Less than a year ago, an armed conflict began within the Ukrainian border between its people, and since then there has been countless talks of Russia slowly but surely invading Ukraine.
In order to understand the Ukrainian-Russian conflict and how it began, a short history of Ukraine’s struggles must be explained.
Ukraine has been a disputed and unstable territory beginning around the era of the Soviet Union. Perfectly placed between the two major powers of the European Union to the West and Russia to the East, the territory that became known as Ukraine has been divided in asserting a dominant ally. Several revolutions have occurred in the past few decades with aims to establish a government and appoint a leader that will appeal to all citizens within the increasingly dividing (and weakening) nation. The most significant of these uprisings was the Orange Revolution of 2004, which has greatly damaged the government and economy of the nation, has left the Ukrainian government unable to establish successful reforms. There has been no growth in the economy, a devaluating currency, and an increasingly corrupt government.
Fully aware of the undesirable financial and political disposition of the Ukraine, its population sought closer relations with the EU or Russia in order to improve their nation’s capital. These people coined themselves “Euromaidans” – citizens of Ukraine seeking closer relations with Europe, NATO, and the European Union. Early in 2014, Ukrainian President Yanukovych signed a multi-billion dollar loan treaty with Russia instead of an Association Agreement with EU which had been agreed upon and was supported by the people, and which would have provided financial support to Ukraine for reforms. This unexpected act by the president led to angry uprisings from euromaidan protesters, and shortly after law enforcement got involved, which escalated the protests to violent civil unrest. Euromaidans succeeded in overthrowing the government and Yanukovych fled the country.
Beginning of Conflict:
On February 22nd, 2014, the Ukrainian Parliament appointed a temporary government and president, Oleksandr Turchynov, until established presidential elections by the people that occurred later in May. Russia deemed Ukraine’s actions and temporary government as a coup d’etat and refused to accept or acknowledge this new government. Another group agreed with Russia, called the Antimaidans. These civilians are mostly located in the East and South of Ukraine closer to Russia, and these protesters seek closer ties with Russia along with the old government under Yanukovych’s presidency. So on February 3rd, 2014, Antimaidans, also termed separatists or pro-Russians, begun protests in Crimea and the Eastern/Southern region of Ukraine known as Donbass.
Crimean Crisis and Donbass War:
As protests continued, reports accumulated of unmarked pro-Russian troops sighted at strategic locations along the Crimean Peninsula, with growing troops advancing into Crimea. After an under-the-table agreement between Russia and the independent territory of Crimea, Crimean Parliament announced voting on its autonomy, dismissing the prior government and Prime Minister. The agreement included safety and protection of Crimean after being annexed by Russia, which occurred on March 18th, 2014, for open access to the waters of the Crimean Peninsula. Russia’s annexation of Crimea is not seen as legitimate by Ukraine or the European Union, and on April 17th, Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, stated that Russia had been involved in Crimea and had sent troops to support and ensure the actions of Crimea.
Since this event, tensions between Euromaidans, which is the majority of Ukrainian citizens, and pro-Russian separatists greatly increased and has escalated into armed conflict, especially in the Donbass Region, including shootings, bombings, and death of thousands of innocent civilians. Separatists have continued fighting because they oppose the established government and appointed President and want to strengthen relations with Russia. Separatists have separated the Donbass region from Ukraine into two self-established people’s republics: Lugansk and Donetsk, creating independent pro-Russian states without agreement or recognition by the Ukrainian government. On the other hand, Euromaidans have continued fighting because they want Russia out of Ukraine, to join NATO and the European Union, and for the Ukrainian government to continue abiding by the citizens’ wants and needs.
Several peace treaties were attempted to end the Donbass war, even one by Ukrainian president Poroshenko which called for the recognition of the presidential elections in Ukraine by Russia (as well as decreasing political and government power), a cease-fire by the separatists (although Poroshenko used the word “terrorists”), and respecting a humanitarian corridor for civilians not involved in the conflict. Because Russia does not view the Ukrainian government as legitimate, Proshenko’s treaty was unsuccessful.
On September 28th, 2014, the Minsk Protocol was signed by Ukraine, Russia, DPR and LPR under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). This peace treated declared immediate ceasefire in Donbass but within 48 hours all parties had broken the treaty; what’s worse is that all sides accused each other of breaking the treaty first. The OSCE has also determined that there are continuous daily attacks, bombings and shootings happening especially in the Donbass region, causing over 1,000 casualties since the treaty was signed. Furthermore, the OSCE stated that Russia is moving troops, heavy machinery, and equipment into Ukrainian territory.
Many reports recently have claimed Russia is sending armed troops and weapons into Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, backing up the OSCE’s similar statement. Ukrainian government leaders and NATO believe this could be an effort to help pro-Russian rebels launch a possible new offensive against Ukraine. It has been hypothesized that Russia’s new agenda includes expanding the territory controlled by the separatists with another military push just like the one they provided in the attacks prior to the peace protocol. Russia, of course, denies supporting pro-Russia separatists while strong allegations are made against their claim.
Hopefully Russia will rethink it’s acts of terrorism against Ukraine because the new government announced it is in the final steps of joining NATO, which will finally provide support, protection, and financial aid to the weakened country.
Finally, there is still ongoing Euromaidan protests retaliating against separatist protests – to revolt against invading Russian troops and to ensure pressure the government from pulling Yanukovych move. The location of these protests by pro-Euro protesters has moved away from their base in the Euromaidan west of Ukraine closer to the east and south Donbass region. The civil unrest and armed fighting within Ukraine does not seem like it will calm soon.