Explaining the Three-month Political Crisis in Ukraine

Starting in November of 2013, protesters in the Eastern European country of Ukraine had taken to the streets to protest the government of then President Viktor Yanukovych. After months of opposition, Yanukovych fled to Russia, leaving the country with the task of administering new elections, slated for May 25.  

The Ukraine crisis has its roots in strong issues involving the Ukrainian economy as well as the fear of a return to Russian dependence. Protests began in November 2013 after Yanukovych rejected a European Union trade deal known as the Eastern Partnership. The deal would have promoted closer political ties with the West and generated economic growth by modernizing Ukraine and opening up its borders for trade. Yanukovych suspended talks with the EU on Nov. 21, 2013.

A major factor influencing Yanukovych’s decision to reject the trade deal was Russia’s opposition to the partnership. Ukraine, once a territory of the former Soviet Union, would have faced tough trade sanctions from their Russian neighbor and a lack of energy supplies, according to Al Jazeera America.

Another factor that presumably affected Yanukovych’s decision was a condition imposed by the EU in the agreement that called for the release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a Yankovych political opponent. In December 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin invested $15 billion in Ukrainian government bonds and cut the cost of natural gas for Ukraine.

Protesters took to the streets to express their outrage over corruption, unemployment and problems of economic development, according to Professor Julie George of Queens College. Protesters took over key government offices, such as the City Hall in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, where they were met by police.

The media has reported on incidents of police brutality, and with the help of social media, pictures of beaten protesters have spread throughout the country.  Protesters were arrested with the introduction of new anti-protest laws passed to quell the insurrection.

The conflict continued into February when Yanukovych was forced to leave the country. He fled to Russia, and the interim pro-EU government issued a warrant for Yanukovych’s arrest.

In the Crimean Peninsula, which borders Russia, the mostly ethnic Russian population felt that their interests would not be recognized by the interim government and called for Russian intervention, prompting an occupation of the region by Russian paramilitary forces.

Voters in Crimea held a referendum in March in which a vast majority of the population voted for the region to become independent from Ukraine and subsequently become integrated into the Russian Federation.

Russia formally annexed Crimea two days later.

Nadia Klapacz, a freshman at Ramapo whose family is from Ukraine, emphasized a country and group of people that will persevere.

“Ukraine will always be independent by heart,” said Klapacz.

When asked about the Russian annexation of Crimea, Klapacz said, “Only Russia thinks the annexation is legitimate, and the only reason it is pulling through is because of the mass Russian population and heavy military personnel taking control of all main occupancies… [The] ‘annexation’ of Crimea is just a way to get Russia’s foot easier into the Ukrainian military bases there.”

She added, “If a Ukrainian were to even vote to join the Russian Federation, it would be only because they are in fear of war and their life if they were not to do so.”

While elections are scheduled to take place on May 25, the international community will have to wait and see what the future holds for Ukraine. For many Ukrainians, a quick return to stability and an effective government are the hopeful products of the intense conflict that has plagued the country for almost six months now.