Understanding The Ukrainian Crisis: All You Need To Know!

Posted on April 2, 2014 in GlobeScope

By Rohit Sachdeva:

For the ease of reading and understanding, this issue will be written in two parts with its first part highlighting the historical perspective and the second part explaining the beginning of crisis in its present form with various aspects of Political involvement.


Orange-Blue Clash


The news stories regarding annexation of Crimea, primarily a Ukrainian territory, is doing rounds in world media. United States and European Union are blaming Kremlin for its use of power and an attempted coup to destabilize Europe while Russia is having the yardstick of defending Russia dominated region like Crimea for such show of powers. The three protagonists in this story Russia, European Union and United States have their share of reasons to meddle into the affairs of, what seems a contested territory presently, Ukraine, for various reasons.

To understand what benefit various protagonists can have, it is important to look through the origin of this crisis which dates back to 1991 during the dissolution of the USSR.

The troubled times after World Wars is blamed for the birth of the term Cold War which stretched from 1945 till 1990s. Claims of United States and Soviet Union in the world arena to become superpowers saw the evolution of NATO and WARSAW pact. World became bipolar with capitalist and communist blocs, race in the space explorations, Cuban missile crisis, nuclear exploration and other such events that have not only been subjects of historians’ interest only but also belong to the concept of establishment of a new world that ended with the most dramatic event of 20th century, the collapse of the USSR, and marked the ending of the infamous Cold War.

Ukraine, of which Crimea is a part, declared independence from USSR following an attempted coup, in a nationwide referendum in December 1991 in which 90% of people voted for independence from Soviet Union.

The Crimean peninsula, which is the bone of contention presently, has always been a contested territory. This 5th century Greek colony was invaded by Byzantine with its partial control in the hands of Kieven Rus, an East Slavic tribe of Europe from late 9th century till mid 13th century.

Invaded by Mongols after the fall of Byzantine Empire by the end of 13th century, it eventually fell in the hands of Venetians and Genovese followed by the rule of Ottoman Empire and finally being given an autonomous status in Soviet Republic in 1856 after a war between the Russian Empire and alliance of French Empire, British Empire, Ottoman Empire, Kingdom of Sardinia and Dutch of Nassau, popularly known as the Crimean War.

Autonomous Crimea became a part of Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic in 1954 after the withdrawal of Nazi forces from Crimean region during the Second World War.

The Soviet Union saw the peninsula transform into a summer camp for rewarded workers and spoiled apparatchiks. Tens of thousands of children descended to stay in purpose-built sanatoria, and holiday camps such as the famous Artek, to enjoy two weeks of sun, sea and indoctrination through sport and leisure. For the Soviet Union, Crimea was a route to the Mediterranean – the Classical world as well as that of blue skies and sunbathing.

Imperial Russia’s interest in Crimea was first of all strategic. When Catherine the Great conquered Crimea from the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th Century she was looking west, seeking warm water ports for the imperial fleet. Crimea offers an escape from the northern climate, and a route to the rest of the world. It looks east, west and south. And the rest of the world has been through it – at least Alans, Greeks, Romans, Turks, Genoese, Goths, Khazars, Cimmerians, Tatars (various conquerors of Crimean Region) have.

Even after the separation of Ukraine along with Crimea as an independent region, Russia is assumed to exert a formidable pressure on the country, the evidence of which is a two month long Orange Revolution which started with the protest of 2004 Ukrainian Presidential election in November 2004.

These elections were a contest between Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych. Yushchenko is the central figure of the Orange revolution and is considered a Pro-EU and Pro USA personality in Ukrainian Politics while Yanukovych is considered a Pro-Russian personality which is the major reason of the initiation of Ukraine Crisis which eventually led to the absconding of Yanukovych last month followed by the Russian aggression on Crimean Peninsula. This is the factor which will be explained in the second part of this article and now this part will be focused on Orange Revolution.

Orange was originally adopted by the Yushchenko’s camp as the signifying colour of his election campaign. Later the colour gave name to an entire series of political terms, such as the Oranges (Pomaranchevi in Ukrainian) for his political camp and supporters. At the time when the mass protests grew, and especially when they brought about political change in the country, the term Orange Revolution came to represent the entire series of events. In view of the success of using colour as a symbol to mobilise supporters, the Yanukovych camp chose blue for themselves.

The nationwide protests broke out with the declaration of results of 2004 Presidential Elections in which Yanukovych was declared winner but the elections monitors claimed it to be marred by massive corruption, voter intimidation and rigging.

This was the result of re-election as earlier Yushchenko had a small lead of 0.5% against Yanuovych which triggered a second ballot round, the result of which was declared by Election Commission on November 22 by Central Electoral Commission declaring Yanukovych the winner in polls with 49.6% votes while Yushchenko getting 46.61%. Despite sub zero temperature, the supporters of Yushchenko protesters got on road which resulted in a full scale protest.

In the meantime, Ukrainian Parliament passed a no confidence motion which was dismissed by Yanukovych as illegal triggering protests in Eastern region of Donetsk, a stronghold of Yanukovych. His protesters threatened to secede to Russia if Yushchenko was declared President.

In 3 successive attempts by the Parliament for no confidence motion and with intervention of the Supreme Court, December 26 was declared as a date for re-run. During these anti Yanukovych motions, it may be noted that there were demonstration in Kiev too against it.

Electoral commission declared Mr Yushchenko the official winner of the re-run presidential election with 51.99% of the vote. Mr Yanukovych got 44.2%, even after which the legal battle continued.

But on January 20, after going through 600 volumes of evidence that indicated irregularities, the Supreme Court rejected Yanukovych’s claims holding January 23 as the official date of ceremony of Yushchenko’s Presidentship.

This marks the beginning of a new political era in the Politics of Ukraine as in with the passage of time, Yushchenko’s popularity was reduced which resulted in Yanukovych’s victory in 2010 (This will be explained in next part).

Key Points

– Activists in each of these movements were funded and trained in tactics of political organisation and nonviolent resistance by a coalition of Western pollsters and professional consultants who were partly funded by a range of Western government and non-government agencies but received most of their funding from domestic sources. According to The Guardian, the foreign donors included the U.S. State Department and USAID along with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, the NGO Freedom House and George Soros’s Open Society Institute.

– On the other hand, Russia’s involvement in the election was more direct and heavily on the side of Prime Minister Yanukovych. The extent of this involvement is still contested but some facts are indisputable such as multiple meetings between (hugely popular in Ukraine at the time) Russian president Vladimir Putin, Kuchma and Yanukovych before and during the elections. Putin repeatedly congratulated Yanukovych while the results were still contested, which was soon to embarrass both parties.

Yanukovych received a much more preferential treatment in Russian media, and was surrounded by Russian consultants known to be close to the Kremlin throughout the election cycle.

– During the protests, the Russian media portrayed the Ukrainian protesters as irresponsible, led astray by Western agents and Russian TV broadcast a pro-Yanukovych message. In a poll held in November 2005, 54% of the Russian respondents believed the Orange Revolution was “A power struggle between different groups of politicians and oligarchs”.

European Union’s Ukraine – The Bone of Contention

The cost of keeping Ukraine in the European Union and under the influence of United States is a loan package of $15-20 billion from the International Monetary Fund. In another development, EU (European Union) signed an accord of friendship with Ukraine on March 21. The EU Association Agreement with Ukraine is designed to give the country’s interim leadership under PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk economic and political support.

Indeed this was the main reason of beginning of Ukraine’s Crisis on November 21, 2013 i.e. EU-Ukraine relationship. President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned the deal to include Ukraine in European Union due to which Pro-EU protesters with the backing of West and with the face of Yulia Tymoshenko, the jailed leader, resulted in a full scale escalation.

This part will deal with the period after Viktor Yuschenko time period as the President of Ukraine after Orange Revolution, the anti incumbency factor which lead to the winning of Viktor Yanukovych and the role of Yulia Tymoshenko, jailed leader who got released after Yanukovych absconded during the protests.


A prime factor for the initiation of Orange Revolution was the anti incumbency faced by Leonid Kuchma, who was the second President of Ukraine from 1994 till 2004. The era of Kuchma was marked by corruption, bribery issue, the deteriorating conditions of Ukraine’s economy and one Cassette Scandal, in which Kuchma is alleged to play a role in the abduction of journalist Georgiy Gongadze and numerous other crimes. Gongadze was assumed to have some video tapes of Kuchma’s wrong deeds which dubbed this scandal as Tapegate or Kuchmagate.

A fragile alliance of anti-Kuchma forces united behind pro-Western former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, who won the presidency, appeared as a relief to Ukrainians but much to their dismay, the condition of Ukraine seemed far from improving.

Mr Yushchenko’s insistence from the start of his campaign that he wants Ukraine to move decisively towards Europe, to aim at membership of the European Union and of NATO, were all seen as threats to Russia’s influence which deteriorated Ukraine’s relations with Russia during the Orange Revolution.

The dependence of Ukraine on Russia can be emphasized from the Gas Cut off Crisis in 2005-2006 over the payments of bills which got repeated in 2009 bringing Ukraine to its knees. Russia supplies a third of Ukraine’s energy needs. It was this strategic need which urged Yanukovych to travel to Moscow in his first visit after assuming office, despite his Pro-Western agenda, to mend ties with its Russian counterparts.

CNN in a report mentioned , “Intriguingly, the Russian press has reported that President Putin met the defeated candidate in Ukraine’s election, Viktor Yanukovych, the day before Mr Yushchenko’s visit to Moscow.”

This emphasized the double standards Russia and Ukraine both were playing. While in the coming years, Yanukovych’s increasing bend towards NATO threatened Moscow to have its traditional bloc in the Ukrainian region. It is noteworthy that Russia had always maintained a fleet navy in Black Sea, the region of Crimean peninsula, and any alliance with EU and NATO may force Russia to remove forces from there. This was one of the dilemmas which Yanukovych faced during this term as a President which forced him to not tie a knot with the European Union.

Reports of dismal growth of Ukraine’s Economy were widely circulated in world media. In 2005, Growth in the first six months of this year was 4%, compared with almost 13% in the same period an year earlier, reported CNN. One of the noted comments of Yuschenko on corruption was recorded which said, “50% of the country’s economy was “in the shadow” – failing to “pay a penny” in taxes that could be spent on social programs and infrastructure.”

Despite this money crunch, Yuschenko promised businesses lower taxes and “no prosecution”, a pointed reference to the disputes between the Moscow government and a string of Russian firms like Yukos and Vimpelcom, the company’s which were facing cases of illegal steel sell off.

Amid this growing crunch of money, Ukraine joined World Trade Organization in 2008 and in the subsequent months IMF approved a $16.4bn amount to bolster the economy of Ukraine but the ill fated Global Economic Crisis in the same duration disrupted whatever progress Ukraine’s market has initiated on the global level.

With the term of the President coming to an end, various opinion polls projected Yuschenko as least popular among candidates. According to Kiev’s International Institute of Sociology research, only 2.9 percent of the people expressed confidence in him, the worst ever percentage in Ukrainian Polls history while Viktor Yanukovich enjoyed the support of 37.9 of the respondents.

Meanwhile, Timoshenko’s rating was at 21.3 percent and pro-Western Front for Change leader, Arseny Yatsenyuk, had the support of 20.1 percent of the voters, reported RT News.

Another factor which tolled heavy on his popularity was his dictatorial tendencies. Yulia Timoshenko, the incumbent Prime Minister, with the support of whose party Yuschenko had won with marginal votes against Yanokovych, proposed to empower the parliament with the ability to appoint the president. But he dismissed the proposal claiming it might lead Ukraine to some tyranny.

Shortly after this, Timoshenko was convicted in a gas deal scandal which stated that the Cabinet, under her, did not have the power to pass the deal between Russia and Ukraine and that the project was overpaid, which eventually lead to the jailing of Timoshenko. The European Union said the jailing of former Ukraine leader Yulia Timoshenko will have profound implications for its future relations with Ukraine.

In the fall of 2008, Yushchenko dissolved The Ukrainian Rada and announced early parliamentary, but his decisions was rejected two weeks later.

Rivalry with his prime minister, Yulia Timoshenko, swiftly re-orienting foreign and trade policy towards Russia and clamping down on media freedom were factors enough for Yuschenko defeat in 2010 Presidential Elections in which Yanukovych became the President.

Despite her criticism for Yanukovych, Timoshenko’s release was made possible by a vote in the parliament that changed the criminal code – part of the EU-led deal that President Yanukovych had signed after becoming the President, as Yulia was considered a candidate of Kuchma faction, who was close to Yanukovych.

Moves to reach an association agreement with the EU, seen as a key step towards eventual EU membership, again fueled tensions with Russia, due to which Yanukovych under the pressure rejected proposal of Ukraine’s inclusion in EU which led to Pro EU protesters initiating a two month long campaign of protests which finally led to the ouster of Yanukovych.

The protests proceeded in a dramatic way. On January 22, two protesters were shot dead and a third killed in a fall as clashes between protesters and police claimed their first fatalities which further escalated the ferocity of clashes. At least 88 people were killed during the clashes, local media reported.

Analyzing the rage of protests and underlining the fact that protesters had full support of EU and USA, Yanukovych fled on Feburary 22 which called for re-election in the Parliament. This led to the counter attack in Crimea where Pro-Russian gunmen seized key buildings in Crimea and the Parliament, under siege, appointed pro-Moscow Sergei Aksyonov a PM which eventually led to the referendum and annexation of Crimea to Russia.

This power struggle of various state and non state actors explains the beginning of and the present situation of crisis.

This post originally appeared on the author’s personal blog, click here to visit.