Russia in Ukraine

Had all gone to plan for Putin, Russia was meant to be currently revelling in the spotlight and afterglow of the  Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi. Now, two weeks on, we see the Kremlin flexing its military muscle in Ukraine, threatening peace in Europe.

Ukraine is a country that just a week ago was celebrating the ousting of Putin’s puppet President Yanukovych and the freeing of Julia Tymoshenko, one of the Orange revolutionary leaders and opponent to the Russian-backed government. Cue joyous cheers, fireworks and a display of national pride when the Ukrainian Parliament burst into song, singing their national anthem after they had voted to remove Yanukovych and usher in a new dawn for Ukraine. Now, however, we are entering a tense and fragile stand off between East and West, a return to Cold War tensions from the 1960s, as Will Holmes noted yesterday.

Russia is understandably not happy that it has lost influence in Ukraine. The Ukrainian people were leaning towards ties with the EU and moving away from Moscow. This is a move we saw previously 10 years ago in the Orange Revolution when Viktor Yushchenko won a presidential run off against then Prime Minister Yanukovych – the original victory for Yanukovych was subject to allegations of vote rigging and voter intimidation. Yushchenko won the Presidency, a victory that nearly cost him his life as he was allegedly poisoned by Russian sympathisers, a case that is still hotly debated to date.

Hope for a bright future had surged through Ukraine. Once again the nation was filled with hope and optimism over their future. Yushchenko’s PM Tymoshenko was freed from prison, and a new interim government was approved by Parliament, with the candidates for the posts paraded in independence square to mixed reactions of cheers and boos from the protesters. A date has been set for fresh Presidential elections on 25th May, a date set in an agreement between Yushchenko and the opposition parties. Ukraine has become a fragile post-revolutionary nation.

Meanwhile Yanukovych has fled the capital and not surprisingly reappeared in Moscow, still claiming legitimacy as the President of Ukraine. Yanukovych has called on his Russian friends to intervene, a call that Russia has taken steps to meet under the blanket of humanitarianism. The Russian Ambassador to the U.N proudly waved a copy of the letter written by Yanukovych asking for help to justify their movement of troops, a point that is however now moot after Putin stated that he saw no future for Yanukovych as President of Ukraine.

The international community argues that Yanukovych gave up the presidency the moment he fled Ukraine, leaving the country on the edge of economic ruin, a fact reinforced by his own party voting to remove him from office. The international community is eager to get Russia to pull back their troops and to join the interim government in dialogue about Ukraine’s united future.  The American Ambassador to the U.N argued “No one is fighting in Kiev, No one is threatening the Russian speakers of Ukraine. They are false accusations”. False accusations which Russia are using to justify intervention.

It’s hard to believe that towards the end of last year Putin was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize with his efforts to avoid war in Syria and maintain peace through diplomacy. It’s almost as if the bear has awoken once again to shake off its cuddly image.

Russia now claim humanitarian intervention and have put boots on the ground all in order to protect the Russian minorities in Ukraine. The Russians are no doubt giving Crimean citizens the chance to register as Russian citizens in order to help their case. Arguably Russia aims to tighten its grip on Ukraine after the people demanded that it lean towards Europe and not Moscow. However, in doing so Russia is in breach of article 2 of UN charter which prohibits threat of military violence against territorial integrity or political independence.

It is a grip that should face a backlash from the international community. However, Putin knows that the West do not wish to put boots on the ground, he knows how far he can push the international community based on his previous actions in Georgia, he knows that the West, particularly in Europe will not want to hurt their own economic interests by punishing Russia, and he knows that a major Russian owned gas line runs through Ukraine, which they have previously switched it off in protest at the Orange Revolution. The cards are stacked in his favour.

So where do we go from here? Well the French Ambassador to the UN argues for a set plan:

1. Return of Russian armed forces to their bases; 2. Immediate disarmament of illegal and rogue military groups; 3. Ukrainian Parliament to protect regional language laws; 4. Constitutional reforms as outlined in the original agreement between Yanukovych and the opposition groups; 5: Organisation of Presidential elections for May 25th.

Arguably Russia has a right to have a seat at the table when discussing the future of a former soviet state, however this cannot stand whilst Russia threatens the national sovereignty of Ukraine and appears to be hoping for civil unrest resulting in the Eastern Russian speaking peoples breaking away from the Western Ukrainian speaking peoples. Russia is playing an old fashioned role in an outdated world from the 60s.

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I commend Ukraine for not rising to the provocation of Russia, but accept that in many ways they cannot. The interim government should continue to resist Russian attempts to unsettle them. In an ideal world I would like to see the Presidents and Prime Ministers of European Nations and beyond go to Kiev and stand side by side with Ukraine’s government and its people. I stand with the people of Ukraine who are ultimately going to be the victims of Russia’s actions which threaten peace in Europe and could plunge us back in time to the darkest pages of 20th century history books.