1) Where is Ukraine?
A part of the old Soviet Republic (U.S.S.R.), Ukraine is an independent country located in Eastern Europe. It's eastern neighbor is Russia, who we’ll talk about later. Ukraine is also bordered by Belarus and Poland to the north and west, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, and Romania and Moldova to the south. Also to the south, Ukraine is on the Black Sea, with the Crimea Peninsula reaching into the sea, between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The Crimea is an area of Ukraine which is now in the news in a big way. We discuss below.
2) What's Been Happening There?
Tensions have been growing in Ukraine for quite a while, dating back to November 2013, when President Viktor Yanukovych decided to walk away from talks to create a trade free zone between Ukraine and the European Union. Since many ukrainians want a closer relationship with the E.U., this was not a popular move. As a result, peaceful protests started in the capital city of Kiev.
Yanukovych ordered a harsh police crackdown on the growing protests, dubbed the “Euromaiden Revolution”. The violent response, in conjunction with the passing of a sweeping anti-protest law, made the protests even more intense and violent, eventually leading to the ouster of Yanukovych on February 22. As a new government is put into place, Yanukovych is trying to continue his control of Ukraine from Southern Russia.
Speaking of Russia, things have become very interesting since the end of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
3) How Does Russia Fit into the Picture?
Russia is very interested in the Crimea Peninsula… And under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia has not been afraid to go after what it wants in the former Soviet states, most notably Georgia in 2008.
The naval base at Sevastopol, on Crimea’s southwestern tip, is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its thousands of naval personnel. It is Russia’s only base with which it can extend its force through the Mediterranean. The lease agreement with Ukraine for the base runs until 2047. This base is what helps keep Russia a global military power.
When the Sochi Olympics ended, Russia built up troops and entered the Crimean Peninsula, effectively taking over the area. Putin said that this was done because the Russian government doesn’t recognize the new Ukrainian government, as it was a result of a “coup”, and President Yanukovych asked for Russia’s military intervention.
While the Interim Ukrainian Prime Minister stated that Crimea will always remain part of Ukraine, the Crimean parliament voted to leave Ukraine to become part of Russia. The referendum will go to a public vote on March 16.
4) What's in it for the United States?
The U.S. is saying that Russia’s incursion into the Crimea is a violation of international law. The destabilization of Ukraine cause a number of concerns, including the status of gas pipelines that supply U.S. allies in Europe, to the jeopardizing of the U.S. goal of nuclear non-proliferation. Plus, with Russia rattling the sabre, it is very reminiscent of the Cold War.
5) What’s the Next Step?
There are a lot of unanswered questions about Russia’s next move in Crimea. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the vote in the Crimea which could further destabilize the country. As the U.S. and the United Nations try to lessen the tension, it seems clear that as the Euromaiden Revolution calms, a new crisis potentially endangering the 13-year-old sovereignty of this former Soviet state.