Russia has reportedly moved full speed ahead into Ukraine after instability in the region left the country a vulnerable target. Chances are many of us are not well versed in the region and might have missed how Ukraine reached this volatile stage. Yes, it's complicated, but it somehow makes sense -- trust us.
Here are 5 facts to help you understand what’s happening in the region:
1. Ukraine is a divided country.
Eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula on the northern coast of the Black Sea have more of a cultural connection to Russia. Eastern residents speak Russian interchangeably with Ukrainian, and their political ideals more closely align with Russia. Western Ukraine residents more clearly identify with Eastern Europe.
2. Russia has a lot invested in Ukraine.
Ukraine became divided even more when pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych became president in 2010. On Feb. 28, 2014, the Ukraine Parliament voted Yanukovych out of power following months of bloody demonstrations and he fled to Russia. In a televised press conference from Russia Saturday, Yanukovych denied being ousted. A pro-Russia president in Ukraine is not the only reason the country has become involved in Ukraine. A majority of Russian gas exports to Europe pass through Ukraine. And, in fact, escalating tensions in the region has sent the world financial markets in a frenzy.
3. The Russian military has moved in.
On Mar. 1, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s request to use Russia’s military in Crimea and throughout Ukraine was approved. In a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov justified the presence of Russian troops in the Crimean peninsula, saying that they were there to protect ethnic Russians living in the region from Ukrainian nationalists that are anti-Russian and anti-Semitic. However, one petition signed by tens of thousands of Ukrainian nationals and ethnic Russians denied tensions existing among area residents and said they didn't need Russia's help. It read:
"Dear Mr. President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, We ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainian nationals do not need other countries to defend our interests," the petition read. "We are grateful to you for support however would like to inform you that nobody has ever infringed our rights on Ukrainian territory ... therefore, we would ask you to not raise an internal question for our country which is not a burning issue for us ... Not to mention bringing troops in to regulate a conflict which you may see but which is not visible to us."
Still, according to a statement by Kremlin, Putin told US president Barack Obama that Russia approved military action in Ukraine because it “reserves the right to defend its interests and the Russian-speaking people who live there.” Russian troops, wearing no sign of their country on their uniforms, have surrounded Ukrainian bases in Crimea and have imprisoned the soldiers there. Ukraine has also reported that the Russian military has moved armored vehicles into the area, a majority of which bore no license plates or sign of its belonging to Russia. According to Ukraine's government, the Russians had demanded that Ukrainian forces in the Crimean peninsula surrender or face possible force from the Russian army. However, Russia has denied that they've made that request.
4. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government is trying to keep what it’s got.
In its own effort to suppress an uprising and to quell the secessionist sentiment by pro-Russian protesters, Ukraine’s pro-Western government has reportedly sent eastern businessmen into the area to become provincial governors. While moves from both camps have not led to major violence in the region, Ukraine’s government has called Russia’s invasion of Crimea a “declaration of war.”
5. The U.S. and Europe can’t do much about Ukraine.
President Obama and some European leaders have warned Russia against the use of military intervention in Ukraine and have accused Russia of violating another nation’s sovereignty. Obama has even pulled out of attending an international summit in Russia this summer, has stopped trade talks with the country, and has even sent Secretary of State John Kerry to Ukraine's capital, Kiev. But besides the steps already taken and some verbal threats of action made, there may not be much else these world leaders could easily do. That’s because Ukraine does not have full member status in NATO, meaning that the US and Europe is not obligated to come to its defense. And since Russia has veto power as a member of the UN’s Security Council, it’s unlikely that any military action in the area will be approved.