Russia-Ukraine Crises

Ukraine's Economic and Emotional Bond with Russia

Ukraine has a very long history of being ruled by outside powers and had very less time being an independent country. It has been under total or partial Russian Rule for most of centuries, which is why one sixth of the population of Ukraine is ethnically Russian and one third speaks Russian as their native language. They value the shared heritage and history.

Crimea

Geographically, Crimea is a peninsula in the Black Sea which is the epicenter of crises today. Today, Crimea has 60 percent Russian population. Most of the world considers it as Ukraine's region which is under hostile Russian occupation. From Ukraine's independence in 1991 (Collapse of Soviet Union) to February 2014, Russia had large military bases in Crimea, Ukraine. Historically Before 1991, Crimea was part of Soviet Union and Russian Empire.

In late February, large band of armed gunmen began seizing and capturing government buildings in Crimea. Some Crimeans showed support in form of rallies i.e.. They wanted to rejoin to Russia. The band of gunmen grew day by day and it was obvious they were Russian Military Forces. They forcefully, but without shedding a single drop of blood brought the entire Crimea Peninsula under the military occupation. They were there to show their presence, not to fight.

On March 16, 2014 for general people vote was held in which most of them voted for their region to become a part of Russia. It is considered illegitimate and unfair as it was done under Russian Military Supervision and without any international monitoring. There were cases of intimidation. 97 percent supported the proposal to join Russia but it is believed that the real figures were around 40 to 50 percent.

Well, by hook or crook Crimea is under Russia today and there are no signs that it will be back to Ukraine at least in near future.

Crimea-Strategic Importance to Russia

Crimea is an important agricultural and wine-producing region with rich tobacco plantations. Crimea has also become a popular tourist region because of its subtropical climate, numerous seaside resorts and Russia's Black Sea Fleet which is popular Vacation spot.

Crimea is strategically important as a base for the Russian navy. Russian navy has been operating from there even when Crimea was under Ukraine. The Black Sea Fleet has been based on the peninsula. The fleet's strategic position is crucial to Russian security interests in the region.

Eastern Ukraine conflict

Russian military is encroaching over the Eastern Ukraine territory ever since the start of this year. The Russian Military is one of the largest in the world and is pushing back the Ukrainian forces fairly quickly. Ukraine is fighting back, but it is enough. It is not clear whether Russians plan to occupy and annex eastern Ukraine as they did in Crimea, or simply to defend the rebels against getting overrun. Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin denies of all the accusations. Nothing is stopping Russian Tanks.

Pro-Russian sentiment is strong in eastern regions like Donetsk and Luhansk-Ukraine's industrial heartland. After the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Crimea, there were reports of large numbers of Russian troops gathering just over the border. It indicates that another annexation could happen.

On 11 May pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence after the referendums, which were not recognized by Kiev or the West.

Elections for a new president in Ukraine were held on 25 May resulting in confectionery tycoon Petro Poroshenko being elected with over 55% of the vote, although no polling stations were open in Donetsk city and several other locations.

Malaysia Airlines tragedy, 17 July 2014

Witnessing the worsening situation in Ukraine, Ukraine Government finally started fighting back, tried to push the rebels for once and for all. But rebel were armed and backed by the Russian military with high-tech missiles and weapons. In between their war, on 17th July a civilian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine. It was an international passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in which 298 people were killed in this crash. This plane lost contact with Malaysia Airlines in four hours after the take-off from the Amsterdam, at 14: 15 GMT, 50 km from Russia-Ukraine border. Everyone speculated that it was most likely accidently by the rebels, it was not crashed down but ‘blown out of the sky’

Russia-backed rebels had recently acquired a sophisticated, long-range surface-to-air missile system known as Buk or SA-11. Before this, they had shot down two other high-flying airplanes which were Ukrainian military planes-in the previous week. It is not hard to guess that the rebels misidentified flight 17 as a military craft and shot it down:

Punishment to Russia?

EU and US countries have been punishing Russia by giving the tough Economic Sanctions and isolating it diplomatically. These sanctions are mostly targeting Putin and his inner circle people. But they can't force Russia physically as US and most of other countries are dependent on Russia for the Natural Gas Exports, it will be loss to their own economy if they really get into a fight with Russia. If it comes to fight then it must be considered that Russia has one of the largest army and thousands of nuclear weapons.

Ceasefire and Battle of Donetsk Airport

A ceasefire (Minsk Protocol-a kind of truce) was agreed on 5 September between Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels in the east. It collapsed just four days after when fighting erupted around Donetsk International Airport. I was a start of second battle of Donetsk Airport.

It was like the continuation of the first battle of the Donetsk Airport started on 26th may in which causalities and losses were around 100, 2 civilians and 50 insurgents were killed and 43 were wounded.

This second battle between Donetsk People's Republic and Ukraine Government for the airport has continued with the Ukrainians remaining in control, although the airport is now so badly damaged it can no longer handle flights. In this clash, 10 civilians, 27 Ukraine soldiers and 27 rebels were killed. The airport is the last Public Area in the city of Donetsk that is still under Ukrainian Control.

Elsewhere in the east there have been repeated violations of the truce.

Euromaidan Revolution-trigger point of all these crises or not?

The Euromaidan protests in Ukraine began about a year ago and continued for the months, making 2013 − 14 winter very long. They are called ‘Euromaidan’ because they were about Europe and they were happened in Kiev's Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square).

Ukraine's capital Kiev was turned into a warzone battleground between protesters and the government people. Never in the country's history had freedom of expression, assembly and information been so costly. There had been 110 identified civilian victims-almost all were protesters, 18 police officers were killed, thousands of people detained and injured and dozens disappeared. These killed protesters in Ukraine are called “Heavenly Hundred” Continuous repression of protesters and police reinforcements could indicate an armed crackdown on Euromaidan and the introduction of martial law.

Ukraine painstakingly negotiated details of the association agreement with the EU over several years, but ultimately Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych decided to join Eurasian Customs Unions under the great pressure of Russian President Putin. Eurasian Customs Unions is a regional integration body consisting of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. EU failed to put an attractive deal for Ukraine. This was the first reason for the protests, where Yanukovych rejected a deal for greater integration with the European Union, taking a $15 billion bailout from Russia instead. Joining with EU will make the future of the future generation of Ukraine as Europe was culturally and politically desirable.

Second reason was the President Viktor Yanukovych himself. He has earned the reputation for corruption, economic mismanagement and heavy-handedness. He was from predominantly Russian speaking east Ukraine but was never popular in its predominantly Ukrainian-speaking west.

On one side, the Euromaidan protesters are the millions of Ukrainians who fight against corruption, injustice and the lack of rights. On the other side stand President Viktor Yanukovych and his regime-members of government, parliament, local authorities, judges and police-who enjoy the status quo that allows for their personal enrichment at the expense of general public.

The protest started as a gathering of a few thousand students at Independence Square demanding that the Ukrainian Government sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. Opposition political party leaders also joined and put themselves at the head of the movement, but it seemed that they did not plan on this uprising they just joined the people already on the street.

A dramatic and shocking turning point came, when authorities sent the Special Forces to clear the several students and others protesting on the square at the 4: 00 am in the morning. This brutal and unexpected attack on innocent and unarmed citizens was caught in several live cameras, how masked and helmeted Special Forces were beating students bloody.

The country awoke with a shock because in the history till now the authorities had never before used such force. Public outrage over the inhuman violence combined with anger at Yanukovych for depriving the nation of European Future, brought mass number of people on the streets. Only in Kiev there were around 7000 people!

For so many months Yanukovych tried so hard to break up the protests, first by using force then he passed a bunch or rather series of laws that implicitly restricted Ukrainians'basic right of speech and assembly. These proved all the worse things and situations can worsen even much more.

These protests were not for few hours of a day for some months, but they were “Full Time” protests. All protesters lived there on the square in the tents. Their day was usually starting from prayer to speeches from activists, scholars, cultural figures, students, and civic leaders, performances by popular rock bands. The Ukrainian National Anthem was sung throughout the day. Newspapers were published twice a day as there was not an easy access to internet. Volunteers were helping in preparing the food for everyone and even Doctors were there to provide care and medical services to ill and needy people. Volunteers were handing out sandwiches, blankets and firewood to keep people warm and tents were donated to ensure that people don't leave the square in large numbers.

On the square, there were different sectors like political party sector, the students, non-political and civic sectors. All the tents had the name of the town, cities and regions where people came from. It was like whole country was living, eating and breathing together in the open-battle front.

In next few months, these protests spread to other cities of Ukraine as well. Finally Government came into senses and the parliament turned against Yanukovych, first voting to remove lots of his powers and end the crackdown, and then voting to remove him outright. And he had to run to Russia with his family.

These street protests, the biggest since the 2004 Orange Revolution, continued for months and reaching a bloody climax. Ukraine People won but at the high cost.

Ukraine is Divided-Real or Perceived?

Ukraine is actually split east and west. This distinction is based on their ethnicity and so is on their choice. Many people in the eastern part would prefer for their country to be part of Russia, while protesters in the western Ukraine wants something different, perhaps full “independence.”

So many of Ukrainians were happy to see Yanukovych flee to Russia, others saw his ouster as illegitimate and undemocratic especially in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east and in the heavily Russian region of Crimea.

But if think of practical view point, putting this cultural identification aside, the root causes for these economic instability and tension are the economics, human rights and corruption. In fact, no one lives in the past glory and relations, all Ukrainians have their family whether he/she is form eastern or western Ukraine, all they want is some peace and economic stability-a normal life, not a war-filled life. Historical context is important but it is not always the primary determinant. It is being partial to judge all the situations and consequences on one parameter. This worse economic health of Ukraine and Russia is because of personal political motivations and corruption, Cultural-political-linguistic divide and Historical context are just a face value of it.

Author: Jinal Rohit