By Zachary Toillion
Tension between Ukraine and Russia have reached new levels in a conflict that has escalated throughout much of the year. The basis of the tension between Ukraine and Russia are rooted in the annexation of Crimea in March.
Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was widely expected to sign the Ukraine-European Union Agreement that would grant Ukraine trading benefits with the European Union. Yanukovych, elected in 2010, drafted the agreement in 2012, but ultimately backed out of the deal. Russia, already very close trading partner with Ukraine, offered an alternative to the EU agreement that would create an EU-style economic alliance between Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia.
Ukraine was at a crossroads at this time, and had to choose between alignment with western power or Russia. President Yanukovych was increasingly viewed by the population of Ukraine as a puppet to Russian power, and in early 2014 there were massive protests all over the country. It was at this point Russia intervened militarily to annex Crimea. In March, Yanukovych was deposed as President, and the interim President signed the Ukraine-European Union Agreement. Yanukovych was officially succeeded by Petro Poroshenko who was elected in May of 2014.
Russia’s troubled history with Ukraine, and particularly the Crimean peninsula, go back all the way to the Crimean war fought in the 1860s. Russia’s scope of power as a whole has remained very fluid throughout the centuries, particularly after the end of the cold war, and dissolution of the Soviet Union. The modern Ukrainian state has only existed since August, 1991.
In Ukraine there remains a divide. In the east many pro-Russian Ukrainian separatist groups seek to expand the Russian border farther into mainland Ukraine, but they remain a minority in the country as a whole. In the west, the vast majority of Ukrainians are opposed to such groups.
Russia publicly denies invading the Ukraine, but Russian tanks, air defense systems, convoys, and uniformed soldiers have illegally crossed over the Ukrainian border. Metadata from Russian soldier’s social media posts have indicated there are Russian soldiers in Ukraine, and some Russian uniformed military officers have been filmed stating they were ordered to invade by their commanding officers.
This marks an escalation of Russian interventionism that surpasses even the Russo-Georgian War of 2008. In that conflict around 900 people died. In the 2014 Ukrainian conflict the U.N estimates roughly 2,000 have been killed in the conflict thus far.
Russia’s actions have caused a series of economic sanctions to be leveled at them throughout 2014. The first sanctions occurred in March with the annexation of Crimea, the second wave of sanctions occurred in April, and a third round hit Russia in late July and early August. The sanctions have had a significant impact on the Russian economy, nearly sending it into a recession. The sanctions are particularly potent because they come from a large coalition of countries-the European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia, and the United States. Russia responded by imposing economic sanctions of its own on the United States and it’s allies. After the direct invasion, EU leaders warned Russia that it’s actions had “reached a point of no return” and more sanctions were on the way. President Obama condemned Russia’s military campaign stating Russia has “outright lied” over its military activities within Ukraine.
Despite the sanctions and global condemnation, Russia has invaded Ukraine, and it remains unclear what they hope to achieve.