Future DIRT Project: Reevaluating the Crimean Annexation & War in Donbass Four Years Later

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Four years ago this week, events were taking place in Ukraine that would pave the way for a new era in Euro-Russian, and US-Russian relations. The Maidan revolution in Kiev had reached its zenith. Vikor Yanukovych was removed from his post of president of Ukraine by the nation’s parliament. The deposed former president fled the capital and made his way to the eastern Ukraine, expecting to be welcomed with open arms. To his surprise, the reception he received was cold, and it was made clear that his presence was not welcomed. Days later, Yanukovych turned up in Russia. The general consensus is that he fled Ukraine to avoid prosecution, however, he publicly stated the reason for fleeing had more to do with self-preservation, claiming that his car had been attacked by armed men when leaving Kharkov for a meeting.

While the Yanukovych drama played out, and a new pro-West government assumed power in Kiev, Russian special forces were arriving in Crimea. The ‘little green men’ as the global media called them, wearing no identification or insignia, spread out to secure key points across the Crimean peninsula. One of those sites was the Crimean parliament building, where the parliament was in emergency session. With Russian troops in close proximity, the body voted to dissolve the Crimean government and replace Prime Minister Anatoli Mohyliov with Sergey Aksyonov, who belonged to the Russian Unity political party. The die had been cast and Crimea was on its way to being annexed and absorbed by the Russian Federation. On 19 March, 2014, the Russian Duma approved a constitutional amendment establishing Crimea and Sevastopol as federal subjects, and the annexation became official.

The Crimean annexation and Yanukovych melodrama were but separate acts in a much larger theatrical piece; the build up to the climax, if you will. That climax would occur in eastern Ukraine with the outbreak of fighting between pro-Russian separatists, and Ukrainian government troops. What began as a series of small firefights around the Donetsk Airport escalated into a major confrontation that has seen Russian weapons, military supplies, and even troops introduced into the war on behalf of the separatists. The fighting continues on today with no end in sight.

Four years have gone by, and it is time to reexamine the effect those events have had, and continue to have on the geopolitical situations in a number of areas, and world affairs as a whole. Crimea and the start of fighting in Ukraine proved to be the catalyst for a resurgent Russia. From the Baltic, to Syria, Moscow has reaped the benefits of 2014, shaping an aggressive foreign policy based on diplomacy through intimidation, the use of hybrid war, and when necessary, limited overt military action.

*Author’s Note: After the Poland 2022 project I will begin a comprehensive reexamination of events of winter and spring 2014 the effect they have had on the world since.*

Saturday 9 December, 2017 Update: Political Turmoil Returns to Ukraine

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Almost four years after the Maidan revolution swept Viktor Yushchenko and his regime from power, Ukraine is in the midst of another bout of political turmoil.  Protesters have taken to the streets chanting “Bandits Out!” and protester tents have returned to Maidan Square. This time around, the scope of the protests is smaller than four years ago, but the target of the growing dissent is essentially the same: Government graft.

The current political drama’s impetus is Mikhail Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia. He entered Ukrainian politics after Maidan to help combat corruption. He served as governor of the Odessa region before a falling out between him and his longtime friend, Ukraine’s current president Petro Poroshenko. Saakashvili resigned from his post in 2016 and publicly accused Poroshenko of corruption and blocking reforms. Poroshenko responded in July by stripping him of his Ukrainian citizenship, opening the door for his potential deportation back to Georgia where Saakashvili is wanted on fraud charges. With the help of supporters, Saakashvili made his way back into the country late Sunday. Earlier this week, he held a rally in Kiev where he called for Poroshenko to be impeached. Two days later, he was arrested by security service agents, but a large crowd of his supporters blocked the van carrying him and freed him from government custody. Late on Friday, Saakashvili was arrested again and taken into custody, prompting crowds of his supporters to gather outside of the detention center where he is being held.

The  draconian manner in which Poroshenko is handling this challenge to his position reveals the grim reality that the primary demand of Maidan has yet to be realized. Corruption is still prevalent, and the Oligarchic system remains in place. This situation would be bad enough even under peacetime conditions, however, the fact that Ukraine is mired in a nearly four-year long war against Russian-supported separatists exacerbates matters. The West has done little to assist in the corruption fight since Maidan, focusing its efforts on military and diplomatic assistance instead. Now, even those efforts have diminished. Europe is suffering from ‘Ukraine burn-out’ and the United States has still not adopted a thorough Ukraine policy. It was hoped that the Trump administration would make it a priority, but that has yet happen.

The turmoil in Ukraine could provide Russia with a window of opportunity as well. It is likely that right now in the Kremlin Vladimir Putin and his advisers are looking at the situation and working on a way to turn it to Russia’s advantage. The war in Ukraine has dragged on in stalemate for quite some time. Putin has been patiently awaiting the time when favorable circumstances could permanently change that.

That moment could very well be now.