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Ukrainian crisis

A prolonged crisis in Ukraine began on 21 November 2013 when the then-president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych suspended preparations for the implementation of an association agreement with the European Union. The decision sparked mass protests from proponents of the agreement. The protests, in turn, precipitated a revolution that led to Yanukovych's ousting in February 2014. After the ousting, unrest enveloped in some largely Russophone eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, from where Yanukovych had drawn most of his support. Subsequently, an ensuing political crisis developed after Russia invaded said regions (from February 2014) and annexed the then-autonomous Ukrainian region of Crimea in March 2014. As Russia's invasion emboldened the Russophone Ukrainians already in upheaval, the unrest in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts devolved into a subnational war (April 2014 onwards) against the post-revolutionary Ukrainian government. As that conflict progressed, the Russophone Ukrainian opposition turned into a pro-Russian insurgency, often supported and assisted by the Russian military and its special forces.[1][2]

Euromaidan and revolution

Ukraine became gripped by unrest when the Ukrainian government suspended preparations for signing the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement with the European Union on 21 November 2013, to seek closer economic relations with Russia.[3] An organised political movement known as 'Euromaidan' demanded closer ties with the European Union, and the ousting of Yanukovych.[4] This movement was ultimately successful, culminating in the February 2014 revolution, which removed Yanukovych and his government.[5]

On 24 November 2013, clashes between protesters and police began. After a few days of demonstrations an increasing number of university students joined the protests.[6] The Euromaidan has been characterised as an event of major political symbolism for the European Union itself, particularly as "the largest ever pro-European rally in history."[7]

During 24 January 2014, various western Ukrainian cities such as Ivano-Frankivsk, and Chernivtsi had protesters seize regional government buildings in protest of president Viktor Yanukovych. In Ivano-Frankivsk, nearly 1,500 protesters occupied the regional government building and barricaded themselves inside the building. The city of Chernivtsi saw crowds of protesters storm the governors office while police officers protected the building. Uzhgorod also had regional offices blockaded, and in the western city of Lviv barricades were being erected just after previously seizing the governor's office.[8]

The protests continued despite heavy police presence,[9] regularly sub-freezing temperatures, and snow. Escalating violence from government forces in the early morning of 30 November caused the level of protests to rise, with 400,000–800,000 protesters, according to Russia's opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, demonstrating in Kyiv on the weekends of 1 December and 8 December.[10] In the preceding weeks, protest attendance had fluctuated from 50,000 to 200,000 during organised rallies.[11][12] Violent riots took place 1 December and 19 January through 25 January in response to police brutality and government repression.[13] Starting 23 January, several Western Ukrainian Oblast (province) Governor buildings and regional councils were occupied in a revolt by Euromaidan activists.[14] In the Russophone cities of Zaporizhzhya, Sumy, and Dnipropetrovsk, protesters also tried to take over their local government building, and were met with considerable force from both police and government supporters.[14]

Russian military intervention in Ukraine

2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine

Following flight of President Yanukovych on 23 February 2014, protests by pro-Russian and anti-revolution activists began in the largely Russophone region of Crimea.[15] These were followed by demonstrations in cities across eastern and southern Ukraine, including Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, and Odessa.

Russian annexation of Crimea

Starting on 26 February 2014, pro-Russian armed men gradually began to take over the peninsula, provoking protests.[16] Russia initially said that these uniformed militants, termed "little green men" in Ukraine, were "local self-defence forces".[17] However, they later admitted that these were in fact Russian soldiers without insignias, confirming on-the-ground reports of a Russian incursion into Ukraine.[18][19][20][21][22][23][24] By 27 February, the Crimean parliament building had been seized by Russian forces. Russian flags were raised over these buildings, and a self-declared pro-Russian government said that it would hold a referendum on independence from Ukraine.[25] On 1 March 2014 the Federation Council of the Russian Federation unanimously adopted a resolution on petition of the President of Russia Vladimir Putin to use military force on territory of Ukraine.[26] The resolution was adopted several days later after the start of the Russian military operation on "Returning of Crimea". Following that internationally unrecognised referendum, which was held on 16 March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea on 18 March 2014.

War in Donbass

Damaged building in Lysychansk, 4 August 2014

From the beginning of March 2014, demonstrations by pro-Russian and anti-government groups took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, together commonly called the "Donbass", in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and the Euromaidan movement. These demonstrations, which followed the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and which were part of a wider group of concurrent pro-Russian protests across southern and eastern Ukraine, escalated into an armed conflict between the separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR respectively), and the Ukrainian government.[27][28] Prior to a change of the top leadership in August 2014,[29] the separatists were largely led by Russian citizens.[30] Russian paramilitaries are reported to make up from 5% to 20% of the combatants.[30][31][32][33][34]

Between 22 and 25 August 2014, Russian artillery, personnel, and what Russia called a "humanitarian convoy" were reported to have crossed the border into Ukrainian territory without the permission of the Ukrainian government. Reportedly, crossings occurred both in areas under the control of pro-Russian forces and areas that were not under their control, such as the south-eastern part of Donetsk Oblast, near Novoazovsk. These events followed the reported shelling of Ukrainian positions from the Russian side of the border over the course of the preceding month.[35][36][37][38][39] Head of the Security Service of Ukraine Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said that the events of 22 August were a "direct invasion by Russia of Ukraine".[40] Western and Ukrainian officials described these events as a "stealth invasion" of Ukraine by Russia.[39] As a result, DPR and LPR insurgents regained much of the territory they had lost during the preceding government military on the offensive. On September 5, 2014, Russia and Ukraine signed a deal to establish a ceasefire, called the Minsk Protocol.[41] Yet, violations of the ceasefire were common. Amidst the solidification of the line between insurgent and Ukrainian territory during the ceasefire, warlords took control of swathes of land on the insurgent side, leading to further destabilisation.[42] The ceasefire completely collapsed in January 2015. Heavy fighting resumed across the conflict zone, including at Donetsk International Airport and Debaltseve.[43] A new ceasefire agreement, called Minsk II, was signed on 12 February 2015.[44]

Kerch Strait incident

An international incident occurred on 25 November 2018 when the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) coast guard fired upon and captured three Ukrainian Navy vessels attempting to pass from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait on their way to the port of Mariupol.[45][46] Under a 2003 treaty, the strait and the Azov Sea are intended to be the shared territorial waters of both countries, and freely accessible.[45][47][48] As the flotilla, which consisted of two gunboats and a tugboat, approached the Kerch Strait, the Russian coast guard said they repeatedly asked the Ukrainian vessels to leave what they referred to as "Russian territorial waters". They said that the vessels had not followed the formal procedure for passage through the strait, that the Ukrainian ships had been manoeuvring dangerously, and that they were not responding to radio communications.[45][49][50] Ukraine said that it had given advance notice to the Russians that the vessels would be moving through the strait, that the ships had made radio contact with the Russians, but received no response, and cited the 2003 treaty against the assertion that the ships had entered Russian territorial waters.[51][52][53] The Russians tried to halt the Ukrainian ships, but they continued moving in the direction of the bridge. As they neared the bridge, the Russians authorities placed a large cargo ship under it, blocking their passage into the Azov Sea. The Ukrainian ships remained moored in the strait for eight hours, before turning back to return to port in Odessa. The Russian coast guard pursued them as they left the area, and later fired upon and seized the vessels in international waters off the coast of Crimea.[49][54][45][55][56] Three Ukrainian crew members were injured in the clash, and all twenty-four Ukrainian sailors from the captured ships were detained by Russia.[45][57][58] The Ukrainian government characterised the incident as a potential precursor to a Russian invasion, and declared martial law along the border with Russia and in Black Sea coastal areas, which expired on 26 December 2018.[59][60] The Russian government called the incident a deliberate provocation by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ahead of the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election.[61] The incident took place a few days before the 2018 G20 Buenos Aires summit.

Elections in Ukraine after Euromaidan

Since 2014 multiple elections were held across Ukraine. The first election held since the ousting of President Yanukovych was the 25 May presidential election, which resulted in the election of Petro Poroshenko as president of Ukraine. In the Donbass region, only 20% of polling stations were open due to threats of violence by pro-Russian separatist insurgents.[62] Of the 2,430 planned polling stations in the region, only 426 remained open for polling.[62]

(in Russian) Internationally unrecognised Donbass general elections, 2 November 2014

As the war in Donbass continued, the first post-revolutionary parliamentary elections in Ukraine were held on 26 October 2014.[63] Once again, separatists stymied voting in the areas that they controlled. They held their own elections, internationally unrecognised and in violation of the Minsk Protocol peace process, on 2 November 2014.[64]

On 25 October 2015 local elections took place in Ukraine.[65] In the Donbass region the elections were held only throughout parts of the region, separatists stymied voting in the areas that they controlled. A second round of voting for the election of mayors in cities with more than 90,000 residents where no candidate gained more than 50% of the votes were held on 15 November 2015.[66][67]

Donbass general elections were held on 11 November 2018 by the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics.[68]

The 2019 Ukrainian presidential election was held on 31 March and 21 April in a two-round system. There were a total of 39 candidates for the election on the ballot. The 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia and the occupation of parts of Donetsk Oblast and Luhansk Oblast prevented around 12% of eligible voters from participating in the election. As no candidate received an absolute majority of the vote, a second round was held between the top two candidates, Volodymyr Zelensky, who played the role of Ukraine's president in a popular television comedy and the incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko, on 21 April 2019. According the Central Election Commission, Zelensky won the second round with 73.22% of the votes.[69][70]

Snap elections to the Ukrainian parliament were held on 21 July 2019. Originally scheduled to be held at the end of October, these elections were brought forward after newly inaugurated President Volodymyr Zelensky dissolved parliament on 21 May 2019, during his inauguration. The election result was the one-party majority, a novelty in Ukraine, for President Zelensky's Servant of the People party with 254 seats. Out of 225 constituencies, 26 were suspended due to the March 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia and the ongoing occupation of parts of Donetsk Oblast and Luhansk Oblast.

Effects of the crisis

The crisis has had many effects, both domestic[citation needed] and international.[71] According to an October 2014 estimate by the World Bank, the economy of Ukraine contracted by 8% during the year 2014 as a result of the crisis.[72] Economic sanctions imposed on Russia by western nations contributed to the collapse in value of the Russian rouble, and the resulting Russian financial crisis.[73]

The war in Donbass caused a coal shortage in Ukraine, as the Donbass region had been the chief source of coal for power stations across the country. Furthermore, Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Station was forced to close down one of its reactors after an accident. The combination of these two problems led to rolling blackouts across Ukraine during December 2014.[74]

Additionally, due to the Ukrainian crisis, a construction of a new pipeline in Turkey with an annual capacity around 63 billion cubic metres (bcm) was proposed, so as to carry natural gas to Europe while completely bypassing Ukraine as a traditional transit hub for Russian gas.[75]

Progress on implementing reforms in post-revolutionary Ukraine has been said to be slow. According to a BBC report in February 2016, Ukraine remained gripped by corruption, and little progress had been made in improving the economy. Low-level fighting continued in the Donbass. The report also said that there was talk of a "Third Maidan" to force the government to take action to remedy the crisis.[76]

An IMF four-year loan program worth about $17.5 billion was agreed in eight tranches over 2015 and 2016, subject to conditions regarding economic reforms.[77] Analysts disputed that the $17.5 billion represented a 'new' bailout, noting that the IMF's announcement amounted to making good on "old promises, rather than offering any new cash."[71] However, due to lack of progress on reforms, only two tranches worth $6.7 billion were paid in 2015. A third tranche of $1.7 billion may be paid in June 2016 subject to the bringing into law of 19 further reform measures.[78][79] In May 2016, the IMF mission chief for Ukraine stated that the reduction of corruption was a key test for continued international support.[79]

Since about 2015, there has been a growing number of Ukrainians working in the European Union, particularly Poland. Eurostat reported that 662,000 Ukrainians received EU residence permits in 2017, with 585,439 being to Poland. The head of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine has estimated that up to 9 million Ukrainians work abroad for some part of the year, and 3.2 million have regular full-time work abroad with most not planning to return. World Bank statistics show that money remittances back to Ukraine have roughly doubled from 2015 to 2018, worth about 4% of GDP.[80][81]

See also

References

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