What was once a few protests against a vital decision made by the Ukrainian President, has now spiralled into 2014 from November to March where the government has been overthrown, the President on the run with a warrant issued for his arrest, and the threat of war now looming over Crimea with Russia and Ukraine at loggerheads. It is events that are the stuff of epic films, are dropped in everyday conversation, and many watch and keep aware at the current events unfolding. While it certainly will go down as a pivotal event in 2014, this article will be discussion of what had occurred since November, and the events that have triggered the ones presently occurring.

 

What happened?

 

The protests began in late November 2013 after the president dismissed a trade deal with the European Union, reversing a decision to sign the deal, and instead set a course for closer ties with Russia, signing a $15 billion bailout deal with Russia. The initial demands by protesters were centered with closer ties with Europe. After numerous clashes with police and refusing to back down, protesters expanded their demands beyond amnesty for demonstrators – after anti-demonstrators have paralyzed the capitol for weeks now, they’ve stated that despite key concessions already made by President Viktor Yanukovych they want more: a complete change in their system. The EU’s top foreign policy was stating saying she was ‘shocked’ by the deadly violence in the capital and across the country in the recent week.

 

By the 20th February, officials stated that 77 people died because of these clashes. In an attempt to end the violence, President Yanukovych and his government agreed to a coalition with the leaders of the opposition, and offered some new terms. However, But the anti-government groups did not think this was enough, and the campaigners reacted by taking control of more government buildings, demanding that an election be held in May. So after, President Yanukovych fled Kiev after this government voted to remove him from power. Olexander Turchynov has now been named as the temporary president and a new government will be put in place until the election, which is set for 25 May.

 

What started these protests was when President Viktor Yanukovych announced his decision to pull out a treaty with the EU, an agreement that suggested a paving the way for Ukraine to join the union. The decision to pull out was a U-turn action that disappointed many Ukrainians. Instead, the President announced a bailout from Russia that would have created closer ties, whereas protesters believed that being aligned with the EU would benefit ordinary people, and that Yanukovych only represents the interests of the rich. As a result, the protests in Kiev became a symbol of the protestors opposition against the President’s decision and they called for an early election.

 

However, Yanukovych introduced new anti-protest laws in order to end the demonstrations. These laws banned protests from taking place without the government’s permission and threatened those who disobeyed with up to ten years in prison. It also introduced fines for wearing masks or helmets to demonstrations and also driving bans for convoys of more than five cars. Additionally, internet media outlets have to register with authorities and no amplifiers are allowed in public places. This act of aggression against people’s right to free speech became fuel for fire; it generated the protest movement to turn further from a pro-EU movement towards anti-government feeling and became a cause for fighting against the corruption of government. Demonstrators demanded the resignation of Prime Minister and Interior Minister, and most importantly, the resignation of the President.

Two activists were killed by gunshot wounds, but officers deny responsibility. A third activist was then found dead in a forest outside Kiev; his body showed signs of torture. A 17-year-old student also told the BBC he was stripped naked by police, beaten, injured by knives and eventually taken to hospital.

 

With fears that the riots could spread beyond Kiev, and with protesters reportedly storming and taking control of government buildings, the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned Mr Yanukovych that the  European Union may take action if he doesn’t end his crackdown on protesters. President Yanukovych then called an emergency session of parliament next week to discuss the protests.

 

The result, however, was the collapse of Ukraine’s government which all came about from the protests outcry against official corruption and their use of police violence. After the months of protests, and the raising death toll, Mr Yanukovych eventually left the capital and fled while protesters took control of the city centre. Ukraine’s parliament voted to remove Mr Yanukovych and set new presidential elections for May 25. Ukraine opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison and vowed to remain in power. She was the leader of the Orange Revolution that thwarted Mr Yanukovych’s first run at the presidency and was later imprisoned 2011 for allegedly ordering a subordinate to sign a natural gas deal with Russia in 2009, which prosecutors said led to huge losses for Ukraine. She denied any wrongdoing.

 

What is now at stake?

 

For Russia, it is critical that Ukraine, a country of 46 million, becomes a clear political ally as a part of Putin’s quest integrate and regain influence over ex-Soviet states. On the other hand, Ukraine has been an important target for an EU program aimed at encouraging democratic change in the region in return for free-trade agreements. Furthermore, Ukraine occupies a number of key pipelines that funnel Russian natural gas to Europe. Russian state-owned gas company meets around a quarter of the EU’s gas needs, the bulk of which flows via Ukraine. As well as that, Ukraine also receives a lot of its natural-gas supplies from Russia. Ukrainian officials have blamed Moscow, arguing that it has been using its control over gas pipelines which has made Ukraine into a political bargaining chip.

 

What happens now?

 

Currently, Parliament has now voted in favour of trying Mr Yanukovych at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The now ex-president has been accused of being behind the deaths of more than 100 protesters at the hands of the police; many of them were shot by snipers. In the ICC, cases can be sent by the UN Security Council, where the ICC prosecutor can then launch an investigation. It is known as a court of last resort, which handles genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. At the moment, the ex-President has been missing, reportedly last seen in Balaklava and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. Russia’s stance on this is that they are opposed to the changes in Ukraine, seen from Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev statement describing the people behind the new administration an “armed mutiny”. However, it has been stated that Russia’s “policy of non-intervention” would continue.

 

Has Russia invaded Ukraine?

 

The main points to be made here is that once the pro-Russian government had fallen, it was replaced by an interim government with opposition leaders. This change was not welcomed in the Crimea, only a part of Ukraine in 1954. Tensions rose in Crimea after fifty gunmen took over the local airport after occupying several government buildings. Currently, Russia’s president asked his parliament to send in troops, arguing so protect Russian lives. They approved a request from President Vladimir Putin to deploy Russian troops in Ukraine, whilst the currently unrecognised new prime minister of Ukraine’s Crimea region asked Mr Putin to maintain peace. Pro-Russian protests have been reported, leading to some violent clashes. While Putin has argued that Russia has the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers not only in Crimea but also in east Ukraine, US President Barack Obama has warned Moscow any military intervention would come at a cost to Russia. It echoes the concerns of David Cameron who has stated “There can be no excuse for outside military intervention in Ukraine – a point I made to President Putin when we spoke [on Friday]. Everyone must think carefully about their actions and work to lower, not escalate, tensions. The world is watching,” Whilst Foreign secretary William Hague said he was “deeply concerned” at the Russian parliament’s decision to use troops in Ukraine. He further stated: “This action is a potentially grave threat to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

 

Sources:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26400597

http://www.policymic.com/articles/83759/did-russia-invade-ukraine-here-s-what-happened-while-you-were-sleeping

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/01/ukraine-warns-russia-military-crimea-intervention-war