current affairs

Ukraine, Russia and Crimea: What is going on?

The East is no stranger to revolution.

The East is no stranger to revolution. Within the last century Russia has seen two revolutions that helped shape Europe as we know it today. In 1917, as Vladimir Lenin rose to power leading to the creation of the USSR which lasted until 1991 when it collapsed after a wave of revolution swept through Eastern Europe.

That revolution resulted in many Eastern European countries gaining independence from Russia, including the Ukraine in August 1991. Since then, the country has attempted to balance a closer relationship with the European Union, which offers trade opportunities, and repairing relations with Russia who supply most of the country’s energy.

However, achieving this balance has not been easy and recent events within Ukraine have highlighted this. Russia is not part of the European Union and attempts by the West to incorporate the Ukraine in the EU family have been offset by the worry of angering Moscow. With the Ukraine’s reliance on Russia for trade and fuel, any moves towards joining the European Union have been met with strong disapproval from the Kremlin.

Tension rising

But Ukraine’s susceptibility to financial meltdown makes a move towards the EU attractive. A $16.5b (£9.85b) loan in 2008 from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) only papered over the cracks for Kiev and the country needed a further $15b (£8.95b) in 2010, which was frozen due to the failure of the Ukrainian Government to implement reforms given as conditions for the loan.

The financial woes of the country led to Viktor Yanukovych winning the 2010 General Election in the Ukraine, and a move towards an ‘association agreement’ with the EU, which builds a relationship of cooperation between EU countries and non-EU countries, usually seen as the first step towards inclusion in the EU.  

This of course angered Moscow, and Yanukovych, a major ally of President Putin quickly pulled out of talks sparking the riots which lead to his overthrow, in February 2014. Yanukovych’s move towards the EU was surprising as since his election win in 2010, he had moved Ukraine closer towards Russia in terms of trade and policy as-well as ramping up press censorship and imprisoning opposition leaders such as Yulia Tymoshenko.

His decision to pull out of talks with the EU sparked anger, especially in Kiev, who feel that a better relationship with the West will bring more benefits than simply being Russia’s puppet. Time and time again Russia has forced Ukraine to comply with their wishes and Ukraine’s dependence on their neighbours means that the Kremlin can bully them into doing exactly what they wish.

Putin sees Ukraine as a major ally, not because he cares so much about the people but because if Ukraine joined the EU, it would leave him isolated. Putin does not care about the West, he will do as he pleases—he has shown that he will follow his own agenda despite the West’s opinion.  

For example, the invasion of Georgia in 2008 was met with disapproval in the West but all the EU could do was apply sanctions towards Russia. Putin knows the likelihood of the West intervening with any sort of military force is minimal and that sanctions will not last very long.

He stood up to the West over intervention in Libya and Syria, and is one man who will not toe the Western line. He will continue to isolate himself but he prefers to do so on his terms, and the situation in Kiev has not been that.

The cards are very much in Putin’s favour; Russia supplies a large part of Ukraine’s energy supply – in 2006 they cut off that supply twice over payment delays – they can ultimately hold Ukraine to ransom without any troops on the ground.  

Secondly, Putin knows that the West will not intervene with military action and this leaves an open door to him, should he decide to send troops into the Crimea.  And thirdly, there is the topic of Crimea.  

A tightrope emerges

It’s politically pro-Russia and military invasion would face little resistance from the population there, voting results show that the East of the Ukraine, which includes Crimea, voted for Viktor Yanukovych. Putin may test Kiev’s resolve by taking the East of Ukraine – where he would face little opposition.

But will Putin really intervene?

The troops are ready, and he’s been given permission by the Russian government but it’s unlikely he will move first—it’s more likely that he will try and provoke Kiev into firing the first shot, to give him a ‘reason’ to send troops in.

The rest of the world is urging Kiev to resist. But Russian and Ukrainian troops are said to have ‘faced off’ this weekend, as the Russians surrounded the Ukrainian base in Crimea and are also reported to have begun digging trenches between the Crimea and Ukrainian border, as-well as cutting of energy and water supplies to the Ukrainian bases.

Putin has said that his decision to intervene was forced by ‘ultranationalist forces.’

But Western leaders have condemned his actions, pulling out from the G8 summit in Sochi and the US have warned Putin that Russian assets may be frozen in the face of aggression.  

David Cameron has also announced that there will be no UK ministers attending the Sochi Winter Paralympics due to start on the 7th March. The PM has also said:

But with the heaviest repercussion likely to be economic sanctions, it’s unlikely that Putin will be shaking in his boots.

So what is next? The world is praying for a peaceful resolution but with increasing tension, and the rapid movement of mobilisation by both Russia and Ukraine, this week could see weapons drawn in the east, a move which may split Ukraine in half.

What do you think? What is the next step in the resolving of the conflict in Ukraine? Have your say in the comments section below.