Five smart takes explain the Russia-Ukraine conflict from square one
Ever since the Ukrainian revolution in February this year, the Eastern European country has witnessed spiraling political instability and bloodshed.
Former President Viktor Yanukovich, a Kremlin ally, was driven out by demonstrators in the city’s Independence Square after he refused to sign a political and trade accord with the European Union, which would have brought Ukraine closer to the West.
So far, the conflict has led to the annexation of Crimea by Russia, 2,593 civilian deaths — not including the 298 victims onboard when Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down by an antiaircraft missile — and more than 730,000 kicked out of their homes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Many cities eastern cities, such as Donetsk and Luhansk, where the majority of fighting is taking place, are heavily damaged.
The conflict has also led to the most wide-sweeping Western economic sanctions against Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Below are five must-read Reuters opinion pieces to help you understand this conflict’s origins and its consequences:
From the outset of this crisis, the West consistently underestimated the strategic significance of Ukraine and Crimea, to Russia. More importantly, there has been a fatal disconnect between Western expectations of what statecraft would — and ought to — look like in the 21st century, and the reality of how the Kremlin seeks to assert its interests in the world.
Putin has at times expressed nostalgia for the Soviet Union and its imperial ways. With the notiable exception of his invasion of Georgia, however, Putin has been reluctant to play the imperial card in his foreign policy. The potential loss of Ukraine as a member of the Eurasian bloc, however, unleashed Putin’s innermost imperial thoughts. Ukraine strikes a unique chord in the heart of many Russians.
The Russian public has been highly supportive of Putin’s Ukraine policy. Apart from the fact that the Russian leader enjoys astonishing approval ratings, the aggressive propaganda on tightly-controlled media outlets has circulated outlandish conspiracy theories, such as claiming the CIA loaded flight MH-17 with corpses when it took off from Amsterdam. The one-sided narratives of events in Ukraine make dialogue all the more difficult.
Putin has adopted a “go it alone” approach throughout the Ukraine crisis and regularly describes his country as “independent” and nonaligned. But Moscow is not as isolated as Putin makes out. For the past two decades, Moscow has forayed into global institutions and has also increasingly integrated into the global economy. This will make it all the more costly for Russia to retreat from the world.
Angela Merkel was recently quoted as saying that Putin lives “in another world.” The enduring myth in Russia is of a caring and benevolent czar — be it Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great or Joseph Stalin — who punishes his subjects for their own good and the good of the nation. Putin’s indiscriminate jailing of those who speak out against the Kremlin control, his clamping down on any remnants of free press in Russia and his promotion of a dictatorship of order over transparent laws are declared necessary given the grandiosity of his agenda.
PHOTO: A Ukrainian serviceman wears a cross and a bullet as he stands in his camp near Donetsk September 2, 2014.