What’s happening right now?
Images of civilians throwing Molotov cocktails into a wall of riot shields and police firing bullets into crowds of citizens have filled national newscasts in recent days. However, for the past three months, anti-government protests concentrated in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev have been at the center of international attention.
On Sunday, dozens were reported injured in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv when protestors stormed government buildings, and several hundred have been injured in the weeks prior, according to CNN. At least 75 have been reported dead as of last week, according to Reuters News.
The protests began as a response to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a long-term trade deal with the European Union that would integrate Ukraine into the global economy in favor of a short-term stimulus, in the form of money and cheaper oil, from Russia.
Many citizens viewed the EU deal as relief from an economy damaged by the recession and worsened by corrupt politicians. But, in addition to the economics, the nation’s political identity comes at the core of the crisis as Cold War era East-West tensions come to the surface.
Last week, as protests worsened, Yanukovych fled Ukraine to stay in Russia. Parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov, who had said he was open to re-opening talks with the EU, was appointed to the position of interim president, but Yanukovych issued a statement from Russian-speaking Ukranian city of Crimea calling himself a victim of a coup and that he was still the legitimate president — operating from Russia.
How is Russia involved?
In reaction to the Ukraine’s existential crisis, Russia’s parliament granted President Vladimir Putin authority to use military force to capture Crimea to suppress political upheaval.
On Saturday, Russian troops descended into Crimea.
Russia has depended on Ukraine as a trading partner, and also stations naval fleet in the Ukrainian city of Crimea.
Russia and Ukraine share strong historical ties. Until the Soviet’s Union collapse in 1991, Ukraine was controlled by Russia. Though independent, Russia still views Ukraine as a strong ally of the former empire.
Ukrainian leaders have called the invasion an act of “aggression,” even war, and a violation of sovereignty.
The U.S. and the EU have condemned Russia for disrespecting Ukraine’s sovereignty.
What is the U.S. doing about this?
President Barack Obama issued a statement saying Russia’s violation of international law would lead to economic and political isolation from the global stage.
Secretary of State John Kerry has said he will travel to Kiev to facilitate “talks” between Russia and Ukraine.
The EU has not been as quick to threaten action, as the European economy would be damaged by any trade sanctions against Russia.
Many U.S. politicians view Russia’s military action as a threat to U.S. foreign policy that has existed since WII.
At the moment, both the U.S. and EU are taking the diplomatic route with Russia.
Whether Russia will heed words of caution is still unknown.
What’s preventing a solution?
Ukraine is a large country bordered between Russia and central Europe. The geography is divided by politics, language and culture.
Western Ukrainians favor European principles of democracy and egalitarianism, while eastern Ukrainians relate to Russian ideals of communism and ethnocentrism.
The majority of western Ukrainians, who voted against Yanukovych in 2010, have been frustrated by a broken administration. Anti-protests laws further convinced protesters Yanukovych was too influenced by Russian authoritarianism.
Nonetheless, half of the country is reluctant to assimilate with Europe, while Russia is willing and eager to keep Ukraine under its influence.