Sunday, 2 March 2014

Ukraine: What Happened?

by Ross Watkins. See William Bates' article on the Ukraine crisis here.

PGS Model United Nations will be holding an emergency debate on the current situation in the Ukraine, on Monday, 3rd March, at 1.10 pm in the Willis Room. All are welcome.

Protesters battling government forces, in Kiev
(source; BBC)
Originally, this article was going to be about possible outcomes to the crisis in Ukraine but, whilst writing this on Saturday, there have been major developments which seem to have answered this question, already causing me to carry this article in the new direction of why the crisis started and a timeline of events, leading to a consideration of possible solutions to the crisis (taking into account what we already know).
Let us cast our minds back to November last year, when these events were in their infancy, and remind ourselves how this all started.  On the 21st November, President Yanukovych’s cabinet confirmed that it would not involve itself with an EU trade deal and would instead further trade and co-operation with Russia. This caused outrage in western Ukraine in which there is a predominant view that Ukraine should have a better relationship with the EU and move away from Russia.

That same night, a few hundred demonstrators (but nothing substantial) began the first protests. Three days later, on the 24th of November, 100,000 protestors are thought to have attended a demonstration in Kiev, viewed as the first major protest, which brought international attention to the unfolding events. This international media attention was ushered along further on the 30th November, when the Ukrainian police launched their first raid on protestors, 35 of whom were arrested and many injured. Images of the injured protestors spread quickly through all forms of media, including social media, leading to an increasing international profile for the protests. The demonstrations reached a landmark when 800,000 people attended a protest in Kiev, much larger than the ones in the Orange Revolution of 2004, showing that the crisis was leading to something significant but as yet unknown.

Government forces and protesters, Kiev
(Wiki Commons)
The first major intervention of Russia into the developments was on the 17th December, when Putin's government, seeing the impending economic perils facing Ukraine, agreed to buy $15 billion of Ukrainian debt and to reduce the price of Russian gas to Ukraine by about a third. The protests carried on for a further month without many substantial events happening. However, this changed when the Ukrainian parliament passed anti-protest laws; these were viewed in an extremely bad light by the opposition who called them “draconian” and “restrictive”; the legislation was viewed by some as breaking their right to free speech.
Arguably, the most important event for the protest was on the 22nd January. This was the when the first deaths resulting from the protests were reported. Two people died from gunshot wounds during clashes with the police; this was such a important event, as it meant that there were now martyrs for the cause of the protestors and also it created anger in the protestors which would lead to them storming the governmental buildings, leading, in turn, to more violent methods being used by the protestors against the police. When I heard the news of the first deaths coming from Ukraine naturally I was angry that life had been lost but I was also angry that it was the government who had taken the first steps of extreme violence. The question should have been asked: why did the police even carry live ammunition and not just rubber rounds, as the crowds had not yet become violent?
The retaliation started on the 24th January when protestors stormed regional governmental offices  in Western Ukraine. This action, accompanied by other general protests, increased pressure on the government, causing Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, to resign and the parliament to annul the anti-protest law introduced earlier in the month. This unquestionably was done to try to quell the protestors as the parliament now knew that they were very close to losing power, consequently  passing an amnesty bill to drop all charges against the protestors arrested in the demonstrations. This vain attempt to try to right their wrongs was, understandably, not accepted by the protestors, and the situation continued its journey down to the murky depths of complete anarchy.
Now reaching February, the bloodiest and most active month of the confrontation, I think it is the appropriate time to analyse what has gone wrong. Firstly, I believe that this is predominantly down to the parliament showing its Russian ties and therefore creating differences between Western Ukraine and its parliament. I believe it was completely wrong for the parliament to not accept increased trade deals with the EU. As seen with other Eastern European countries joining the EU, such a relationship has extremely positive effects on growth and standards of living (it’s beneficial to the UK contrary to what William Bates argues, as I have already pointed out). So why, then, did the Ukrainian parliament decide to side with Russia?

Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych
and his ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin
(source: Wiki Commons)
I believe it is firstly down to diplomatic bullying by the Russian government and also to rigged elections in which pro-Russians are put into positions of power (there have been strong indications of such election-tampering taking place, but nothing officially confirmed). Therefore, going into the concluding section of this article, I want to highlight my full support for the demonstrators, as they are trying only to overthrow a corrupt government and to join the EU, which is a brilliant organisation that would aid their country in further social and economic progression. Perhaps the dramatic situation in Ukraine throughout February (and now March) will be studied by future students of history in ‘Early 21st Century Relations ’ history courses and there will be discussion of how this influenced subsequent events which we have not yet experienced.

By the beginning of February, all 234 protestors arrested since December had been released but had charges against them retained, effectively putting them in jeopardy, not knowing what would happen to them in the future. Events started unfolding rapidly on the 18th February when 18 people, including seven policemen, were killed and riot police started to encircle the square the protestors were occupying. With the international media now covering every detail of the crisis, nothing now done by either sides was going unreported; most shockingly, on the 20th February, it was reported that snipers had been firing on protestors, presumably at the instigation of the government. This was confirmed when images were shown of uniformed snipers shooting at protestors trying to shield themselves with makeshift barricades; there were further images of protestors dying from signal shot wounds, suggesting execution-style sniping. The introduction of snipers as part of the arsenal used by the government against the protestors cemented my belief that the government had no 'right' to continue its rule. Even though the government was ‘democratically elected’, as soon as they purposely killed their own civilian citizens those responsible should be held accountable as murders.

Opposition leader (and former Prime Minister) Yulia Tymoshenko
addresses protesters following her release from prison
(source: Guardian)
On the 21st February, a compromise deal was signed with opposition leaders, envisaging a new national unity government, with constitutional changes to hand powers back to parliament and early elections to be held by December. However, this this deal was met by sporadic violence as protestors rightfully did not want to recognise the Kiev authorities. The 22nd February was the day everything changed. The protestors seized control of the presidential administration buildings and called for elections on the 25th May.  President Yanukovych fled (reported heading to the north-east of Ukraine) and the Ukrainian parliament voted to remove him from power.

This might have ended the crisis but, days after an interim President was announced, there were protests in the pro-Russian Crimea (part of Ukraine) with protestors raising Russian flags over regional governmental buildings. On the 27th February, pro-Russian gunmen seized key buildings. On the 28th February, unidentified gunmen seized key buildings and institutions across Crimea, also controlling the airports, which increased fears of an imminent Russian intervention. This sparked the USA to say that there would be ‘effects’ if Russia tried any military engagement.  

Pro-Russian protesters in the Crimea
(source: BBC)
Now to the events of this weekend. The lower and upper houses of the Russian parliament approved any troop deployment and asked that Russian forces be used "until the normalisation of the political situation in the country". Now we are left waiting to see what happens. By the time this article has been published the question of "What next?" may be answered but I look upon the situation and firstly hope for a solution that involves the least number of casualties but also that leads to the greatest stability in Ukraine for years to come. This may include Crimea going to Russia if that means greater stability; however, this should only happen as a result of a successful plebiscite which is accepted to be fair by international observers.
Whatever does happen, we must remember that too many lives have been lost and that we should learnt from this so that the international community can act more wisely if similar situations happen in the future.


  1. Putin should mind his own business or he will be Put-in a jail cell!

  2. I actually think Putin is right, Ukraine was unstable and he's the only one of these leaders to actually take a stand and do something to re-stabilise the country.

  3. Interesting point, Ieuan, but I disagree entirely. I think Justin Bieber sums it up best:

    "I wish we had another time, I wish we had another place, but everything we have is stuck in the moment, And there's nothing my heart can do, To fight with time and space,"

    Putin needs to understand this is a game of time, there is no rush, the world leaders need to realise it is about finding the best solution, not rushing into a deal which would result in civilians being treated as commodities.

  4. I just want to see the country stabilised and a peace treaty sorted out so we can evade this potential World War 3, I'm a pacifist.

  5. I agree with Ieuan. As a peaceful person and a pacifist, I would hate to see the potential Third World War become a reality, in a place that is (quote Chamberlain) "far away, and people we know nothing of". Putin's actions are disgraceful, and those in Ukraine should be left to settle their own disputes.

  6. The Ukraine is none of our business so we should leave the argument between them and the Russians!


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