Russia and Ukraine share a long history of relations, which have been shaped by the coming and going of imperialist Russian leaders. Their homogeneous cultures have created a social union between both countries which is difficult to differentiate through geographical frontiers. Conflict in Ukraine initiated in 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union, and divisions between pro-Russians and pro-Westerns started to become noticeable.
It was not until November 2004, when a very disputed presidential election sparked the first hints of protest, paving the way for the so called ‘Orange Revolution’, which consisted of a series of protests to reproach unjust government treatment. The leader of this movement was Viktor Yanukovich. In February 2010, Yanukovich was elected president, and his main rival, Yulia Tymoshenko was jailed for alleged unjust uses of power. With the arrival of Yanukovich, came political unrest. He abandoned a trade agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia, which caused the first protests to erupt in Kiev. The situation continued to escalate throughout Ukraine until, on December 20th, protestors flooded the capital, violently clashing with the police. Images of these disputes were shared across the Internet on social media, which raised international awareness of the matter. The Kiev City Hall was occupied, and the city’s central square became a hotspot for violent tensions between the protestors and the police, who were surrounding the square.
These protests provided the justification for Russian involvement in the form of economic aid, and caused the introduction of harsh anti-protest laws by the Ukrainian government. One month later, in January 2014, clashes with the police caused two people to die of gunshots wounds and one after a fall. This is where confrontations really started to become aggressive. The violent means of protest were answered with severe police actions. Many categorise this as police brutality, but was there any other possible response? The situation had spiralled out of control, and the police were only trying to diffuse the barbaric actions of the protestors.
The government started to grow fearful of what this might escalate into- a possible revolution- and ordered brutal actions to be taken against the protestors. In February of the same year, eighteen people died in a revolt in Kiev- seven of them being policemen. The situation was only getting worse, and the increasing violent retaliations from both sides had reached unspeakable levels. The climax of the conflict took place during that same month, when the police surrounded 25,000 protestors in the city square and, in 48 hours, killed 88 civilians, injuring hundreds more. Reporters published pictures of snipers shooting chaotically at civilians, an inhuman and horrendous act ordered by the government, who’s desire for proximity with Russia led it to ignore the political will of its country.
These actions sparked international efforts for peace agreements, but were surprisingly denied by the government. In response, the protestors took over more government buildings, causing the evacuation of President Yanukovich to the East side of the country, where pro-Russian support was greatest. At this point, Russia decided that it would pursue a more military approach, and sent its troops to seize control of key buildings in Crimea, where Russia’s Black Sea Navy is based, as well as its airports. Russia claimed that it was just trying to stabilise the situation in Crimea, as it had many Russians living there, but the government of Ukraine on the other hand, saw it as a Soviet invasion.
In March 2014, Russia approved the use of military force in Ukraine. Russian forces advanced towards Crimea while Ukraine made sure their defence forces were prepared. By this time, the conflict had escalated from political to military, and Crimea had become the hotspot of tensions between those who supported Russia and those who were in favour of a closer link with the Western nations and the EU, which had promise to send economic aid. Viktor Yanukovich was removed from power in May 2014, which was seen as a relief by most of the nation, and especially by those nations in Europe who supported the Ukrainians. Petro Poroshenko, a well known Western sympathiser, was put in charge to replace Yanukovich.
Crimean politicians decided to determine the separation of Ukraine by a referendum, which would essentially decide whether Crimea would remain part of Ukraine or part of Russia. More than 90% of Crimea’s population decided to become part of Russia, which lead to Putin announcing the annexation of Crimea. This referendum was undertaken, with the use of force and intimidation, and meant that many people did not express their opinions freely. Nato did not accept this vote, and the EU and USA responded with severe economic sanctions on Russia. NATO rightly described it as “a referendum held at gunpoint”, which consequently made it invalid internationally.
During the start of this devastating conflict, between April and July of 2014 alone, close to 1,000 people died, many at hands of the Soviet, and many civilians. EU sanctions were further implemented on Russia, when the the pro-Russian forces apparently mistakenly shot down a Malaysian Airlines plane, and caused the death of 298 people. These appalling actions now certify that the conflict has gotten out of hand, and prove that Russia feels no remorse when it comes to achieving its political and territorial objectives, forgetting human rights, and violating international agreements.
Luis M, Year 13