Thinking Aloud: Year in Review Countdown … #3

Dec. 28, 2014 by Darius

As 2014 draws to a close, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look back at what I consider to be the three biggest international affairs events to occur in 2014.  Over the next three days, I’ll discuss these events and why I consider them to be important.

The 3rd most important event of the year: the Ukraine crisis and Russia’s quasi-invasion of eastern Ukraine.

The origins of the events in Ukraine, like most crises, go back many years, but the immediate cause was the prospect of Ukraine signing a deal that would bring it closer to the European Union economically.  Russia strongly opposed Ukraine’s moving closer to the EU and successfully pressured pro-Russia (former) Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to turn 180 degrees and not sign the EU agreement.  Ukraine’s people, at least many of them, weren’t so thrilled and began protesting.  After several months and dozens of protester deaths, President Yanukovych first agreed to sign the agreement with the EU and then was forced from power entirely.

Russia was predictably infuriated by events in Ukraine.  In retaliation for Yanukovych’s departure, Russia activated an old claim to Crimea, formerly southeastern Ukraine, and staged a flash invasion.  A “referendum” in Crimea held a few weeks later purported to show that a huge majority of Crimea’s people (Crimea is majority ethnic Russian) wanted to become part of Russia.  Crimea was then formally annexed by Russia.

Russia also began sponsoring an insurgency that sprang up in other ethnic Russian-majority areas of eastern Ukraine.  Independent “peoples’ republics” were declared in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.  The Ukrainian military has been fighting the insurgents for most of 2014.  The Ukraine conflict catapulted into international headlines after pro-Russian rebels shot down a civilian airliner over Ukraine on July 17, killing hundreds of people.

In retaliation for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and arming and financing insurgents in eastern Ukraine, the US and Europe imposed economic sanctions on Russia.  These sanctions are now making Russia’s economic problems (somewhat) worse.

Today, there are hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, mostly in the east, outside the control of the Ukrainian government.  Many of these civilians do not have reliable access to food, water, and shelter.  Thousands more have fled into Russia or western Ukraine.  Despite numerous peace talks, ceasefires, and negotiations, the conflict in eastern Ukraine shows few signs of being resolved any time soon.

The events in Ukraine are important for several reasons.  (1) US-Russia relations are at their lowest point since the fall of the Soviet Union, and Europe-Russia relations are at a low point as well.  The tension between the US/EU and Russia is complicating many other global issues, including the world economy and the ongoing civil war in Syria. (2) A major humanitarian crisis is brewing in eastern Ukraine, in the heart of Europe, which is now exacerbated by the winter.  (3) Russia’s annexation of Crimea and inherent poke at the world order, which denies the acquisition of territory through aggression, exposed how little the world can (will?) do when a powerful country – this time Russia, next time China? – chooses to redefine its territorial claims at its neighbors’ expense.

For more on this story, see:

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