Don’t feel too bad, I was talking to my roommate the other night and she had yet to learn of the debacle over The Interview , or what ISIS stood for. Needless to say, you are not the only human who doesn’t know what is going on in the world.
Also for those of you who do know what was going on, I am sorry if I get anything wrong with this. I am trying to take a great deal of information and condense it down into a short summary, and I will almost certainly get something wrong or miss something important.
This conflict embodies the pressures placed on many post-Soviet states. There is a pull in one half of the country (Western Ukraine) to have closer ties with Europe , while the other half of the country (Eastern Ukraine) wants nothing more than to regain its close alliance with Mother Russia. In Ukraine, this conflict divides on these geographic lines, as well as ethnic lines. In Eastern Ukraine, there is a very large number of Russians, who are certainly being repressed. Meanwhile, in Western Ukraine, the population is almost entirely Ukrainian. They speak Ukrainian, they have Ukrainian blood—they are Ukrainian. This divide is well illustrated with this map:
Recent history is also a very important element of this conflict. Up until 1991, Ukraine was part of Russia. It had not been its own state since the 19th century. In essence, there are many Russians in Russia, and in Ukraine, who consider the loss of the country to be an accident of history, more than anything else. And given the large number of Russians in Crimea (58.3 percent of the population) and Donbass (39 percent of the population), it is no wonder Putin moved in on the region.
In late November 2013, Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president, abandoned an agreement to make closer ties with the European Union in favor of improving relations with Russia. Protests immediately erupted throughout the country. They started small, and quickly escalated to there being 100,000 people demonstrating in Kiev. These protests became known as the Euromaidan, because of their desire to align the future of Ukraine with the future of Europe. By early December, protesters were occupying Kiev city hall, and hundreds of thousands of people were flooding the streets in protest against Yanukovych's actions. In spite of these protests, Yanukovych signed a deal with Vladimir Putin.
By February, Yanukovych’s government tried to squelch the protests, which started the worst violence Kiev had seen in almost 70 years. Eighty-eight people were killed within 48 hours of February 20th, and by the 22nd, Yanukovych had disappeared from Ukraine, and a warrant was out for his arrest. An interim Prime Minister was elected, along with a new government. In the western half of the country things have quieted down for the most part, but in the east fighting has escalated.
While the Euromaidan protests were in full swing, the Anti-Maidan movement made waves in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Unlike the Euromaidan, the Anti-Maidan supported President Yanukovych and closer ties to Russia. So while the pro-European movement succeeded in Kiev in removing Yanukovych, it spurred conflict in the East. By February 28, 2014, pro-Russian gunmen seized key buildings in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, and gunmen appeared outside of Crimea’s main airports. Unmarked pro-Russian forces rapidly occupied strategic positions throughout Crimea (none bore the insignia of the Russian military, but it seems pretty clear that they were Russian).
With military support, the Crimean Parliament voted to dismiss the Crimean government and replace its Prime Minister. It additionally called for a referendum on Crimea’s autonomy. According to the BBC, secession was supported by 97 percent of voters and, reportedly, 83 percent of the region participated in the vote. The vote is condemned by the West as a sham. Russia accepted it, however, and on March 18th, Russia agreed to absorb Crimea.
Throughout the remainder of spring and throughout the summer, fighting escalated throughout the East. Protesters occupied government buildings throughout Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv, calling for referendums like those in Crimea. The Ukrainian army was sent into these areas.
Also during this time:
- Petro Poroshenko was elected as the new Ukrainian president
- Pro-Russian separatists shot down a military plane in the east killing 49 people
- The EU and Ukraine signed an association agreement
- Another plane, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam, was shot down
- The US and the EU began sanctioning Russia
- Also this went down on Twitter between Russia and Canada
On September 5th, separatists agreed to a ceasefire to halt the violence and free the prisoners on both sides of the conflict. While the ceasefire decreased fighting, it never entirely held. Both sides used the period to build up their own forces.
By January 2015, fighting was back up to scale and the pro-Russian obtained the strategic Donetsk airport in the Donbass region. The rebels now have a strong line against Ukraine, as picture below. They continued their offensive into February.
All of this brings us to February 12th. While clashes continued in Donetsk, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France had been discussing peace in Belarus. They announced on the 12th a ceasefire, which would begin on February 15th. This deal held that there would be:
- An immediate and full bilateral ceasefire
- Withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides
- Effective monitoring and verification of both the ceasefire and weapon withdrawal
- Once the ceasefire is established, a dialogue would begin on the holding of local elections
- Amnesty would be granted to any figures involved in the Donetsk and Luhansk conflict
- All hostages would be released
- Humanitarian aid would be distributed without impediment
- Full Ukrainian government control would be restored over conflict zone (this does not include Crimea)
- Foreign armed forces, weapons, and mercenaries would withdraw from Ukraine
- Ukraine will begin considerations for constitutional reform.
While in ways this ceasefire has been effective violence continues to spring up throughout the area. What will happen going forward is anyone’s guess. The ceasefire is very fragile, and it is made even more fragile by Putin’s large control over the conflict. What happens next will depend greatly on what happens in Russia, and what Putin decides.
If you want a fuller picture of the Ukraine conflict, you may want to check out these additional sources.
The Soulful Ginger