Ukraine: Cold-War Divisions Re-Open

Ukraine has been the centre of the world’s political focus over the past month, with big-hitters voicing their opinions on both sides. At the heart of it all is the future of a nation and it’s people. This is not the first time Russia has intervened in Ukraine, and not the first time Russia has intervened militarily in an ex-Soviet state.

The first major event came when the now-ousted President Yanukovych decided to drop an European Union trade deal and side, once again, with Russia. This lead to a public outcry – many Ukrainians view the Moscow government as bullies, forcing Ukraine into difficult political and economic situations.

Pro-European protesters in Kiev (Flickr – Teteria Sonnna)

During riots in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital city, protesters were shot dead by snipers. This added to the pressure on the Parliament to take Yanukovych out of power, and in the end they held a vote. The Ukrainian Parliament decided to remove Yanukovych from power, and end the violence. After the ousting, the Parliament issued a warrant for Yanukovych’s arrest, on the grounds he was responsible for the murders of the protesters. He fled to Russia, where he reportedly asked Putin to intervene in Ukraine to “re-stabilise” the region. After he fled, investigations into the former President revealed serious corruption, favouring Moscow. Since then, Putin has claimed Yanukovych is the legitimate leader of Ukraine, and was removed in a coup.

In the days that followed the ousting, Russian troops stationed in Russian military bases in Crimea started to take control of the region. Ukrainian service personnel were disarmed and barricaded in their bases, the town halls were surrounded and local politicians removed, and replaced with supporters of Russia. In the weeks that followed, Russian troops reinforced the border between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine, attempting military incursions into Ukraine (according to the Ukrainian government). Russia claimed this move was to protect Russian citizens in the region.

Following a vote in Crimea, the region was formally attached to Russia, however this is against international law, and the West has branded it an invasion.

Russian troops in Crimea (Flickr – Sasha Maksymenko)

Pro-Russian militants in the Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Slavyansk, Kharkiv and Luhansk took control of multiple police and political buildings, many armed with rifles and handguns. Some Western countries believe that Moscow has financed these protesters, as they did in Crimea, though Russia denies this. These cities, some partly controlled by the protesters, have now declared independence from Ukraine, and wish to join Russia. Many want Russian military intervention before Ukrainian special forces manage to advance and remove the protesters. On the 13th of April, gunfights resulted in at least one dead Ukrainian soldier and multiple other casualties in Slavyansk.

Meanwhile, 40,000 Russian troops have amassed on the border with Ukraine. NATO and Ukrainian military leaders believe this number would be sufficient enough to invade and take the whole of Eastern Ukraine, and potentially the entire country. Russia says the troops are purely training, and there is no plan to invade.

The fears of invasion have spread beyond the borders of Ukraine. Military leaders in Estonia, Latvia and Poland are concerned, and even in Sweden there is the belief that Russian navies based in the Baltic Sea could invade. Although the majority of the West believe Russia will go no further, and Russia also claims that Crimea is not the prelude to a full-scale military incursion into Europe, France and Britain have bolstered military forces in Estonia and Latvia with fighter jets. Additionally, the US has sent jets to NATO patrols in Lithuania. Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova bordering on western Ukraine, is a Russian enclave – the majority of the population is Russian. Many believe Putin aims to take this region too. Plans to pull British troops out of British military bases in Germany were debated over as a direct result of the Ukraine situation.

Transnistria (or Trans-dniestr or Transdniestria) is reminiscent of the Cold-War era (Flickr – inyucho)

In Western Europe, concern over energy security was increased as Gazprom upped the bill by 81% for Ukraine’s natural gas, and Naftogaz refused to pay any of the bills at all. The change in price is due to the removal of discounts. Ukraine’s outstanding debts for natural gas are $35.4bn, and the new price is around $485 per cubic metre of gas (it was $268 pcm). Putin has warned Europe about gas shortages, in the event that gas is cut off to Ukraine.

The US has stopped military training exercises with Russia, amongst a list of sanctions put into play by the West, which also includes the removal of Russia from the G8, which is arguably the biggest move against Russia so far. The tensions between the West and Russia are said to be at their highest since the end of the Cold War, leading many to believe the two sides are divided once again.

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