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Simply put, what exactly is the whole Ukraine crisis about? I've read things about it, but I haven't really found anything concise and clear.

EDIT:

Also, how/why is the U.S. involved?

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    Can you please elaborate on what research you have done; and what is is unclear in the Wikipedia article?
    – user4012
    Aug 25, 2014 at 16:57
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    Also, what makes you conflate Crimea crisis with Ukraine crisis - which is a big superset of the former?
    – user4012
    Aug 25, 2014 at 16:57

4 Answers 4

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What it's about:

The question is really too broad to be answered properly, but let's try to boil it down to bumper stickers:

  • Russia has a desire to control neighboring territory (directly or indirectly).

    Reasons vary (defense depth/military; economics; energy; national psyche)

  • Ukraine is a prime target in ALL of these reasons:

    It is a defensive buffer from the southwest; it offers Black Sea access via Crimea; it has gas line to Europe, it has its own energy resources (coal/oil/gas); it was owned by Russia in USSR days; tons of population in some regions are ethnically russian; tons of other population hate Russia and Russians and Russian control.


What's going on

  • Russia tried to get Russia-friendly leadership once via election fraud in 2004.

    That failed in what became known as Orange Revolution

  • Russia managed to get Russia-friendly leader (Yanukovich) elected again, in 2010

  • Yanukovich chose to sign an agreement about economic integration with Russia, contrary to the wishes of the large fraction of population who wanted a competing integration with EU.

  • The latter organized protests known as EuroMaidan

  • Yanukovich suppressed the protests, with very brutal methods including killing of protestors

  • He was forced from power as a result and fled the country, back to his masters in Russia.

  • Russia invaded and forcefully annexed Crimean peninsula, using unacknowledged special forces.

    Historically, used to be Crimean Tatar territory, taken over by Russia; then Tatars were genocided out and it became largely Russian demographically; then was given to Ukraine by one of the USSR leaders.

  • Russia then sent its special forces to pretend to be separatists in Russian-demographics-dominated areas of Eastern Ukraine

    This launched various insurrections, armed rebellion and such.

Sources (not linked above):

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    don't forget to mention that presence of russian troops in eastern ukraine is rather allegation than established fact. e.g. this respectable community has doubts: antiwar.com/blog/2014/08/31/…
    – lowtech
    Sep 2, 2014 at 21:18
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    @lowtech - I'd have a lot more "respect" for this "community" if it didn't include Hamas cheerleaders. Or, to quote Orwell, "pacifism can act more effectively against democracy than for it. Objectively the pacifist is pro-Nazi".
    – user4012
    Sep 3, 2014 at 1:10
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    @lowtech - the list of signees is on the link you offered. Google them. Took me 15 mins of research for the whole list. The onus is on you to convince me I should trust those people's judgement and objectivity. So far all I see is proof to the contrary.
    – user4012
    Sep 3, 2014 at 1:24
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    your answer contains arguable statements anyway, why not to add some experts opinion. they are former US officials, not putin's trolls for sure.
    – lowtech
    Sep 3, 2014 at 1:39
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    @lowtech - "former US officials" - so were Aldrich Ames, Snowden and Robert Hanssen. Given the affiliations of these VIPS people, I'd not be surprised if they are trolls for some other power.
    – user4012
    Sep 3, 2014 at 1:54
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It is about two totally different issues that have started to interact with each other

  1. Internal Ukrainian politics in which both the West and Russia are meddling.
  2. The changing geopolitical situation, the West is gradually losing the power it used to have after the end of the Cold War to impose its will on the World.

As far as the first issue is concerned: Ukraine has been a politically divided country since independence after the end of the Cold War. There is a pro-European faction and a pro-Russian faction, they have been unable to put their differences aside and make decisions that are good for the country. Ukraine's economy has stagnated for a long time, Ukraine has had corrupt leaders (from both factions) making things even worse.

he latest flare up between the two factions was about whether to sign the EU Association Agreement or to sign the Customs Union with Russia. The refusal of the Ukrainain government to sign the EU Association Agreement led to the protests and the subsequent violence led to the overthrow of the government, president Yanukovich fled Ukraine.

These events led to a dispute between Russia and the West. The West accused Russia of exerting inappropriate pressure on Ukraine to not sign the EU Association Agreement while Russia accused the West of supporting the demonstrators against the government 9the Euro Maidan movement) who according to the Russians did not represent all of Ukraine.

When the government was overthrown and replaced by a government that was willing to sign the EU Association Agreement, Russia considered that as an illegal coup. The West raised the fact that Yanukovich was corrupt and had illegally ordered violence against the demostrators (with facts uncovered since he was forced from power to back that up), while Russia mantained that even if true, these issues should have been dealt with the existing constitutional mechanisms (e.g. the impeachment procedure).

From then onward you get an interaction with this dispute with the second issue of the West losing power and Russia exerting itself more in the international arena. After the end of the Cold War, Russia hada pro-Western government under the Yelstin administration. There was some disagreements, e.g. about the former Yugoslavia and Chechnya, but overall Russia was far more pro-Western than it is today. However, the economy was in a big mess and the oligarchs had gained a lot of wealth which led to the public becoming more and more sceptical of Western values that was supposed to bring them economic prosperity.

When Putin came to power, he turned the economy around using the oil and gas revenues. His way of ruling the country was more authoritarian, less democratic which led to criticism from the West. That criticism combined with the public perception that things were improving under Putin led to the public that was already sceptical of Western values to become more anti-Western.

On the international stage Russia has been in disagreement with the West on issues such as the Iraq war, the Iranian nuclear issue, the war between Russia and Georgia, the West's recognition of Kosovo's independence, the way NATO intervened in Libya, and the civil war in Syria. On some of these issues, Russia was brought on board the preferred Western policy. E.g. in case of Iran's nuclear program, the US did a deal with Russia where Russia would not veto a sanctions resolution on Iran for Iran's refuals to halt enrichment (despite Russia's previously stated position that Iran as a sovereing country and IAEA member has the right to enrich uranium), in exchange for the US not imposing sanctions on Russian companies involved in the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.

Russia's overall perspective of the West is that the West behaves like the World's dictator. The West has so much power that it can build a coalition against Iraq or Iran based on flimsy evidence (countries can be de-facto bought to support the Western position), impose biting sanctions or even start a war and when the original issue the West made is proven to be wrong, the West is not going to be held responsible for anything.

In case of Libya, when NATO had the UNSC mandate to police the fighting between Gaddafi loyalists and the rebels and to police the weapons embargo on both sides, NATO gradually deviated from what it was allowed to do to becoming the rebels' air force and they facilitated arms deliveries to the rebels. While the West may have had good arguments to do this, it was still illegal under international law to do that without a new UNSC mandate. However, the West maintains it was legal to act in that way, which has further undermined the little remaining trust Russia had in the Western interpretation of international law. So, to Russia, what the West says about conflicts that the West is istelf involved in, is not to be trusted at all.

Then back to Ukraine after the overthrow of the government there. The dispute about this in the above context would never lead to fruitful discussions in which both sides would get agreement. Russia's persective was that now that the West was asserting itself in Ukraine, it would be pointless to support the rights of the pro-Russians in Ukraine while sticking to the fine print of the constitution.

Crimea becoming part of Russia has always been an issue most Russians wanted to see happen eventually, but with Ukraine moving toward Europe and the West supporting actions that are not consitutional, Russia had no faith that this issue could ever get fair hearing. If a pro-Western faction per se does not want it, the West would support strong arm tacticts to prevent it regardless of what the Ukrainian constitution says. To the contrary, Russia feared that the parts of the country that were not so sympathetic to the new authorities in Kiev would be subject to armed intervention.

These fears may not have been all that reasonable, but this led to the Russian military intervention in Crimea and the subsequent intervention in Eastern Ukraine in support of the rebels there. The Western criticism of Russia's actions then makes Russia even more determined to persue its present course. Simply put, when the Ukrainian army is shelling Donetsk, civilians are getting killed there, and Russia is coming to the aid of the rebels, the West condems Russia. To Russia this doesn't make sense, so they ignore the Western criticisms of their actions.

Legalistic reasonings based on international law are going to be ignored because Russia sees the West as having been wrong numerous times in the past and Russia obviously does not accept the West as having the standing to make binding judgements on what it is allowed to do, even if the West were right.

Then the West has not come to terms with the fact that they are not as powerful as they used to be, so they think that they can force Russia to do the right thing by imposing more sanctions. But as explained above, this amounts to adding fuel to the fire, so we should brace ourselves for a big conflict between Russia and the West.

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  • "the West is gradually losing the power it used to have after the end of the Cold War to impose its will on the World." This seems a very odd thing to say. NATO has expanded eastwards, because new members want to be in it and the EU. In comparison when the USSR collapsed Russia lost control over former satellites. The reality seems the opposite of what you're saying. The western bloc has become more powerful and influential, Russia less. Surely that is demonstrable given NATO/EU expansion?
    – user8398
    Aug 18, 2016 at 14:40
  • Furthermore, Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for rebels in Ukraine is in direct violation of the 1994 Budapest memorandum signed by Russia and others in which they explicitly said they would respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty in exchange for Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons.
    – user8398
    Aug 18, 2016 at 14:42
  • "Simply put, when the Ukrainian army is shelling Donetsk...To Russia this doesn't make sense, so they ignore the Western criticisms." They also ignore valid criticism of their involvement with the mass murder of civilians when the rebels shot down an aircraft, boasted about it, and then pretended it didn't happen.
    – user8398
    Aug 18, 2016 at 14:57
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The background for this goes all the way back to the end of the Cold War. At the time, Mikhail Gorbachev (the last Soviet Premier) was apparently promised by Western leaders that NATO will not expand. Note this statement is disputed, and there are arguments that Western leaders did not actually make this promise; however, it is definitely what Gorbachev heard.

After the end of the Cold War, Eastern European nations joined NATO one by one. The alliance expanded all the way to Russia's borders. Today even the former Soviet republics Latvia/Lithuania/Estonia are members of NATO. Given that NATO was also historically formed to counter the Soviet Union (aka Russia), Russian leaders were naturally apprehensive.

Meanwhile, in post Cold-War Ukraine, there were two largely opposed schools of thought. One side favored closer ties to Europe (and by extension NATO); the other favored closer ties to Russia. Note this kind of ideological split already showed up in other former Soviet republics: Latvia/Lithuania/Estonia all eventually favored closer ties to Europe, but Belarus favored (and still favors) closer ties to Russia. This eventually led to Euromaidan in 2014, in which the pro-Russian president of Ukraine was ousted and a pro-European president was installed instead.

Once this happened, Russia intervened. Russia had not intervened to stop Latvia/Lithuania/Estonia joining NATO because in the period immediately after the end of the Cold War, Russia experienced economic collapse and couldn't do anything about NATO's expansion; however in the 2000s Russia experienced an economic renaissance and therefore became more assertive internationally. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and also supports an ongoing insurgency against the Ukrainian government in the East. The two regions are different because Crimea used to be part of Russia (it was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954, back when both republics were part of the USSR), and because Crimeans are strongly in favor of joining Russia. The Eastern Ukrainians on the other hand would prefer to remain part of Ukraine.

After Russia intervened, the rest of Ukraine was of course miffed, and naturally Ukraine would seek aid from Europe, since Ukraine is not capable of fighting Russia on its own. That's where we are:

  • Russia now recognizes Crimea as part of itself. The evidence also indicates that Crimea wants to be part of Russia. On the other hand, most other countries in the world still consider Crimea as part of Ukraine.
  • There are now two self-governing republics in eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic. Both are supported by Russia, and not recognized internationally.
  • Ukraine is in a standoff against these three breakaway regions. I have not seen much about what Ukraine is doing about Crimea (presumably because Crimea is "more out of their grasp"), but there is an ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine over the fate of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republic. There have been a variety of peace protocols meant to stop the fighting, but none of them were successful. It is not a very hot war, but it is still very much a war.
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  • -1: this post (inadvertently?) swaps the cause and the effect: "…and a pro-European president was installed instead. Once this happened, Russia intervened.". The Russia has invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014, when Yanukovich had full presidential power. He fled to his Russian patrons two days later, on 22 February. May 3, 2021 at 3:09
  • Also, as shown here, Crimeans are not strongly in favor of joining Russia. 50% is too far from "strongly in favor", to say the least. May 3, 2021 at 3:10
  • @bytebuster I don't see anything in that answer that says Crimeans are not strongly in favor of joining Russia. Please point out exactly where that information is.
    – Allure
    May 3, 2021 at 3:13
  • @bytebuster which looks roughly like 80-20, if we exclude the undecided numbers. I still do not see anything that says Crimeans are not strongly in favor of joining Russia. As for the link, I cannot read it because it is paywalled.
    – Allure
    May 3, 2021 at 3:18
  • I see. Sorry about that. The bar chart is self-evident. The linked article on Washington Post also says: "a majority (56 percent was opposed to either of the political options involving Crimea’s separation from Ukraine". May 3, 2021 at 3:26
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I think a lot of the answers are very long. So here is the oversimplified version, May 2021. Hopefully also without a strong bias.

Ukraine is big, so most of Ukraine is peaceful.

Forget Crimea, it is of course disputed, but Russian and peaceful.

Eastern Ukraine (Donbass) is where there right now is a hot war, it is not as bad as it has been a few years ago. Negotiations have not broken down, but is happening in bad faith.

The deal the governs most is The Minsk II Protocol. Even though the ceasefire isn't respected then it still is the basic for negotiations. Both parties knows that they will get an edge in the negotiations by the truth on the ground, hence the skirmishes and the trench warfare.

And to answer the last question then NATO is backing Ukraine, and Russia is backing the seperatists. (But they also know there are things they know they can't do without escalation, e.g. I don't think Russia will just hand tanks to separatists)

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