Understanding the Ukrainian Crisis: Part 1 – The Coming Storm
From the Transfer of the Crimea to Independence and the Orange Revolution
Mr. Seurat is the our first featured columnist. He will be submitting weekly (or even bi-weekly) updates on current events. You may contact him at [email protected] with any questions.
November 2013. A group of students gather in Independence Square in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine. They are here to protest what they believe to be a betrayal by their pro-Russian government. Some are young, barely even adults. Others are grizzled old men. Women are represented here, too. From all walks of Ukrainian life, people have come to show their discontent. Here, too, are anti-protestors, those that agree with their governments actions. They are much the same as the protestors themselves. Some are young, some are old, but all are willing to stand up for what they believe in.
In the months leading up to this protest, the Regions party, which made up the plurality of the democratically elected Ukrainian government, and in so doing, formed the leading coalition, had turned its back on the European Union in favor of closer economic ties with the Russian Federations Commonwealth (an economic successor organization to the USSR). The students lined the square, jeering the government and demanding closer ties with the European Union. This would become the Euromaidan movement. The anti-protestors lining the square jeered back. Little did anyone know that this, till now, peaceful demonstration would turn the whole nation bloody.
Beginning a good 9 months ago, the Euromaidan protests, which eventually led to the toppling of the Ukrainian presidency, have set in motion a series of events so catastrophic to the Ukrainian people that fifty years from now we may very well tell of it to our grandchildren. The ripples emanating from the annexation of the Crimea and the attempted secession of the Eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Lugansk, and others have been felt as far away as Washington D.C., Malaysia, and The Netherlands. This is, many fear, but the calm before the storm.
Many have viewed the Russian Federation’s annexation of the Crimea and subsequent support of Russian Separatists in Ukraine as reminiscent of a certain German Government which, in the 1930’s, demanded the return of lands and peoples who were culturally German. Those who hold these beliefs are not far from the truth, but have not, at the same time, arrived at the whole truth. While it is fact that, on the surface, these events seem to resemble each other, a more thorough analysis of the situation paints, perhaps, an entirely different picture.
A recap of modern Ukraine history
I will now attempt to explain, as plainly as is possible, the events leading up to and directly following the annexation of the Crimea, and why Mr. Vladimir Putin and his Duma (the Russian parliament) believe themselves justified in their actions, whether or not the world at large agrees with them.
Let us begin in the 1950’s, when the Ukraine was known as the Ukrainian SSR, a member of the Soviet Union. Nikita Khrushchev, then Premier of the Soviet Union, in an act of solidarity with the Ukrainian SSR, transferred authority of the Crimea to the Ukraine. Before then, the Crimea had been a Russian SFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) territory, as it had been conquered from the Turks during the reign of Catherine the Great. This singular act has provided the Russians with many reasons as to why the Crimea should be theirs and forms the basis for many Russian claims on the region.
Now we find ourselves in 1990, with the adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine. This declaration paved the way for the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state separate from the USSR. Its main focus was to set Ukrainian law higher than Soviet law, and in doing so, was tantamount to secession from the Union. A year later, the USSR collapsed as Gorbachev handed over power to the constituent SSR’s and abolished his own office as Premier. Shortly thereafter, the Ukrainian SSR adopted the Act of Independence, formally separating themselves from the USSR.
After its independence, there existed high hopes for the Ukraine, but over the next decade, it suffered from depression-era levels of inflation, and its economy plunged deeper and deeper. The economy stabilized in the early years of the new millennium however after closer economic ties were pursued with the Russian Federation and the European Union.
This brings us to the Orange Revolution, which we will cover in great detail in the next installment of “Understand the Ukraine Happening”.
Part II; Stormclouds Gather