The death toll in the Ukraine conflict has exceeded 5,000 people and over 10,000 have been injured according to UN estimates. Millions have also been displaced from their homes. This conflict is worth discussing not just because of the lives lost, and the millions of people affected, but because there is very little unbiased coverage on the conflict. Most headlines about Ukraine today seem to have an obvious bias, either demonizing Russia or the US and blaming one or the other for the situation. But Ukraine has also been mired by corruption for other reasons like the countless self-interested authority figures within the country. Since Ukraine became independent, the Russian government has wanted the country to move away from the EU, NATO, and other alliances with the West, and instead favor Russia as a primary business and security partner. The Russian government wants it to join the Eurasian Economic Committee to meet those ends.
Ukraine, formerly the Soviet Socialist Republic, became independent from the republic on August 24 1991 when Ukraine’s Parliament, Verkhovna Rada, passed the referendum on the Act of Declaration of Independence. Since then there have been reductions to the stockpiles of weaponry there left over from the Soviet days, but obvious rampant corruption within the political, judicial, military, and police forces of Ukraine have remained. As a result, “Ukraine has endured the worst economic performance of any country in the former Soviet Union,” according to Foreign Policy.
Despite the separation, Russia and Ukraine have had a somewhat mutually beneficial relationship since their split. Around 70% of Ukraine’s defense related exports flowed to Russia before 2014. 20% of Russia’s uranium comes from mines in Ukraine, and Ukraine has relied on Russia for much of it’s oil.
Leonid Kravchuk was the first President of Ukraine. He let many loans default, leading to delays of salaries for many workers. He surrendered Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal and sought closer ties with Russia while resisting NATO membership. He resigned in 1994 after allegations of corruption. Leonid Kuchma was elected President of Ukraine in 1994. He was reelected in 1999 and served until 2004. The Ukrainian economy continued to decline under him until 1999 when it started to improve. He privatized industry and agriculture, reduced subsidies, and restricted freedom of the press. He was also accused of ordering the murders of several journalists who criticized him, including Georgiy Gonadze who was kidnapped and beheaded by Ukrainian police. (Kuchma was recorded ordering the assassination be carried out by Ukraine’s police minister. Kravchenko, the superior of the four policemen involved was killed just hours before he was supposed to testify against them.) Kuchma signed a special partnership agreement with NATO and a treaty with Russia. In 2002 he stated that Ukraine wanted to sign as association agreement with the EU, but no agreement was signed.
In 2004 there was an obviously rigged election between Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych (previous PM under Kuchma) that involved voter intimidation and electoral fraud. Yushchenko had been governor the National Bank of Ukraine from 1993 to 1999 and then Prime Minister of Ukraine from 1999 to 2001. In 2004 he received a majority vote in Western Lviv, Ukraine while Yanukovych received the majority of Eastern Donetsk (home of the Yuzivska gas-field) and Luhansk (together commonly called “Donbass”). It was decided Yushchenko was the victor after the Ukrainian Supreme Court called for a re-vote. The election sparked massive protests commonly called the “Orange Revolution” where Kiev, the country’s capital, was center-stage.
Yulia Tymoshenko, (sometimes called the Joan of Arc of Ukraine) the first woman to become the PM of Ukraine on January 24 of 2005 co-led the Orange Revolution. Yushchenko dismissed her on September 8 2005, along with the rest of his government. Yulia had been vocal about the corruption of previous President, Leonid Kuchma, and she had faced persecution because of it. On 13 February 2001 Tymoshenko was arrested for supposedly embezzling state funds when she was Deputy Prime Minister for the Fuel and Energy sector for Yushchenko from December 30 1999 to 19 January 2001 and this case was opened again in 2011, resulting in a second arrest, despite being baseless and politically motivated. She went on several hunger strikes to protest the corruption in the government and to attempt to bring closer relations between Ukraine and the EU.
In 2007 Yushchenko tried to dissolve the entire parliament. The Parliament appealed to the Constitutional Court, arguing his actions violated Amendment 90 of the Constitution. In response he illegally dismissed three members of the Constitutional Court. In 2010 he ran again in the election but only received 5.45% of the vote.
In 2010 Yanukovych succeeded Yushchenko. On March 30 2012 senior officials of Ukraine and the European Union initialed in Brussels an Association Agreement (AA) between the EU and Ukraine with the Deep and Comprehensive Free trade Agreement (DCFTA) as part of it. Yanukovych initially expressed interest in joining the European Union but perhaps due to pressure from Russia he caved and instead signed a treaty and a multi-billion dollar loan with Russia. Russia offered Ukraine cheaper gas prices, but did not require any reforms to the country unlike the EU as a condition of its trade agreements. The loan turned out to be another band-aid solution that eventually hurt more than it helped due to the country’s inability to pay it back. This harm was compounded by recent IMF loans that amounted to 17 billion dollars.
From Foreign Policy: “Despite the economic crisis, the IMF’s loan requires Kiev to enact a series of policy changes, all of which will accelerate the collapse of the economy and decrease the purchasing power of ordinary Ukrainians. The IMF demands that Ukraine make immediate cutbacks to reduce the fiscal deficit. To meet this requirement, Kiev has already enacted a series of laws raising excise and property taxes, reduced social income support expenditures for retirees and public employees, frozen Ukraine’s minimum wage, and cut public-sector wages. Another target is the energy sector. Ukraine is required to increase natural gas and heating tariffs for consumers by 56 percent and 40 percent in 2014, respectively, and by 20 to 40 percent annually from 2015 to 2017. At the same time, as gas prices increase sharply, gas subsidies to end users will be completely ended over the next two years. With Russia ceasing gas supplies to Ukraine since June as a result of a payment dispute, Ukrainian consumers may face further price increases unless Kiev is able to obtain gas from other sources.” (Link: http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/09/10/ukraine-cant-afford-the-imfs-shock-therapy/.) Cuts to soviet era mines and factories in Donbass from Kiev have been a further cause of division.
Yanukovych was ousted on February 21 2014 in the 2014 Euromaiden clashes wherein 100 people were killed. This sparked the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution. The previous Constitution was restored and an interim government was put in place with elections to be held, and the European Union Association Agreement was finally signed. Some have blamed Washington or Obama as being responsible for funding this coup though the evidence for this does not seem to be evident. The acting President became Oleksandr Valentynovych Turchynov. Until elections were held and Petro Poroshenko was sworn in June 7 2014.
The previously autonomous Crimea was invaded by unknown gunmen and the Russian Marine Corps on February 27 2014. Link: (https://euobserver.com/opinion/123339/ and http://www.voanews.com/content/putin-admits-russian-troop-role-in-crimea-annexation/2523186.html). 50 unknown gunmen barricaded the Supreme Council of Crimea, and the council subsequently dismissed its own government. Crimea and Sevastopol were then annexed by Russia. The Chairman and Prime Minister of Crimea was dismissed and Sergey Aksyonov from the Russian Unity Party now leads the Crimean government. 96% of Crimean population (that consists mostly of Russian speaking people) supposedly supported annexation of Crimea to Russia and Putin defends the annexation a move that was wanted by the people of Crimea. But the public opinion was more than likely swayed by the heavy Russian military presence there or falsified entirely.
According to the Eurobserver: “On 28 February, Russia continued its military buildup on the peninsula by flying in 12 Mi-24 attack helicopters and five Il-76 Russian military transport planes. More units were also deployed on the ground. In a short time all strategic assets, including airports, were under the complete control of Russian marines. It is estimated that there are 26,000 Russian troops in Crimea…On 1 March, the Russian parliament officially authorised Putin to send his army into any part of Ukraine in order to “normalise [the] social and political situation” under the pretext that the lives of Russian citizens in Ukraine are somehow in danger.”
The new Ukrainian government has been responsible for multiple human rights violations. It has shelled Donetsk and the Ukrainian military is now openly recruiting neo-nazis that display swastika emblems and SS markings. However, it is not clear separatists are without their fascist elements either. Putin has defended arming Pro-Russian separatists in order to fight the neo-nazism gripping the Ukraine. In response to the fascism, Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Arsen Avakov, the interior minister said “A person who takes a weapon in his hands and goes to defend his motherland is a hero. And his views are his own affair.” (Link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/11025137/Ukraine-crisis-the-neo-Nazi-brigade-fighting-pro-Russian-separatists.html)
During the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution protests Russian officials advised the Ukrainian SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) on how to quell the protests. Snipers were used to pick off protesters and Russian troops also invaded. Hennadiy Moskal, a former deputy head of the the SBU, claimed the snipers from Ministry of Internal Affairs and SBU “received orders to shoot not only protesters, but also police forces. This was all done in order to escalate the conflict, in order to justify the police operation to clear Maidan.” Russian troops were also sent into Donbass disguised as a humanitarian convoy in February. (Link: http://www.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-ukraine-russia-separatists-putin-20141117-story.html) Although Russia is also sending legitimate humanitarian convoys, which adds to the confusion. (Link: http://sputniknews.com/europe/20150108/1016664155.html)
Colonel of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Russia (GRU) Aleksandr Musienko stated that the conflict in Ukraine can only be solved using force, and that Ukraine has shown it cannot be an independent sovereign state. But the GRU and the rest of the Russian government have been funding and training separatists adding fuel to the fire probably to create further instability perhaps to justify a full-on Russian invasion. This is a typical method “intelligence” agencies use to create false pretenses for an invasion. The Russian government also has very harsh laws against homosexuality and their fascism and separatism may be fueling elements of the same within Ukraine.
The Foreign Affairs ministry of Ukraine said that the presence of foreign soldiers amounted to “undisguised aggression” from Russia, and “the export of Russian terrorism to our country”. “There are grounds to affirm that Russian terrorists funneled on to the territory of Ukraine are being organized and financed through the direct control of the Kremlin and Russian special forces.”
The Donetsk People’s republic was created by separatists on April 7 2014 and the Lugansk People’s Republic was created on 27 April 2014. On 24 May 2014, the two Republics merged into the Federal State of Novorossia, (New Russia) which was also the name of a former territory in the Russian Empire. Shortly after on July 17 2014 a Malaysian airliner carrying 283 missionaries and 15 crew members was shot down in Novorossia. According to the US State Department, the airliner, MH17, was destroyed by a Buk surface-to-air missile attained from Russia fired by Ukrainian separatists. Much Russian media claimed the Ukrainian military was responsible. German intelligence said separatists were to blame (Link:http://rt.com/news/197316-germany-blames-militia-crash/) But no one has been able to prove who shot down the aircraft with irrefutable evidence.
According to several sources the plane had an escort of two SU-25s, which could have shot down the Boeing. The crash site pictures revealed the body of the plane was filled with bullet holes, which means it must have been shot down by gunfire (either by plane or the ground) and not by a surface to air missile. The crash site was also tampered with, perhaps indicating further efforts to cover up what happened. It is also possible some individual or group just tried to dissemble the plane to use the scrap metal.
Separatists initially took credit, but when it was realized that it was a civilian aircraft they recanted their statements. Of course, shooting down a civilian aircraft earns no one any credit or good face. So whoever shot down the plane likely did so by mistake (thinking it was a military aircraft) or they did it to make one group of fighters lose support. The US used the event to increase hostility and trade sanctions with Russia, and the event was used politically across the spectrum to further fractionalize groups in Ukraine. No one accused the airliner of wrongdoing, even though it is inherently dangerous to fly over a country that is amid a civil war, and they could have easily flown from Amsterdam to Russia to Malaysia without going through Ukraine.
Putin likely wants Ukraine as a military and trading power within Russia’s Eurasian Economic Commission, which it has free trade agreements with. Putin could want to annex the whole of Ukraine, perhaps to help reassemble the USSR power bloc or so that Ukraine will at least become economically and politically closer to Russia. Russia’s authority figures can excuse their intervention by pointing to the massive corruption (and election stealing) among authorities within Ukraine, but many are also contributing to the instability with their secretive efforts. Separatists are mostly Russian civilians and Russian paramilitaries are reported to make up from 15% to 80% of the combatants. Chechen, Ossetian, Tajik, Afghan, Armenian soldiers are also fighting in Ukraine. (link:http://www.worldreview.info/content/frozen-conflict-east-ukraine-stirs-fears-repeating-georgia-war)
With large defections from the Ukrainian military to rebel groups, the Ukrainian military has instituted a draft, which aims to recruit 100,000 more soldiers. Ukrainian support for joining NATO has been rising since the Russian intervention. If NATO lets Ukraine join, Russia would likely back down. But if Russians troops decided not to back down and felt it was worth it to keep fighting, this could start a World War, (since any attack on a NATO member is considered an attack on all members).
The current sanctions on Russia are not helping to prevent Russian military aggression. Like all sanctions they are hurting the most economically vulnerable people the most and having the least affect on the figures they are intended to disturb.
I believe Russia must pull its troops out, so that it will be more obvious how much the separatist movements are just fueled by the Russian military. For there to be peace, equality, and well-being in Ukraine, the Ukrainian police forces ought to be abolished. They can’t be tools used to repress popular dissent, and the draft has to be resisted at all costs. Corrupt judges also need to be thrown out. Fascist elements must be resisted. The country is very divided, and it must be allowed to evolve without self-interested foreign actors. Hopefully, the international community will be able to see this situation for what it is and offer real help.