Terrorist and rebel activities have been on the rise in the recent past. Ukraine is one perfect example in which the adverse effects of such groups can be witnessed. The conflict in Ukraine, which began in 2014, was triggered by political dissensions and ethnic factors in the country. Due to the wide array of factors that led to the war in Ukraine, peace can only be restored if the government factors in the social, cultural, and political views of all the warring parties.
After insisting for many years that he would sign a landmark trade and political deal with the European Union, Ukraine President in 2014, President Viktor Yanukovych, suspended the talks in the face of great opposition from Russia. Russia had for a long time opposed Ukraine’s plan to form closer ties with the European Union (Zhukov 3). Consequently, thousands of citizens took to the streets to protest against the decision by the government to pull out from the talks. These protests highlighted the deep divide that existed between the pro-European western part of the nation and pro-Russian east part of the nation, which was the political stronghold for President Yanukovych’s government. In February 2014, violence that had been simmering for weeks bubbled over resulting to gunfights between protesters and police in Maiden Square in Central Kiev (Zhukov 7). These protests left dozens of people dead. The protesters claimed that government snipers had opened fire on them unsuspectedly. On the other hand, the government blamed the opposition leaders for triggering the violence.
Pressure had started to build on President Yanukovych after protests continued to increase all over Kiev against his government. As a result, the president fled the city and his guards abandoned the presidential compound. Days later, thousands of protesters stormed this compound and were amazed at the lavish estate the president had left behind. Additionally, the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a great adversary to the president, was released. The prime minister had been jailed on claims of abuse of office in a trial many had considered politically motivated. He addressed protesters in Maiden Square, further inciting major protests.
The invasion by Russia into Crimea under the guise of providing humanitarian aid and protection shows that the country was involved in the war. In March 2014, Russian parliament signed off a request by President Vladimir Putin to send military forces to Crimea (Zhukov 11). Crimea is an autonomous region, south of Ukraine that has strong Russian loyalty. Actually, most of the residents in the region speak Russian language. As a result, thousands of Russian troops, wearing unmarked uniforms, streamed into the peninsula. After two weeks of intense battle, Russia ended its intervention in Crimea with a referendum that declared the region independent. The referendum was slammed by Ukraine and the world in general as illegitimate. Thereafter, Kiev started declaring war against eastern Ukraine.
In April 2014, Kiev government launched its first military action against the pro-Russian rebels who had captured government buildings in cities and towns across eastern Ukraine. During this period, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, warned the world that Ukraine was on the brink of a civil war. Less than a month later, separatists in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk declared independence after unknown referendums.
The election of a new president, Petro Poroshenko ushered brought in new changes in the political leadership of Ukraine and led to an increase in its efforts to join the EU. In May 2014, contentious elections were held in Ukraine. Petro Poroshenko, commonly referred to as ‘Chocolate King’, was declared president of Ukraine. Poroshenko was one of the richest men in the country, and a candy company magnate. Pro-Russian rebels were accused of preventing citizens from voting on the eastern side of the nation, which was then was wracked with violence. After the new president was sworn in, the contentious European Union bill assented on 27th June 2013. This particular bill was the same deal that the former president had backed out off in 2013. The signing of the bill was followed by a statement to Russia that the determination of Ukraine in pursuing their European dreams would not be denied.
The signing of the EU bill further escalated the conflicts and the war in the eastern region. A landmark event in the violence happened when a commercial airliner, Malaysian Airline flight 17, was shot down by a surface-to-air missile on the rebels’ territory. This crash resulted in the death of all the 298 persons who were on board. This catastrophe was made worse when the rebels blocked any international monitors from accessing the site, further exacerbating the grief that was to the victim’s families. It took days before the rebels finally allowed the investigators to examine the bodies. This incidence led to the attraction of international attention.
Considering the extent of the damage on the Ukrainian people and economy, the government and the rebels agreed to a ceasefire on September 20th, 2014. The ceasefire agreement required that all sides pulled out heavy weaponry from the front lines of the conflict. Meanwhile, a convoy of trucks from Russia entered into the border area of Ukraine without the approval of Ukrainian government. On its part, Russia insisted that the trucks were filled with humanitarian aid to the affected families, triggering skepticism from Kiev, where the government’s headquarters are located. In a statement released from Kiev, a NATO commander claimed that Russia was pouring tanks, weapons, and troops across the border. As a result, the ceasefire agreement was considered to have been violated leading to even bitter fight in winter. A report by the United Nations released at the same time indicated that more than 1.7 million children in the conflict-hit regions were starving. This situation was exacerbated by extremely harsh winter conditions. The conflicts continued further into the New Year. On 22nd January 2015, Donetsk International Airport fell to rebels after days of fighting with the Ukrainian government forces. The airport had just been rebuilt ahead of the European soccer championships held in 2012. Amidst this violence, President Poroshenko announced that he would ask The Hague-based International Criminal Court to investigate the crimes against humanity that were reported in the conflict.
The attempts by EU countries to bring lasting peace in the country were ineffective. On February 12th, 2015, France’s Francois Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel hammered out a ceasefire agreement between Ukraine and Russia moments after the USA threatened to supply lethal weaponry aid to Ukraine. However, European leaders were opposed to arming the Kiev government fearing that it would ignite more conflicts that had by then killed more than 5,000 people. Days later, the agreement took effect but it was soon violated. In actual fact, 300 reports of ceasefire violation were reported by the government by February 20.
Following reports of continuous ceasefire violation by Russia, EU foreign ministers extended sanctions against the country. The sanctions that came into effect reflected a change of war from Kiev and eastern Ukraine to East and West. However, Russia seemed undeterred by the sanctions, insisting that it was not involved in the conflict in any way. By March 2016, the prolonged stalemate between the rebels and the government stirred grief and isolation among thousands that were involved in the conflict. Since the beginning of the conflict, 9,500 people had already died and more than 22,100 civilian casualties were reported (Zhukov 13). In August, the United Nations office released new figures showing a spike in civilian casualties due to the conflict on the frontline. In June, 12 people were reported to have died and 57 were critically injured. In July, 8 civilians were reported to have died and 65 were critically injured. On December 1st, Ukraine carried out missile launches near Crimea which were part of its military exercises. On the other hand, Russia reportedly claimed that the missile launches were in violation of the ceasefire agreements. Thus, the conflict escalated further in the ushering in of the New Year. Currently, the tag of war between the government and the Ukrainian rebels is still in progress.
In conclusion, the stalemate between the government and the rebels has a very profound background and history. The events leading to the current situation illustrate the extent to which terrorist activities can affect a nation. While there could be more into the war than can be barely observed, a multi-faceted approach that considers both the cultural, social, and political reasons for the warring sides is needed in order to establish a lasting peace in the country.
Zhukov, Yuri M. “Trading Hard Hats for Combat Helmets: The Economics of Rebellion in Eastern Ukraine.” Journal of Comparative Economics, vol. 44, 2016, pp. 1-15.