no role in sending these forces into Ukraine. Russia has a major naval base located in Sevastopol, where its Black Sea fleet is based. Under the terms of the lease, the Ukrainian government must authorize any movement made by Russian troops outside of the base. Recent reports state that Russian envoys had been sighted distributing Russian passports in the Crimean region. Russia defended this action by citing its defense laws, which allow military action overseas to “protect Russian citizens.” From the beginning of its occupation, Crimea began to express its desire to become a part of the country of Russia once again, and split from Ukraine.
On Tuesday, March 18, Russia annexed Crimea. In Crimea, countless celebrations swept across the region. The celebrations were overshadowed by the murder of a Ukrainian lieutenant, who had been fatally shot during one of these celebrations. Russian president Putin compared the annexation to an independence declaration of Kosovo in 2008 and the reunification of Germany is 1990. However, this is the first time that a European nation has seized territory from another since World War II. Crimea is our common legacy,” Putin said. “It can only be Russian today.”
Since Crimea’s annexation into Russia, tensions have reached an all new high in Ukraine. In Kiev, Ukranian officials said that they would not recognize Crimea’s annexation, and many Western leaders, including US Vice President Biden, have talked about imposing further sanctions against Russia. Russia is now facing the threat of expulsion from the Group of Eight leading industrial nations. Relations have crumbled between the West and Moscow; such poor relations have not existed since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Putin had firmly stated that Russia would defend all of its regions against Western powers. In his speech, Putin said that “Our Western partners have crossed a line…We have every reason to think that the notorious policy of confining Russia, pursued in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, continues today.”
The crisis that had once been restricted to Ukraine and Russia has now become a major issue associated with international foreign affairs. With the annexation of Crimea, Russia has now worsened its situation with Ukraine, and in the process, has nearly severed its relations with the West. The conflict is still ongoing, and it is questionable where this conflict will lead, not solely affecting Russia and Ukraine but the world as a whole as well.