Ukraine (2014 – first combat deaths)
The Conflict at a Glance
Who (are the main combatants): The Ukrainian government has deployed the Ukrainian Armed Forces and volunteer battalions to combat pro-Russian separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine. Separatists are reputed to be receiving military assistance from Russia in the form of personnel and equipment.
What (started the conflict): Pro-western “Euromaidan” demonstrations that began in November 2013 spurred a political shift that saw pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych replaced by pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko in spring 2014. In the midst of this transition, Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea. Armed conflict broke out between separatist fighters and the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Ukraine’s eastern regions. Despite Russian denials, Ukraine and much of the international community have contended that Russia has been supplying personnel and military equipment to separatist groups.
When (has fighting occurred): When (has fighting occurred): There were relatively few violent skirmishes during the Euromaidan demonstrations; the annexation of Crimea was also relatively peaceful. Intense fighting began in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in spring 2014. A ceasefire agreement, known as Minsk-1, was reached on September 5, 2014, but collapsed on October 23, after many incidents of violence, most in or near Donetsk (Ukraine Crisis Timeline). On October 8, the UN reported that 331 people had died since the ceasefire came into effect (Ukraine Crisis Timeline). A second ceasefire, known as the Minsk II agreement, came into effect on September 13, 2015 (Ukraine Crisis Timeline), but fighting increased in 2016, with both the Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian separatist forces violating the Minsk agreement.
Where (is the conflict taking place): Euromaidan demonstrations were concentrated in large city centres. Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea saw little mobilized protest. Violent confrontation has been concentrated in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which are bordered by Russia and called Novorossiya or New Russia by Russian President Vladimir Putin. During 2016, most fighting took place in the Donetsk areas of Avdiivka, Marinka, Horlivka, in addition to heavy shelling in government-controlled Mariupol.
2017 In April 2017, hostilities in Ukraine entered their fourth year. Both the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatist forces continued to ignore the provisions of the 2015 Minsk Agreements, perpetuating violence and conflict in the eastern region of the country. By November, the conflict had claimed 425 civilian lives in 2017, more than the total for 2016 (Human Rights Watch). In December, the U.S. government announced that it would provide the Ukrainian government with weapons and training.
The relationship between the European Union and Ukraine deepened, although the EU faced criticism for not engaging with Ukraine on issues pertaining to freedom of expression and association (Human Rights Watch). Civilians in conflict areas experienced high levels of poverty and unemployment, and record high food prices.
2016 Intense fighting continued during most of the year, in violation of the Minsk II agreements reached in February 2015. However, significant diplomatic progress was made in late December, when the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russian separatists agreed to an indefinite ceasefire to start on December 24, 2016.The ceasefire was observed on December 24 (TASS Russian News Agency), but was violated by separatists in the early morning hours of December 26, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence (Ukraine Crisis Media Center).
In 2016, Ukraine continued to pursue greater integration with the European Union. The EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, reached in December 2015, was implemented on schedule on January 1, 2016 (European Commission). Obstacles to further integration include stalled anticorruption reforms and the activities of armed militia groups (Freedom House).
Much of Ukraine’s previous trade with Russia has been cut off by the two countries. Ukraine’s trade with Crimea was officially severed in early 2016, and Russia and Ukraine banned each other’s food imports in response to the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement at the beginning of the year (International Crisis Group).
2015 Intense fighting in January was followed by a peace agreement on February 12 in Minsk, Belarus. Major violations of the agreement began with the separatist capture of Debaltseve on February 18. A second ceasefire agreement came into effect on September 1 and was largely respected by both sides.
Following the Minsk agreement, the Ukrainian government passed a law that granted special status to separatist-held regions only after local elections. In July the government tabled draft constitutional amendments that gave some autonomy to separatist-controlled regions. Separatists declared local elections for October 18 and November 1, but, following an October 2 agreement between Russia and Ukraine, elections were postponed until February 2016.
Russia cut off the gas supply to Ukraine. The Ukrainian government refused to repay a $3-billion loan to Russia.
2014 In late 2013, citizens responded with widespread protests when President Viktor Yanukovych withdrew support for a deal with the European Union in favour of closer economic ties with the Russian Federation. The “Euromaidan” demonstrations, also protesting corruption in the federal government, continued until late February 2014, when Yanukovych was removed from office and an interim government appointed. In March, Russia swiftly annexed the southern Ukrainian region of Crimea. In May elections, Petro Poroshenko became president. The elections were widely recognized as legal and legitimate by most of the international community, but disputed by Russia. Poroshenko signed a free trade agreement with the EU, but deferred implementation of economic restructuring measures until 2016. After the annexation of Crimea, Russian separatist movements emerged in several eastern regions of Ukraine, most notably in Donetsk and Luhansk, where violence broke out in the spring. Russia denied direct support of pro-Russian separatists in armed clashes with Ukrainian troops. Several ceasefire agreements were drafted, with limited effect. The UN reported more than 4,700 conflict-related deaths during the year.
Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict:
1. Ukrainian Government: Pro-European President Petro Poroshenko was elected in May 2014. In February 2014, former president and Russian ally Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine during a period of anti-government protests and civil unrest, and was then removed from office by parliament. An interim government called for elections, which Poroshenko won with a slight majority. The former Yanukovych government was accused of profound corruption, a key factor in the 2013-2014 protests. While the Yanukovych regime favoured ties with Russia, Poroshenko has sought closer ties with the European Union. This seesaw between Russia and the West has been common since independence in 1991.
2. Ukrainian Armed Forces: Significantly smaller than in the Soviet era, the Ukrainian military is allotted one per cent of national GDP. Conscription ended in 2013, but was reinstated in 2014 after the onset of fighting in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian Armed forces are significant opponents of the eastern separatists.
3. Volunteer Battalions: Irregular forces of pro-Ukrainian fighters have conducted much of the ground combat against eastern separatists. They have been joined by foreign volunteers, mainly from Europe, and financially supported by some wealthy Ukrainians. These battalions are directed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and are part of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army. Some believe that volunteer brigades have been fully incorporated into the formal military structure. Volunteers do not use heavy weaponry. Most volunteer fighters are Ukrainian nationalists, committed to Ukrainian independence and vehemently opposed to Russian influence (Al Jazeera).
4. Right Sector: This far-right Ukrainian nationalist political party emerged out of the Euromaidan demonstrations and clashes of 2013-2014. Ultra-nationalist groups had claimed involvement in Euromaidan since its beginnings, and later joined forces as part of the “Right Sector” movement, which became a political party in April 2014. The Right Sector is considered the most radical wing of Ukraine’s Euromaidan protest movement (BBC News). Far-right nationalists have played a significant role in Ukraine’s volunteer battalions. Most do not support the government’s move to enhance ties with the European Union.
In May 2014, the Right Sector’s original leader, Dmytro Yarosh, ran for president, earning less than one per cent of the popular vote. In October, however, he ran in the parliamentary elections, winning the seat of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast with almost 30 per cent of the vote. Public support of the Right Sector rose from 1.8 to 5.4 per cent in August 2015 (The National Interest). Yarosh resigned as leader of the Right Sector on November 11, 2015 after conflicts with other party leaders (Ukraine Today) and was replaced by Andriy Tarasenko (Ukrop News 24). Russia has cited the inflammatory, anti-Russian rhetoric of far-right groups as justification for its involvement in Ukraine’s civil war.
5. Russian Federation: When Euromaidan protests compelled former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to flee Ukraine, Russia sent military troops into Crimea. Although he initially denied this, Russian President Vladimir Putin later stated that he had sent troops to protect ethnic Russians in Crimea. After Crimea’s annexation by Russia, further allegations surfaced of Russian military involvement with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Putin has stated that Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine are there independently and participate in the conflict as members of self-defence groups. Ukrainian authorities accuse Russia of being an aggressor.
6. Pro-Russian Separatists: Most of the violent conflict has taken place in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where pro-Moscow separatist forces have formed militias. There are conflicting reports about the presence of Russian troops in the region and among separatist militias. In November 2014, pro-Russian separatists proclaimed independence after leadership elections in Donetsk and Luhansk; no international election monitors were present for these elections and their results were not recognized by Kiev or the international community.
7. Crimea: Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia annexed Crimea to protect the rights of ethnic Russians. Despite a strong historical Russian influence in the region, it is not clear that the annexation was supported by residents (CBC News). When Russian troops took over Ukrainian military bases in Crimea, some local military personnel defected, while others simply gave up their weapons. In a referendum following the annexation, 97 per cent of voters reportedly favoured union with Russia; however, the referendum was widely criticized as illegal and illegitimate. Since the 2014 annexation, Russia has maintained de facto control of the region. However, most members of the international community still recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine.
Status of Fighting
2017 The security situation in eastern Ukraine deteriorated early in the year. In what has been called the worst violence in two years, the cities of Avdiivka, Yasynuvata, Makiivka, and Donetsk were subjected to intense fighting between government and nongovernment forces from January 21 until February 3. It is estimated that there were more than 30,000 ceasefire violations in one week. Thousands of civilians lost access to power and water.
On April 23, a paramedic for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) died and two other monitors were taken to hospital after their vehicle was damaged by an explosion near Pryshyb.
The December 11-17 shelling of a village on the front lines in eastern Ukraine wounded eight civilians and destroyed or damaged dozens of homes.
2016 Both Ukrainian military forces and pro-Russian separatists violated the February 2015 Minsk agreement in 2016, and both experienced heavy casualties. Most violations occurred in separatist-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine and along the border of these areas, and involved large-calibre weapons and heavy artillery. Continued fighting cast doubt on plans under the Minsk-II agreement for local elections in separatist-held areas (Global Security) and the wider implementation of the Minsk agreements and reform process (International Crisis Group).
June was the worst month for military fatalities, with 25 Ukrainian troops killed. Most fighting took place in the Donetsk areas of Avdiivka, Marinka, and Horlivka, in addition to heavy shelling in government-controlled Mariupol.Several combatants, including three Ukrainian troops and three separatist fighters, were reportedly killed on September 13. In October, Arsen Pavlov (aka “Motorola”), the well-known Russian commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) was killed with his bodyguard, further increasing tensions. December saw an upsurge of fighting, resulting in 25 separatist deaths near Svitlodarsk in eastern Ukraine. In another clash beginning December 18, nine Ukrainian soldiers were killed and nine others wounded (International Crisis Group).
On December 21, the Ukrainian government and the separatists agreed to an indefinite Christmas ceasefire to start on December 24 (International Crisis Group). The ceasefire was observed on December 24 (Russian News Agency TASS), but was violated by separatists in the early morning hours of December 26, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence. The defence ministry stated that the ceasefire was violated 14 times in the Donetsk sector (Ukraine Crisis Media Center).
2015 According to International Crisis Group, fighting in January in eastern Ukraine was the heaviest in months (International Crisis Group). Separatist soldiers forced Ukrainian government troops to retreat from key posts at the Donetsk airport. On February 12 the two sides agreed to a new peace agreement in Minsk, Belarus. The deal called for the removal of heavy weapons from the front lines and the withdrawal of foreign armed factions. The agreement went into effect on February 15, but suffered a major blow three days later, when separatist forces captured the Ukrainian army garrison at Debaltseve.
Although fighting decreased in March, both sides were accused of returning heavy weapons to the front lines after inspections by observers. In April intense fighting broke out near Mariupol and outside Donetsk. On April 13 a Ukrainian army armoured advance was repelled by separatists that were allegedly supported by Russia. Fighting again intensified in May; again, there were indications of Russian involvement. In June a major battle took place around the towns of Maryinka and Krasnohorivka, west of Donetsk. On July 24 the United States announced that it would send military personnel to train Ukrainian troops.
On August 26 the Ukrainian government, Ukrainian separatists, Russia, the EU, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe signed a new ceasefire agreement, which began on September 1. A bilateral meeting between Ukraine and Russia on October 2 produced an agreement that, inter alia, called for the withdrawal of small-calibre weapons from the front lines in eastern Ukraine. On October 5 separatists and Ukrainian military forces began withdrawing all weapons of 100-mm calibre and less. The “contact line” in eastern Ukraine saw skirmishes in November, but fighting generally declined after the September ceasefire.
2014 While the Euromaidan demonstrations were generally peaceful, clashes between protestors and the police, mainly between February 18 and 20, killed 121. After an interim government was installed, these protests largely ceased. At the height of the unrest, Yanukovych temporarily fled to Crimea and then Russia; meanwhile men in camouflage, commonly recognized as Russian troops, appeared in Crimea. Putin initially claimed that they were independent self-defence groups. The Crimea referendum was non-violent; however, since Russian annexation, concerns have been raised about the potential mistreatment and abuse of Tatars in the region.
In early April widespread separatist violence broke out in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. In response, the Ukrainian government, which had reinstated conscription, decided to mobilize 100,000 reservists. Both sides are accused of indiscriminate shelling, putting at risk and killing civilians. It is alleged that both the Ukrainian military and rebel forces have used cluster munitions; neither Ukraine nor Russia has signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions. On July 17 Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was struck down over rebel-controlled territory, killing 298. Responsibility for the strike was widely attributed to the rebels, who denied it. In June a 10-day ceasefire was agreed to. Ukrainian forces resumed fighting at the end of the ceasefire, claiming that rebel forces had been non-compliant. In September representatives of Ukraine, Russia, certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) signed the Minsk Protocol, which included a new ceasefire agreement. However, conflict quickly resumed.
Number of Dead and Displaced
Total: As of November 15, 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) documented the total number of deaths from the conflict having risen to 9,733. This includes conflict-related casualties among Ukrainian armed forces, civilians, and members of the armed groups. (OHCHR, page 10, paragraph 26).
Refugees and IDPs: In August 2016, the Ukrainian Ministry of Social Policy estimated that they total number of persons displaced from the conflict would rise to around 1,714,000 by the end of the year (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre).
2017 Since conflict erupted four years ago, the United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 people have been killed and more than 1.6-million internally displaced.
At least 425 civilians were killed in 2017 (Human Rights Watch).
Conflict between January and June 2017 caused 13,000 people to be newly displaced from their homes (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre).
2016 The number of deaths for the first 11.5 months of 2016 was 635 (OHCHR data less figures from the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine [UNHRMU]).
Refugees and IDPs: In August 2016, the Ukrainian Ministry of Social Policy estimated that approximately 106,000 persons would be displaced in 2016 alone (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre).
2015 According to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, at least 4,391 people—civilians, Ukrainian soldiers, and armed groups—were killed in 2015 (United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, Press Release, 9 December 2015, 15 December 2014).
Refugees and IDPs: The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported at least 1,431,800 internally displaced persons as of August 2015 (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre). The UNHCR estimated that there were 318,786 refugees and 20,754 asylum seekers originating from Ukraine as of June 2015.
2014 The Euromaidan demonstrations resulted in 121 deaths, most in a clash in late February that killed 101 protestors and 17 police. The number of fatalities has risen steadily in the eastern conflict. In 2014 the UN reported more than 4,700 deaths.
Refugees and IDPs: Ukraine has a population of approximately 45 million people. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated that 1,272,700 people had been internally displaced by conflict as of April 2015. The UN reported that in 2014, 610,413 internally displaced people were identified by Ukraine’s State Emergency Service; the Ukrainian Ministry of Social Policy reported 823,000 IDPs at the yearend.UN OCHA estimated that 743,014 refugees had left Ukraine by spring 2015.
Official calculations include estimates on the number of Crimeans who have been displaced to other regions of Ukraine. However, since annexation, figures do not include the number of IDPs in Crimea. It is estimated that approximately 19,000 or 20,000 Crimeans were displaced in other regions of Ukraine and an additional 17,000 displaced people were in Crimea. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported that, while most displacements from eastern Ukraine were a direct result of armed conflict, displacements of many Crimean Tatars were due to “fear or because of threats, intimidation and discrimination on account of their ethnicity or political opinions.”
2017 In June, the EU ratified a trade agreement with Ukraine and instituted visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens (Human Rights Watch). At the EU-Ukraine Summit on July 12-13, 2017 in Kyiv, these measures were applauded, while delegates explored reforms to discourage corruption in Ukraine, among other topics.
In December, the Ukrainian government and rebel forces conducted the largest prisoner exchange since the conflict erupted. Ukraine handed over 246 prisoners in exchange for 74 captives held by rebel forces (The Guardian).
In Crimea, Russian authorities persecuted pro-Ukraine activists and Crimean Tartars (Human Rights Watch).
2016 During the first three months of 2016, diplomatic meetings attempted to make progress on the Minsk agreement and to address violations by Ukrainian and separatist forces. No progress was made, despite encouragement from the French and German Foreign Ministers. However, August 26 discussions showed modest progress; the Minsk Tripartite working group called for an indefinite ceasefire on the front lines of Donbas starting on September 1. Similar talks in May, October, and November made no progress.
In accordance with Minsk II, in March, the Ukrainian parliament debated legislation giving special status to the separatist-held areas, to take effect after Russian troops withdrew and elections were held under Ukrainian law. In August, legislators granted initial approval to constitutional amendments on decentralization, including a provision allowing the special-status law. In retaliation, a Ukrainian nationalist from the Svoboda party threw a hand grenade outside the parliament building, killing three members of the National Guard. The controversial vote shattered the governing coalition, with the Radical Party withdrawing to join the opposition. A second and final vote on the amendments, scheduled for December and requiring a two-thirds majority, did not take place by yearend. Separatists held primaries for local elections in eastern Ukraine on October 2, in violation of the Minsk agreement (KyivPost). The Ukrainian government views the elections as illegal and has previously suggested that no elections will be held in the region until the Russian presence is removed from the area (VOA).
On May 25, Russia unexpectedly released former military officer Nadezhda Savchenko from captivityin exchange for two Russian paramilitary troops. In 2014, after volunteering for duty in eastern Ukraine, Savchenko was captured, charged, and convicted of murder, and sentenced to 22 years in prison; she denied all charges (BBC News).After her release, Savchenko took up her seat in parliament as a member of Yulia Timoshenko’s Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, and became a member of Ukraine’s defence committee. Savchenko was awarded the nation’s highest honour, the “Hero of Ukraine,” and has used her public influence to call on the Ukrainian government to engage in dialogue with pro-Russian separatists (International Crisis Group). In July, she stated that she can and “must” become president. In July, her Batkivshchyna party gained two new representatives in parliament.
The June 23 Brexit referendum generated fears that the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union could derail EU support for sanctions against Russia and a visa liberalization process for Ukraine. On August 25, the EU Vice-President reiterated the EU’s commitment to resolving the conflict and stressed the importance of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the implementation of the Minsk agreements (European Union External Action). The 18th EU-Ukraine Summit on November 24 focused on reforms in Ukraine, strengthening ties, and Minsk (European Council). The EU pledged a further €104-million to support public administration and €15-million for anti-corruption, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a Strategic Energy Plan. By December, Ukraine had met all required benchmarks under the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan 2016 (European Union External Action) and discussions continued on visa-free travel.
In July, former journalists and activists formed the Democratic Alliance, a new Ukrainian liberal political party that hoped to unite the centre and the centre-right. Its founder,legislator and former journalist Mustafa Nayem, wrote the social media posts that helped to trigger the Maidan Revolution in 2013-2014(Atlantic Council). In November 2016, the Regional Governor of Odessa resigned and launched a new opposition movement, New Forces. Mikheil Saakashvili has presidential aspirations (Deutche Welle) and attracted 1,000 supporters at a November 27 rally in Kyiv, after calling for early parliamentary elections in 2019.Known as a pro-West reformer, Saakashvili also expressed positive feelings for Donald Trump (Radio Free Europe). However, the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president in November generated deep concern among many in Ukraine, because of Trump’s suggestion during the campaign that he might take a more conciliatory approach to Russia and recognize its 2014 annexation of Crimea (International Crisis Group).
2015 On February 12 Ukraine and Russia signed a peace agreement in Minsk, Belarus. The accord included clauses mandating permanent special status for certain geographic areas, local elections in eastern Ukraine, and constitutional reform in advance of decentralization. In March the Ukrainian parliament amended the special status law to require local elections before granting special status to separatist areas. Although separatists claimed that this new provision went against the Minsk agreement, it was approved on August 31. In September separatists announced that local elections for separatist areas in eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk People’s Republic, and the Luhansk People’s Republic would take place on October 18 and November 1. Ukrainian President Poroshenko objected to the calling of elections by separatists. Ukraine and Russia met in Paris on October 2 to resolve this issue. On October 6 separatists announced that elections would be delayed until February 2016.
On July 1 Poroshenko introduced constitutional changes that gave separatist-controlled regions some self-determination. Later that month, the Ukrainian parliament sent the proposed changes to the constitutional court for review.
In October local elections President Poroshenko’s ruling coalition retained support in west and central Ukraine, but lost support in the south and east.
The European Union publically demanded that Ukraine speed up reforms to achieve greater economic and political integration with Europe. Poroshenko vowed to meet all conditions for joining the EU within five years (International Crisis Group, 30 April 2015). Separatist Oleg Tsarev introduced the Novorossiya project to create a state from the Russian border to Moldova. Separatists who favoured a coalition of independent people’s republics felt betrayed by the proposal (International Crisis Group, 1 June 2015).
2014: When President Yanukovych fled Ukraine in February, an interim government was appointed, and official elections were scheduled for May. International monitors were present in Ukraine for the election, in which Petro Poroshenko became the new president. Soon after his inauguration, Poroshenko signed the EU Association Agreement, which includes the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA); implementation of the DCFTA was later postponed until 2016. Crimea was annexed by Russia in March 2014 after a referendum that was not recognized by the international community. The UN General Assembly passed Resolution A/RES/68/262, which reaffirmed Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to include Crimea. Crimea remained under de facto control of the Russian Federation.
In the spring the so-called People’s Republic of Donetsk and the People’s Republic of Luhansk also held referenda on self-rule, although the results were not recognized by the Ukrainian government. President Poroshenko had pledged to grant more autonomy to Donetsk and Luhansk, but rescinded the offer after both regions held elections in November that were deemed illegitimate by Ukraine and many western countries. Poroshenko accused Russia of encouraging conflict in Ukraine. Many countries imposed travel bans and economic sanctions on Russia, citing Russia as an aggressor. As conflict escalated, Russian President Putin maintained that Russians fighters in Ukraine were volunteers; he denied supplying weapons to rebel fighters.
Tensions between the Russian Federation and Ukraine are longstanding. In 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine reclaimed independence. Ukraine straddles a divide between Russian and European political systems with western regions largely upholding nationalistic Ukrainian sentiments and eastern regions reflecting a strong Russian identity.
Independence saw the return of many Crimean Tatars, a Muslim ethnic minority with deep roots in Crimea, but whose families had been expelled in 1944. In the 2001 census Tatars accounted for about 12 per cent of the population in Crimea, while most of the rest were people of Russian descent. Crimea was included in Russia from 1783 until 1954, when control over the territory was transferred to Ukraine.
In 2004 Ukraine’s Orange Revolution grew from widespread allegations of corruption and election rigging by pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych. The legitimacy of Yanukovych’s presidential victory was challenged by both Viktor Yushchenko of the opposition and thousands of demonstrators who rallied in Kyiv for nearly a month.Yushchenko won in a new vote in December and became president of Ukraine in January 2005. The December elections displayed a clear divide between Ukraine’s east and west; Although Yushchenko won, support for Yanukovych remained firm among eastern and southern regions of the country. Yanukovych returned to power after winning the 2010 presidential election.
In November 2013, Yanukovych canceled trade talks with the European Union in favour of strengthening ties with Russia. The sudden move away from the Association Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU, was the catalyst for massive protests. These demonstrations and the movement attached to them, become known as Euromaidan, as they took place in Independence Square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, in the capital city of Kyiv. Popular protests were also motivated by widespread corruption in the country. The Euromaidan movement spread to other cities, despite the government’s protest bans. At the height of the violence and with the collapse of state authority, Yanukovych fled to Russia. The Ukrainian parliament appointed Oleksander Turchynov interim president. Within days, the 2012 language law that made Russian a second official language was under threat of repeal. International leaders expressed support for the new regime and recognized interim President Turchynov. President Petro Poroshenko was elected and took office in June 2014. Russia and the exiled Yanukovych deemed the entire situation a coup.
At the end of February 2014, covert Russian troops, wearing no identifying insignia, began to infiltrate Crimea. The troops began to take over strategic locations, including the regional airport and media outlets. In early March, the Crimean parliament organized a referendum on the status of Crimea vis-à-vis Ukraine that was widely considered illegal. It was reported that 97 per cent of voters supported joining Russia; Russia then moved to annex Crimea. Since then, there have been reports of abuse and discrimination against Crimean Tatars.
Concurrent with the 2014 annexation of Crimea, unrest was gaining momentum in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. By spring, both regions were involved in armed conflict. Separatist groups took control of many cities and strategic infrastructure, such as government buildings. Declarations of independence were made in both Donetsk and Luhansk. Pro-Russian demonstrations in other areas of Ukraine, such as Karkhiv and Odessa, were suppressed, but Donetsk and Luhansk disintegrated into civil conflict. There are widespread reports that Russia is helping local separatist forces, but Russia denies this.
The international community has decried Russian intervention in Ukraine as a violation of internationally accepted principles of sovereignty and nonintervention. President Putin, however, claimed that the intervention was to protect ethnic Russians “in the event of a breakdown of law and order” in Ukraine. It is estimated that more than 17 per cent of Ukraine’s population identify as ethnic Russian, with high concentrations in eastern regions. Political analysts have pointed to fears over Ukraine’s joining NATO and the future of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet based in Crimea as factors in Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a newly independent Ukraine reduced its military and defence funding, maintaining its stockpile of weapons from the Soviet era. Before relations between Russia and Ukraine deteriorated, the arms trade with Russia accounted for a third of Ukraine’s arms sales. Since the Soviet era, Ukraine had been a major arms supplier to Russia, but discontinued this trade in 2014 after the Russian annexation of Crimea. From 2009 to 2013, Ukraine was the world’s eighth largest arms exporter, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Ukraine has requested military and arms support from the international community to respond to separatist attacks in the east. While most countries have been reluctant to send arms to Ukraine, the United States, Britain, and Canada have provided non-lethal military equipment. Some external support has come in the form of training programs. In February 2015, the Ukrainian government arranged to buy arms from the United Arab Emirates in a military and technical cooperation agreement. The Ukrainian armed forces had a defence budget of $3.38-billion in 2014 and $3.91-billion in 2015 (The Military Balance, Vol. 116, 204).
There have been widespread allegations that separatist forces are being given weapons by the Russian military; U.S. and NATO officials reported evidence of cross-border movements of military supplies from Russia into Ukraine. Russia has consistently denied these allegations and accused U.S. intelligence services of helping Ukraine to suppress separatist fighters. Reports suggest that separatist groups have both accessed weaponry left behind at Ukrainian military bases and captured weapons in skirmishes with Ukrainian troops.
The Armament Research Services (ARES) suggested that a large quantity of separatists’ weapons could have been acquired from internal stockpiles left over from the Soviet era. A number of reports indicate that separatist fighters accessed internal and external arms trafficking networks.
After the United States and the EU banned arms sales to Russia, the Russian government sought to expedite its military modernization efforts. “In 2014, Putin asked the Russian military to domestically manufacture 90 of Russia’s 200 most frequently imported weapons systems by 2020 and to transition towards total military self-sufficiency as soon as possible” (Huffington Post).
In 2014, the Poroshenko government initiated a plan to increase the defence budget from one per cent of GDP to five per cent by the year 2020. Since 2014, Ukraine has striven to replace Russian-made military equipment with equipment supplied by NATO member states. In February 2016, Ukroboronprom, Ukraine’s state-owned weapons manufacturing consortium, signed a deal to acquire German-made engines for the military’s armored personnel carriers. The new engines will comply with NATO standards and are more cost-effective than Russian engines (Defense News). The Navy is aiming to acquire 30 new vessels by 2020 and is making a $29-million investment in upgrading its training facilities (Defense News). In 2016, Ukraine reached military agreements with two NATO members. Turkey and Ukraine agreed to jointly develop and build satellites (Defense News), weapons systems, and other advanced technology (Defense News). Canada agreed to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons and to help to develop the Ukrainian defence industry (Ukraine Today).
The United States and other NATO countries have been supplying Ukraine with equipment and training during the conflict. In 2017, it was announced that the United States would provide the government with “enhanced defensive capabilities,” which reportedly include anti-tank missiles. Ukraine’s defence budget for 2017 was US$2.73-billion (Military Balance). The military budget is projected to rise by more than 25 per cent in 2018 (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).
Both the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Euromaidan demonstrations of 2014 grew out of Ukrainians’ distress over profound governmental corruption. Massive political corruption contributed to Ukraine’s declining economy, which was smaller in 2015 than it was at independence in 1991. In 2013, President Viktor Yanukovych publicly abandoned the EU Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) initiated in 2012. Instead, the pro-Russian leader threw his support behind Russia’s offer to provide Ukraine with $15-billion in loans and significantly reduce gas prices. Russia had reportedly threatened to bar imports from Ukraine, claiming DCFTA would adversely affect the Russian economy (Interfax). These political developments played a major part in igniting the Euromaidan movement, which swept President Petro Poroshenko to power in May 2014. Shortly after his election, Poroshenko signed the EU Association Agreement, deferring implementation of DCFTA until January 2016.
After Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014, many countries imposed economic sanctions on Russia. In 2015, the G20 and EU extended sanctions against Russia until July 2016. Russia announced a plan to create a special economic zone within Crimea to encourage direct private business investment and to boost tourism in the region. On December 16, 2015, Ukraine announced that it would suspend trade with Crimea. Moscow then declared that it would end free trade with Ukraine, in anticipation of the EU-Ukraine free trade agreement, scheduled to come into effect on January 1, 2016 (Reuters). The Ukrainian parliament imposed a trade embargo on Russia on December 24, 2015 and officially cut off trade with Crimea in mid-January 2016. On January 1, 2016, Russia banned imports of Ukrainian food, and Ukraine reciprocated by banning Russian food imports (International Crisis Group).
In Ukraine’s “industrial heartland” in the east (called Novorossiya or New Russia by Putin), the fighting has destroyed as much as 10 per cent of Ukraine’s industry, with output reduced by 25 per cent. In February 2015, Ukraine accepted a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) worth approximately $17-billion. On May 19, 2015, Parliament suspended debt repayments; negotiations to restructure foreign debt started soon after. An August 27 deal with international creditors eliminated 20 per cent of Ukraine’s debt (International Crisis Group).
By February 2016, Ukraine’s economy had been in recession for 18 months and its currency had been devalued by 10 per cent. The country was desperate for financial assistance, but donors were wary of releasing funds before the government committed to the comprehensive reforms it had agreed to in the EU Association Agreement (Global Risk Insights). During 2016, the IMF expressed concern about the future of its loan programs for Ukraine. The February 2016 resignation of Ukraine Economy and Trade Minister Aivaras Abromavicius generated major concerns among international partners. The IMF reported that Ukraine had made economic progress in May 2016, but reiterated its call to the Ukrainian government to boost reforms. In May 2016, President Poroshenko appointed a close ally with no legal background as Prosecutor General. Despite charges of cronyism, Ukraine secured a third loan agreement with the United States the same month (Politico). In August 2016, in response to a perceived lag in reform efforts in Ukraine, the IMF delayed the release of a third, $1.7-billion loan. The money was released In mid-September, but the IMF stressed that progress on reform was required. In its 2017 budget, Ukraine’s parliament agreed to keep the country’s deficit at 3 per cent of GDP, in line with IMF guidelines (International Crisis Group).
During the Soviet period, Ukraine received energy from Russia on a credit system. Following independence, Ukraine continued to source much of its energy from Russia, although there was some domestic production of oil and natural gas, and exports of electricity and coal. Over the course of the recent conflict, Russia increased the price of gas and requested that Ukraine settle its gas debt. At the end of October 2014, Russia and Ukraine agreed to clear Ukraine’s debt through a new payment plan and to continue Russian gas exports to Ukraine. Russia cut off Ukraine’s natural gas supply in late February 2015 and on November 25, Ukraine declared that it had decided to stop purchasing natural gas from Russia (International Crisis Group). Ukraine also reduced and, on occasions, cut the power supply to Crimea after its annexation by Russia. Conflict in the east, where most coal mines are located, has disrupted Ukraine’s coal supply.
In 2013, Russia provided Ukraine with a $3-billion loan, which remained unpaid at the December 20, 2014 deadline. In mid-November 2015, Russia offered to extend the payback period for the loan, but Ukraine rejected the proposal. When Ukraine declared that it would not pay back the loan, Russia launched a lawsuit against it (Reuters).
Ukraine’s GDP in 2017 was an estimated US$104 billion, with a per capita income of $2,459 (Military Balance). The World Bank estimates that the economy grew by 2.5 per cent in 2017, the second year of growth (World Bank).