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A brief overview of the history of the current crisis in Ukraine, and what the world is doing about it.

The Ukrainian crisis is not easy to understand, especially for those who live far away from eastern Europe. The situation is as it stands now because of the strong history between Ukraine and Russia.

Ukraine became independent from the USSR in 1991, and from then it struggled to create closer ties with the EU, which Russia saw as a provocation in its area of influence.

In 2010 the election of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych as President of Ukraine changed the political orientation dramatically. Economic agreements with the EU were abandoned while the relationship with Russia was strengthened. Yulia Tymoshenko, former Prime Minister and main opponent was imprisoned and protests started which, as time went by, got more and more violent. On February 22, 2014, protesters took control of the administration buildings, the Parliament voted for the destitution of President Yanukovych, and Tymoshenko was freed.

On February 27-28, 2014, pro Russians took control of the main government buildings in the Crimean capital, and on March 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to annexe Crimea.

In April, a pro-Russian rebellion began in Donetsk and Luhansk (in eastern Ukraine) and the interim Ukrainian president proposed to devolve more powers into these regions as the situation wasn’t evolving. The rebels only want independence, and it has been getting clearer and clearer that Russia is sending equipment to the rebels.

During Europe’s summer, US and NATO tried to find the appropriate answer, but it is obvious that the Ukrainian army is not strong enough or organised enough to fight against the separatists, whom are supported by Moscow. Nevertheless, the US only agreed to give non lethal assistance (such as radios, first-aid kits and training) and Europe is happy to maintain economic sanctions against Russia.

The current Western strategy is to hope that these sanctions will deter Putin from further involvement in Ukraine. What the West doesn’t want is an escalation in the fighting. The question is: will these measures be enough? It is true that Russia still did not recover from the economic crisis, but the effects of the sanctions decided by Europe and the US are yet to emerge.

The downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight 17 in July, along with the confirmation on Tuesday that it was due to the piercing of the plane by what seems to be a Russian missile fired by the separatists, is further isolating Putin and is a threat to the truce deal signed by Kiev and the separatists. There is no need to say that this truce is fragile. Each day that goes without fighting can be seen as a victory in itself.

On Monday August 8, shelling by the rebels near Donetsk airport killed a civilian and wounded a serviceman, which has already compromised the truce. It was, according to the rebels, in retaliation to the firing of six on their position on Saturday by government troops.

Currently, it seems that the world is waiting and hoping for the military tensions to ease, and for an agreement to be found between Kiev and the rebels on the question of independence. But everybody is holding their position and Putin is consolidating Russia’s position in the border.

Europe is at a crossroad. It cannot afford to have an open conflict with Russia, because it needs Russia’s gas, and because of the proximity of the threat. The US have more leeway but are still reluctant to fully support the Ukrainian government as it does not want the situation to get more out of control.

Some people want to compare the situation with what happened in the 1930s when UK and France were both afraid to fully oppose Hitler during the absorption of Austria and the Polish invasion. Such talks are more dangerous than helpful as they increase the tensions and the fears. History does not repeat itself, or if it does, it is never in the way it is expected.

Bertrand Thery, Correspondent (Politics)

Image Courtesy: Jim Forest (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/14092220243), Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic | Flickr

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