Confused about the conflict in Ukraine? Let Rachael Povey fill you in on the rocky relationship between Russia and the Western world.
It is possible to argue that Russia has had a precarious relationship with the Western world since the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922. But as the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine continues to worsen, could it potentially destroy Russia’s relationship with Europe and North America for good?
The Soviet Union, also known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was created by the Russian Communist Party during the 1920’s and consisted of a new nation built on the back of four countries: the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Fast forward almost one hundred years and most of these countries have become independent; their populations are heavily influenced by the Soviet Union and consequently Russia, but are also striving for unity amongst the rest of Europe.
The Ukraine, part of the Soviet Union up until 1991, has suffered from divided opinions throughout the last decades as to whether it was officially part of Russia and the East, or Europe and the West. Last year the government contemplated joining the EU, however, these discussions were rapidly dismissed by the then-President Viktor Yanukovych sparking the crisis that continues to this day.
Protests began. Just one month after the official rejection of the integration of Ukraine into the European Union, 800,000 people gathered in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in the city of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.
The pressure was on, and by the 16th January 2014, the Ukrainian Parliament passed anti-protest laws in an attempt to prevent an uprising against the government. But protests continued, and President Yanukovych was beginning to get anxious; he started using violence to stop the protests, causing what would quickly become severe clashes between the military, the police and the protesters. The clashes escalated causing many people to be seriously injured and some killed; according to the BBC the “worst day of violence” came on the 20th February when 88 people were killed. 1
By this point the relationship between Russia and the West was beginning to fray as a result of Russia openly supporting President Yanukovych, while the rest of Europe and the USA were backing the protesters. Suddenly, on the 22nd February, President Viktor Yanukovych disappeared, leaving Russia to take control.
Anarchy spread as Pro-Russian rebels seized important governmental buildings in Crimea, the area situated between the Ukraine and Russia. The Russian government had lost their influence over the Ukraine, and to try to retrieve it President Vladimir Putin signed a bill to annex Crimea as part of The Russian Federation. Still, the Pro-Russian separatists moved into Ukraine, taking more territory and more government buildings.
Meanwhile, clashes reignited in Ukraine’s third largest city, Odessa, with 42 resulting deaths. And at the same time, the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk were declared independent by Pro-Russian rebels.
On 25th May presidential elections were held and on 7th June Ukraine officially had a new President: Petro Poroshenko. Would this be the beginning of the end of the Ukrainian crisis?
Any improvements to the situation in Ukraine were unidentifiable. In fact, the crisis worsened when – just a month after Poroshenko was sworn in – Malaysian flight MH17 was shot down over rebel territory, apparently by Pro-Russian separatists. 298 people were killed.
Now it seems that little has improved for Ukraine since the initial stages of the crisis began nearly a year ago. Recent talks have highlighted the opposing views of President Poroshenko and the Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, putting the ceasefire between rebel forces and the military at jeopardy. Whilst President Poroshenko has held an optimistic outlook over the ceasefire saying that it could bring “peace and serenity”, Yatsenyuk’s view is rather more bleak. He stresses that the ceasefire is only enabling Russia and the rebel forces to “regroup” and has declared that Ukraine is “still in a stage of war and the key aggressor is the Russian Federation … [Putin’s] aim is not just to take Donetsk and Lugansk. His goal is to take the entire Ukraine … Russia is a threat to the global order and the security of Europe.” 2
Yatsenyuk’s statement has ultimately fuelled more attacks by separatists. The most recent of which took place at Donetsk airport on Saturday 13th September where, according to The Guardian Newspaper, “continuous rocketfire could be heard overnight”. 3
With over 2,500 deaths, and sanctions on Russia throwing the country’s economy into the midst of recession – suggesting that President Putin is willing to jeopardise his own country to continue the move into Ukrainian territory – it looks probable that the situation in the Ukraine is not going to improve until its government decides how to tackle the questions about peace and Putin without putting more lives at risk. It is safe to say that for now Russia’s relationship with the Western world is dangling by a thread.
*The content of Perspective articles, as with all articles posted on the Tribe, reflects solely the views of the authors. The opinions expressed are not those of the Tribe as a publication or necessarily those of any other member of the editorial and/or writing staff*