Crisis in Ukraine
Table of Contents
Since the world does not exist in a vacuum, everything that takes place in one part of the planet has an effect on another. This can be seen with the war in Ukraine that is currently taking place. Dramatic events, which began in 2014, are still controversial as there are different terms used to describe them. While not officially recognized as a war, there is factual evidence of Russian troops being in the Eastern Ukraine and fighting against the Ukrainian army (Zinets & Balmforth, 2015). The fact that there are foreign troops fighting on the Ukrainian territory proves that it is a new form of a hybrid war whereby power politics plays the most important role since war is not a mere fight for a small piece of the territory, but a battle for influence over and further development of the world.
Since Ukraine has always been torn between Eastern and Western ideas due to political instability in the region, the current situation is the consequence of the turbulence in that part of the world. It also shows the beginning of a new Cold War, which is a result of the pro-European choice made by the Ukrainian people, growth of authoritarian pressure in Russian politics, weakening of the European Union’s influence, and current shifts in the world politics due to some countries increasing their influence because of economic growth (Papava, 2014).
Resolution of the Ukrainian conflict depends on all factors that have led to it in the first place, as well as on political decisions of Ukrainian leaders, the Ukrainian army, and Ukrainian citizens. It is important to understand that the situation in Ukraine can lead to a world war that may involve many countries and thus to further destruction. That is why, current diplomatic efforts try to stabilize the situation and localize the conflict. Depending on the factors described above like resources Russia will be willing to use in the war and the opposition it may receive, the conflict may be resolved although today there is little possibility that it may happen soon.
It is difficult to explain the crisis in Ukraine without analyzing Ukraine’s history first. Ukraine originated from Kievan Rus, which was a great state that existed around VIII-XIII centuries. The state existed on the modern territories of Ukraine and involved some other territories that were later transformed into Belarus and European part of Russia. Kievan Rus was conquered by Mongols and, then, it became a part of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Later on, Ukraine was suffering from constant conflicts with neighboring Poland and, in order to fight it, it turned for help to Moscovia (which later adopted the name Russia). The treaty with Russians was not a steady one since Russia was a non-constitutional monarchy looking for further expansion. Henceforth, Russian authorities turned Ukraine into a part of the empire, eliminating all evidence of Ukrainian independence, killing political activists and the elite, and even forbidding learning of Ukrainian language. Western Ukraine became a part of Poland and later Austrian-Hungarian Empire; thus, the country was divided between the two empires (Rywkin, 2014). As a larger part of Ukraine was a part of the Russian empire for around three centuries, it tried to gain independence during the revolution in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, since Ukrainian forces were too small as compared to the Russian ones, it became a part of the Soviet Union, being pressured by Russia into this decision once again. As Ukraine gained its independence in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR, it finally got a chance to have independent politics and develop on its own. Still, ties with Russia remained very close as Ukraine’s unstable economy and corrupt political leaders made the country dependent on Russia (Rywkin, 2014). The country has had two revolutions with protesters fighting for pro-European politics since 1991. The second revolution began in 2013 as a result of the then president not signing the Association Agreement with the European Union. The agreement would bring many economic benefits for Ukraine and the president’s refusal to sign it showed that the Ukrainian authorities of that time were dependant on Russian leaders who did not want the agreement signed (Yuhas & Jalabi, 2014). As Viktor Yanukovych (the then president of Ukraine) decided not to sign the agreement, it angered a large part of the population that hoped to strengthen ties with the EU for further prospects for Ukraine. As a result, protesters gathered in the central street in the capital and smaller protests began locally. The revolution lasted for three months with the government using force against the protesters and killing around one hundred of the revolutionaries. The revolution ended with the president fleeing the country and the new president and government being elected (Yuhas & Jalabi, 2014). The new president signed the agreement and determined a new pro-European direction for Ukrainian politics after his election.
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Nevertheless, changes within the Ukrainian political system have triggered a set of events with a very negative influence on the country. The fact that the country had a revolution, which brought a new government with a pro-European, not a pro-Russian choice, has made the Russian authorities take critical measures to keep Ukraine within its influence sphere. It is important to understand that many Russian people still think in terms of the Soviet Union and it is difficult for them to accept choices of free independent states that used to be under control of Moscow. Besides, current Russian political system is centered on the figure of the president who has the biggest influence and uses various tools to strengthen it and make the country follow him (The Associated Press, 2014). Vladimir Putin has a high support level due to constant propaganda in various media outlets as well as the usage of the church for government support (Gearin, 2014). Since the start of the events in Ukraine, Russian media have been spreading fake news about the situation there, blaming the revolutionaries for starting a coup and acting unconstitutionally (Editorial Board, 2014). Russian media called new Ukrainian officials illegitimate and aired a live interview with Ukraine’s previous president Yanukovych who fled Ukraine and now hides from the Ukrainian law in Russia (Gearin, 2014). Thus, after changes in the government, Ukraine has experienced some turbulent changes in the international relations because Russia annexed Crimea. Although this was done without any actual resistance from the Ukrainian side, it was used as an explanation for further events that took place in the Eastern Ukraine. The Russians stated that new Ukrainian authorities came to power by breaking the laws, thus declaring them illegitimate and stating that the new authorities also hurt and mistreated the Russian population (Editorial Board, 2014). As a result, regions in the Eastern Ukraine (that similarly to Crimea had a high level of Russian population) needed to be protected from the Ukrainian authorities. Although the scenario with Crimea and the one with the Eastern Ukraine are different, taking into consideration that Crimean events did not lead to a military conflict though they started on the same premise. The separatist movement in Eastern Ukraine began because a particular part of the population did not support the new authorities, many patriots moved to the Western regions after the revolution, and the rest enjoyed Russian support and propaganda.
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The Russian side denied the fact that Russian soldiers were fighting in the Eastern Ukraine against Ukrainian army. They also denied sending money and equipment to separatists. Nevertheless, after the conflict began and several hostages were taken, it was revealed that they had Russian passports and were sent to fight there from Russia (Zinets & Balmforth, 2015). The evidence found later proved that there were many Russian soldiers who came from different parts of the country. Deaths of many Russian militants were explained as tragic incidents that took place in various parts of the country (Luhn, 2015).
Besides, throughout the entire conflict, Russian media kept spreading its propaganda, stating that the Ukrainian military was killing civilians and threatening ethnic Russians or that the entire revolution was funded by the American authorities (Editorial Board, 2014). The fake information was spread in order to justify the separatists’ actions and show why events in Ukraine were a threat. It was also used in order to increase anti-Western rhetoric among Russians and strengthen support of Vladimir Putin. The statistics shows that the media have achieved their purpose because the majority of the Russian population supports Putin and finds his actions in Ukraine to be just (The Associated Press, 2014). They also believe that there are no Russian troops there and it is a civil conflict with separatists in the East fighting unconstitutional Ukrainian government and its soldiers. That is the reason why the Russian population does not understand and criticizes sanctions against Russia launched by the European Union and the United States. Thus, one can say that the crisis began long ago after disputes between Russia and Ukraine were not resolved and the countries did not build healthy or at least stable relations due to the Russian authoritarian rule and Ukrainian corrupt and unstable governments.
The conflict in Ukraine is a good example of the power politics in the world because it shows how different forces use a smaller player in order to maintain and strengthen the world dominance (Morgenthau, 1955). The conflict, which is referred as war by some and as an internal conflict or a civil war by others, has gained the world’s attention as a source of instability in the Eastern Europe. It remains one of the turning points for history development because it shows the way politics is being done in the twenty-first century when international agreements are overlooked because of the energetic influence and nuclear threats.
The crisis in Ukraine can be analyzed from various perspectives, using different international relations theories. It involves various opposing parties like the European Union, the United States, and Russia, not to mention Ukraine itself. Since Ukraine is located in the middle of a geopolitical conflict, the crisis there mirrors the conflict that exists between the opposing forces and the renewal of the Cold War (Trenin, 2015). As it has been mentioned before, some regard the Ukrainian crisis as an internal conflict that took place because of the government’s change and inability to resolve some local issues; and this group states that the separatists who want to separate the Eastern part of Ukraine from the entire country and form a separate state (or states) have a Constitutional right to do so since the central government has been unable to satisfy demands of local residents and is unconstitutional itself (Zuesse, 2014). This perspective is supported by the separatists, as well as the Russian side.
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Nevertheless, there is another perspective, which states that separatists have been financed by Russian authorities in order to destabilize Ukraine after the new pro-European government came into force as a result of the revolution in the country that drove out the previous president to Russia and changed the direction of Ukraine’s external politics (Pengelly, 2014). This perspective is supported by Ukrainian and Western sides in general and there is a lot of factual evidence to prove it, including documents of Russian soldiers captured in Ukraine who came to the country to fight as separatists or the evidence of finances and weapons being transferred from Russia in order to support and finance separatists’ forces (Zinets & Balmforth, 2015). The fact that the world has been unable to end or give an adequate response to the conflict despite the factual evidence pointing out Russia’s involvement shows the current situation in the world politics when political groups are dependent on power politics and cannot make any actions because of the threat of a nuclear global war.
The Ukrainian situation fits the realism perspective because it shows that power politics has more importance than official international documents that guarantee peace and are supposed to maintain the international order (Mearsheimer, 2001). Regions develop depending on decisions made by influential political players, which is seen in Ukraine. The political groupism and egoism are also present in this situation because one can clearly see the opposing groups involved in the conflict indirectly and one can also see those directly involved in the current situation.
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It is difficult to predict resolution of the Ukrainian conflict, but taking into consideration its relation to the realism perspective, the conflict will continue as long as the opposing forces fail to come to a mutual understanding. In this situation, Ukraine is not the main determinant because it is dependent on Russia’s influence when promoting its interests in Europe. Hence, readiness of the Russian side to end the conflict will solve it, but otherwise the conflict can last for a very long period of time, destabilizing the region and increasing tension on a global scale.
Liberal or class system theories provide some insights into the Ukrainian conflict. For instance, they explain the humanitarian crisis or internal conflicts within many countries. If one believes the Russian propaganda, one may also get an idea that Russia is involved in the conflict purely out of liberal and humane interests like saving and protecting the Russian population that resides in Ukraine and is affected by the conflict.
Nevertheless, suggestions of such theories prove that they are not right while analyzing this situation. Realism, in turn, explains the reasoning behind the conflict, as well as choices of various world leaders.
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American Position in the Conflict
America’s position regarding the crisis in Ukraine is rather controversial. Although the president of the United States alongside influential politicians spoke against the war and Russia’s intervention, these talks did not lead to expected actions. President Barack Obama stated that the United States and the European Union were united in their decisions regarding the crisis and they all criticized Russian president Vladimir Putin (Smith-Spark, 2014). Obama spoke about the importance of Ukraine, as well as the necessity to follow international rules and laws, which were violated when Russia annexed Crimea and then during the conflict in the Eastern Ukraine.
The US also launched various sanctions against previous Ukrainian politicians guilty of corruption and shooting of protesters during the Ukrainian revolution. The sanctions prohibited these politicians from entering the United States and since they were deemed criminals, the US would hand them to the Ukrainian justice forces in case the ex-politicians were to cross the American border.
Besides, the American government also applied sanctions to those involved in the Crimea annexation as well as the conflict in the Eastern Ukraine. These people are mostly representatives of Russian authorities.
The president of the United States also held various talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin on the matters regarding the Ukrainian crisis. The talks, however, were ineffective, taking into consideration the fact that the conflict still lasts. Nevertheless, during the talks, the White House was able to express the criticism of the actions of the Russian president, as well as speaking about the necessity to end the crisis (Korte, 2015). It was also a way to show the world the position of the American government regarding the conflict.
Interestingly, concepts of political groupism and egoism apply here well and the same concerns the principle of power politics. Statements made by Barack Obama clearly indicate the world political group the United States belongs to. There are also statements made by the State Department and politicians who represent different political forces. For instance, although the general idea within the American political spectrum is to support Ukraine, there are discussions regarding the level of this support. While Obama and many other politicians are reluctant to provide Ukraine with any military help, there is another group of politicians who speak about military help and the necessity to get more involvement in the current situation in order to end the crisis (Worland, 2015). John McCain who represents the Republican Party and lost to Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential elections is an advocate of greater involvement, speaking about the need to help Ukraine (Worland, 2015). This is a good example of political groupism within the country because there are smaller groups with different political directions and they defend their own ideas.
Egoism is also applied while analyzing decisions made by the American authorities. They decided to express their ideas clearly, but they did not take any actions that would have a significant impact on the crisis resolution. Taking into consideration the experience of the previous Cold War and the fact that both Russia and the US as well as some other influential countries possess nuclear power, one can say that the US will unlikely make any steps toward Ukraine and risk starting an actual war. This is done out of egoism reasoning because the American authorities realize risks for the country in case it is to become fully involved in the conflict. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, the conflict in Ukraine influences other political players and shifts the world political system so that staying away from it and letting the conflict develop may have more negative consequences for the US in the future due to the possible effect that a conflict or an open full scale war in Ukraine may have.
This brings the analysis to another important aspect of American political decision-making processes, which is power politics. There are particular forces within the United States that fight for the influence and they are the ones determining political decisions. Although the United States is one of the most influential countries in the world, it still has to pay attention to other political players, which determines its political course in regards to the crisis in Ukraine.
Constant rivalry and unhealthy relations the United States used to have with the USSR have renovated recently. Thus, now the country’s leaders have to balance the necessity to defend some important democratic principles with a possible threat from Russia. This intensifies political decisions that were or are to be made in the United States.