As the struggle over Ukraine’s future continues, leaders have their own perceptions of the events unfolding. Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president, fled to Russia after a warrant for his arrest was issued for the ‘mass killings of civilians’. Russia believes that Viktor Yanukovych is still the elected leader, and according to the Russian envoy to the UN, Ukraine’s new government is illegitimate since it’s an ‘armed takeover by radical extremists’. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s view is that it still has a legitimate interim government and the elections scheduled for May 25 should be given a chance. The US has declared that Yanukovych is no longer in power since he fled the country and was subsequently voted out of office by the Ukrainian parliament.
Russia continues to claim that it hasn’t sent any troops into Ukraine and that the troops currently barring Ukrainian forces from entering the military bases were local ‘self-defence teams’. Ukraine has accused Russia of sending warships and cargo planes to deploy 16,000 troops into Crimea. The US backs that claim and says that Russia has around 6,000 ground and naval forces in the region and these forces have ‘complete operational control of the Crimean Peninsula’. It blames Russia’s aggressiveness on its declining influence over Ukraine and Crimea. The Crimean parliament, however, has announced its intention to become part of Russia and will hold a referendum soon.
Needless to say, Ukraine perceived Russia’s actions as evidence of trying to annex Crimea where the majority of the population is Russian-speaking. While warning shots have been fired, Russia insists that its parliament would only authorise the use of force if it were necessary to protect Russian citizens in the Crimean Peninsula. The Russian envoy to the UN also made it clear that the ousted Ukrainian president, Yanukovych, asked for Russian troops to intervene. Russia has a treaty with neighbouring nations, which allows it to send up to 25,000 troops in Crimea. Vladimir Putin admitted that there is no political future for Yanukovych, but he also emphasised Russia’s duty to protect people with historical, cultural and economic ties to Russia. Putin also brought up the double standards, which allowed the US to act unilaterally in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya without a UN resolution. While the Russian president has a point about the US having questionable moral grounds to stand upon, those statements are a red herring to distract from his own dependence upon the wishes of an exiled leader to justify military intervention.
Economics will certainly play a role in how this tense state of affairs plays out. The Ukrainian economy is in dire straits and according to officials, needs about $35 billion over the next couple of years to avoid default. As Russia faces sanctions for its actions against Ukraine, the $15 billion loan it promised to Ukraine is at risk. Russia has already decided to cancel the discounts it offers on natural gas supplies to Ukraine. In the meantime, the EU has offered an aid package worth $15 billion spread over two years. This is on top of the $1 billion loan guarantees offered by the US, which John Kerry presented during his visit to the country. Ultimately, it all boils down to if Ukraine is willing to end the balancing act between the EU and Russia. Will Ukraine forge an alliance with the West and possibly join the EU or will it continue to exist under Russia’s shadow?
Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2014.