Ukraine-Crimea Secession Crisis

AP390319770436_Civ-GovThe banner, which reads “Boycott Illegal Referendum!”, is held aloft during a rally against the breakup of Crimea, March 11, 2014.

What began as a revolutionary upheaval within Ukraine has turned into a serious East-West confrontation. Ukraine, a nation of 45 million, is a former Soviet republic on Russia’s western border. A secession crisis involving Crimea, Ukraine’s southernmost state, has heightened tensions. Russian troops staged a stealth invasion of Crimea in early March, claiming their presence was needed to protect Russians living in that part of Ukraine. A March 16 referendum held in Crimea resulted in an overwhelming vote to join Russia. Two days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Because of Russia’s military occupation of Crimea, the conditions for a referendum there on the question of secession from Ukraine were highly irregular and unfair. The vote was denounced as a “circus act” by Ukraine’s new government and a sham by others. The European Union and the United States have threatened to ramp up economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia. President Barack Obama called on Russia to respect Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity” and to cease its violations of international law. Putin, however, appears to be ignoring the warnings of Western leaders.

Unrest began building in November 2013 as tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Independence Square in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. Many people in western Ukraine favor a closer relationship to the rest of Europe. Ukraine’s strongly pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, had severely repressed any political opposition, however. The turmoil toppled the authoritarian Yanukovych in February 2014, but before he fled Kiev, security forces loyal to him clashed violently with protesters and killed dozens. Calling his ouster a “coup,” the desperate deposed president urged Russia to intervene.

Although the unrest had primarily been limited to Kiev, the crisis spread to Crimea in the south, an area with a significant population of ethnic Russians. Russia’s intervention there threatens to destabilize other portions of Ukraine. With the breakaway of Crimea, Ukraine put its military on alert, noting that Russia had massed military forces along the Ukraine-Russia border.

Image credit: © AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

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