The Russia-Ukraine border crisis that started in 2014 has come to the global agenda after four Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the Donbas region by Russian forces.
There are five points that will make you understand the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
Root Cause Of Tensions Between Ukraine & Russia?
Russia fell out with Ukraine after the former Soviet state started approaching the European Union.
Pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych, the fourth president of Ukraine, announced that he suspended the EU Association Agreement in 2013 to prevent the country from turning to the West. This move marked the beginning of a deep crisis in Ukrainian history.
Thousands of people gathered in the Independence Square of Kyiv for months in protest against Yanukovych’s decision. Clashes took place between protesters from time to time, with pro-Russians also taking to the streets.
Yanukovich had to flee to Russia as the protests went out of control. As Ukraine is geographically divided between Europe and Russia, so are the people of Ukraine divided into two poles, as pro-Russian and pro-Western.
The tension later spread to Crimea and Donbas. The Crimean Parliament decided to hold a referendum that would allow the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia following the controversial referendum on March 16, 2014, despite Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians’ objections.
Pro-Russian separatists also claim control over eastern Ukraine, including the Donbas region, which they illegally controlled over the past seven years.
Russia or Ukraine – Who Controls Donbas?
Pro-Russian separatist groups attacked pro-government troops in Donetsk and Luhansk (Donbas) regions in Feb. 2014. The two regions are densely populated by Russian-origin people.
According to the Kyiv administration, the separatists received significant weapons and ammunition from Russia.
The separatists claimed two so-called states, named Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, through a so-called referendum on May 11, 2014.
Russian military vehicles and heavy weapons entered Donbas from the Russian-Ukrainian border, where the Kyiv administration lost control. This situation, which Russia denied, was also included in the reports of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
How Did Russia-Ukraine Border Tensions Start?
The Paris Summit in the Normandy format was held in December 2019, the first meeting in three years. During the summit, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France stressed complete cease-fire and loyalty to the Minsk Agreement.
The summit did not diminish the clashes, but Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE later made a comprehensive cease-fire decision starting from July 27, 2020, which was maintained until 2021.
However, this year, the Russian army’s military build-up on the Ukrainian border has once again escalated the conflicts in the Donbas region.
The killing of four Ukrainian soldiers by the pro-Russian separatists on March 26 triggered the crisis.
Speaking to the Ukrainian Parliament on March 30, Ukrainian Chief of General Staff Ruslan Khomchak pointed to the increasing number of Russian troops in the north and east sides of Ukraine’s border and Crimea.
Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia was moving its armed forces within its own territory, which should not disturb anyone.
Meanwhile, in February, Ukraine blocked TV channels owned by Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian politician with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, while also imposing sanctions on him.
The country also announced a strategy to “save Crimea.”
Position Of Western Countries?
The EU and the US reacted against Russia’s deployment of troops to Ukraine’s border while also supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, US President Joe Biden reaffirmed “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also spoke with Zelenskyy, reiterating his country’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Josep Borrell, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs, expressed concern over Russian military activities near the Ukrainian border.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also urged the Ukrainian president to voice NATO’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Stuart Peach, head of the NATO Military Committee, visited Ukraine to meet with Zelensky and Homchak.
What Do The Parties Want?
Minsk Agreements were signed in 2014 and 2015 to stop the ongoing conflict between the pro-Russian separatists and the Kyiv administration.
The agreements included a cease-fire in the region, prisoner exchange while also allowing the Kyiv administration to make a constitutional amendment that would give Donbas special status. The pro-Russian separatists, on the other hand, were supposed to withdraw their weapons in the Ukraine-Russia border.
However, the agreements’ implementation has been hampered as the two sides accused one another of mutually violating the cease-fire.
In a phone call with Stoltenberg, Zelensky drew attention to the importance of a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) and stated that NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbas.
Ukraine currently is one of six NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Partners, alongside Australia, Finland, Georgia, Jordan and Sweden.
Russia sees Ukraine’s entry into NATO as a threat to itself.
As of Feb. 15, 2020, more than 4,100 Ukrainian soldiers, 5,650 pro-Russian separatists, and over 13,000 civilians have been killed during the clashes.