What’s going on in Ukraine, why is there a crisis?
Ukraine has been suffering from political unrest for a long time. Although the brief revolution only lasted from 18-23 February, ending with the ousting of the pro-Russian government headed by Viktor Yanukovych, the disturbances actually go much further back. Yanukovych had rejected the Ukraine-European Association Agreement, causing much consternation in the part of the population that wanted to move away from reliance on Russia and toward integration with the EU. A peaceful protest in the form of occupation and demonstrations, known as Euromaidan, began on 21 November 2013. Unfortunately, events soon turned violent.
Special Ukraine police known as Berkut were utilised to try and break up the protests, but known for their aggression, this uniformed agency attacked protestors on various occasions, with over 100 deaths being attributed to them. The newly-installed pro-European government has dissolved the organisation due to its actions. Euromaidan protests continue in Ukraine, concentrating on cities that are considered pro-Russian (“Antimaidan”). Russia has seen a balance of power slipping away from it (they oppose the new government led by Oleksandr Turchynov) and has intervened in the Crimea under the pretence of offering stabilisation to the region.
Why do both sides see the Crimea as such an important region?
The Crimean peninsula has always been important, its geographical position being a major contributor. It is the piece of land that juts into the north of the Black Sea, joined to Ukraine by the narrow Isthmus of Perekop (3 to 4 miles wide). It is possible to control the busy trade routes of the Black Sea from there. It is also of vital importance because of its wheat production. In a 2001 census over 58% of the population in the Crimea were stated as having Russian ethnicity, compared to 24% Ukrainian and 12% Crimean Tatars. The recent Russian military mobilisation in the area is under the pretext that the Russian majority want Russian protection.
Crimea has been fought over before, famously in the Crimean War of 1853-1856, when an alliance of the French, British and Ottoman Empires with the Kingdom of Sardinia defeated the Russian Empire to gain control of the strategic hotspot. Russia has taken advantage of the unrest in Ukraine to insert thousands of elite Spetsnaz troops in areas of tactical importance, such as airports and military installations. Naturally, the Ukrainian government is in uproar about this, calling it an attack on their sovereignty. The most recent event, at the time of writing, has been the news issued by the Supreme Council of Crimea that the region has joined with Russia, and that there will be a referendum on secession from Ukraine.
What is the response from the UK and US? What about China?
The US has vowed to help protect issues of Ukraine sovereignty and has been busy painting pictures of Russia as an overt aggressor, with Hilary Clinton going as far as to compare Russian president Vladimir Putin’s actions with those of Adolf Hitler. Clearly, as can be expected, the two former Cold War adversaries are not going to see eye-to-eye on this issue. The UK has been a little bit more restrained, with the usual quotes revolving around words such as “concern” and “condemn.”
China, a country constantly looking for ways to increase its global political prestige to match that of its economy, has been surprisingly diplomatic. They have managed to try and appease both sides, by not condemning Russia’s military intervention, but also avoiding condoning it. The Chinese support a peaceful political solution involving dialogue. Of course, it might simply be diplomatic “fluff” to avoid looking partisan toward their former Communist allies. Putin has had some overt support, from long-term ally and Syrian president Bashar al Assad, no doubt glad that the world’s attention has momentarily switched from his war-torn country to Ukraine.
Will this lead to World War III?
No. Although Russian military intervention in the Crimea is worrying, and there might be some hostilities to follow, this will not end up in a global conflagration. That kind of scenario benefits no one and regardless of Russia’s sabre-rattling, the simple truth is that its armed forces could not withstand an all-out strike from the USA and its NATO allies. The world of diplomacy is stronger than it was in the 1930s and people have seen the terrible effects of nuclear weapons (thanks to the Americans). Putin may be a controversial and aggressive politician, but he is not on the same level as Hitler. The former Soviet Union has been politically traumatised, with issues in Chechnya and Georgia demonstrating that the fallout from the break-up of the USSR is still ongoing.
The suggestion here is that Russia has moved in quickly to avoid similar issues they have faced in the last two decades. But using Special Forces troops with no identifiers suggests a more sinister motive, including occupation. This is what the majority of the international community is condemning. As usual, only time will tell whether the Russians will withdraw once the region is considered stable, or if they will start placing permanent bases in an effort to prevent Ukraine interference. It is even possible that the isthmus to the Crimea could become a new Demilitarised Zone akin to the 38th parallel between North and South Korea, with the USA and Russia finding a new location to try and prove their ideological superiority.
[Answers provided by 63336. Text any question to 63336 for £2.50 or ask one for free at http://63336.com ]