In this day and age it is very easy to only see what is going on outside one’s front door. Unfortunately, this is a world inhabited by billions of front doors. Ukraine has been a hot spot for news in some circles, but not in all circles, and that raises some cause for concern. Everyone knows about the riots, but how did they begin? Here is the back story. The name you should know, the name that has been cursed by every Ukrainian protester: Viktor F. Yanukovich.
He has been the president of Ukraine for the last four or so years. He is from the Eastern, Russian-speaking part of Ukraine, in Yenakiieve. Despite his Russian influenced upbringing, he has sought for a middle ground between the western part of Europe and his Russian neighbors. His intention in January 2013 was to integrate Ukraine with the European Union with political and trade agreements, while also joining Russia’s Customs Union. In March 2013, when Yanukovych published a decree telling the government to prepare to sign the agreements, it was perceived that was still his intention. This is why in November, when the President refused to move forward on the agreements with the EU, protests erupted in Ukraine.
The Ukraine is still behind the Western world, but to Russia, Ukrainian territory is quite an asset. Russia’s Black Sea Naval Fleet is located in Ukraine; Along with crucial pipelines that carry their natural gas to other parts of Europe. Ukraine heavily relies on this neighbor country for business and trade: A western ally this close to home was extremely threatening to Russia. They pressured Yanukovych heavily not to sign the agreements.
In the beginning, the protests were calm and lighthearted. In the words of New York Times journalist David M. Herszenhorn: “Ukraine has been known to be a ‘Peaceful Pluralistic Society'”. In December the protests seemed to calm down. Yanukovych spoke about his recovered intentions of signing the agreement with the EU, but simultaneously accepted a hushed 15 billion dollar bailout from Russia along with large natural gas discounts. In mid-January the government issued amnesty to the arrested protesters if the occupation ended, but only days later the Ukrainian Parliament signed extremely harsh anti-protest laws which included illegalization of any ‘slander’ of the government. This ‘slander’ included any opposition to government at all. It also illegalized the use of helmets or bullhorns,as well as any grouping of five cars or more. The editor of the Kyiv Post, Katya Gorchinskaya said “Welcome to the new police state. We call it Little Russia.” The protesters demanded immediate amnesty, the resignation of Yanukovych, and a new constitution. Independence Square remained occupied. On February 18th the Parliament speaker rejected all of the changes the protesters wanted and sparked violent opposition in Kiev leaving many dead. February 20th was the bloodiest day for the protest thus far, snipers blending in as protesters and police ruthlessly firing at the people without restraint. At least 88 people are dead and hundreds wounded in Independence Square. In recent days things have been moving incredibly fast. President Yanukovych was ousted out of office. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his government resigned from office. Protesters were optimistic until recent reports of Russian occupation.
Many protesters fear that Yanukovych was just a face to the atrocity and that he was just a puppet to the larger empire, Mother Russia. Their fears may be correct, but Russia had denied any involvement in the occupation of Sevastopol Airport and Simferopol Airport. Yanukovych went missing after he was asked to resign but has recently resurfaced in Russia. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page “I consider what has happened to be an armed invasion and occupation in violation with all international agreements and norms”. Many of the places said to be occupied by Russia are proudly flying Russian flags, but Russia still denied any involvement.
Days ago, President Barack Obama gave a speech on Ukraine that basically warns Russia. He says: “The Ukranian people deserve the opportunity to determine their own future. Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, or Europe.” Those are incredibly powerful, if not threatening words. To destabilize means to undermine or subvert so as to cause unrest or collapse, which perfectly explains what Russia has been doing. He then goes on to target Russia specifically saying “Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world”.
That did not scare Russia. In-fact today, March 1st, Putin said “In connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine, the threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots, and the personnel of the armed forces of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory (in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) … I submit a proposal on using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine until the normalization of the socio-political situation in the that country.” Russian Parliament has also hinted it will ask Putin to remove Moscow’s ambassador from the United States. The pro-Russian invaders have used force to take over Crimea (a mostly Russian-speaking province), and the Ukrainian flag has been replaced by a Russian one in Kharkiv.
New riots have emerged in Crimea and other primarily Russian-speaking provinces in Ukraine. These are led by pro-occupation protesters and they are waging a deadly battle against pro-Ukraine protesters. Taras Denysenko in Kiev tweeted earlier today “Is it safe to say we are now at war with Russia?” The UN has held an emergency meeting in New York today: No reports have been made yet of their plans to intervene.