In this two-part story, we will try and get to the bottom of what on earth is going on in Ukraine and try and help you understand it as painlessly as possible.
The crisis in Ukraine stems from the now ousted president, Victor Yanukovych, rejecting an aid package from the European Union which would have drawn the nation closer to the Eurozone and the West, while also helping manage the harsh economic downturn the country was facing. Instead, Yanukovych declined that aid to maintain closer ties with Russia, Ukraine’s long-time ally and cultural fountainhead.
So when the Ukrainian people learned that their greedy capitalist ambitions of a higher standard of living (which might help some of the 25% of Ukrainians living below the poverty line) had been squelched by Yanukovych, they did the only sensible thing they could: they built a giant catapult and started chucking paving stones at people that disagreed with them.
And as if that wasn’t enough, they built up fortifications made up of just about anything they could find, and set up groups of volunteers known as “hundreds” organized like military units to defend their fortifications from the riot police, all while braving the same Russian winters that has crippled armies from Napoleon to Hitler. They even organized an entire network of volunteers to keep the protestors on the front line. This network known as Auto Maidan (maAI-dAAn) kept the protesters stocked with everything from bottles and gasoline for Moltov cocktails to food and blankets.
Ultimately, the protests were successful and president Yanukovych was ousted and an interim government was installed. Now as you can imagine, Russia wasn’t too fond of this new government who derived its authority from the new radical ideology of “the consent of the governed” and other populist ploys.
Luckily for the world, there are Russians to triumph against such evils. Within a matter of days, Russian troops had amassed at the Ukrainian border and mysterious armed men had appeared in Crimea – Men who Russian president Putin denied were Russian soldiers, despite the fact that they were using Russian weapons and driving vehicles with Russian license plates. Yeah, that actually happened.
Now that the Crimeans were safe and sound under the protection of mysterious troops who apparently are armed and equipped by some rogue nation the world has yet to encounter, the climate was perfect for a referendum to let the Crimean decide their own fate. Because everyone should have the right to have a say in their political self-determination — so long as “everyone” means ethnic Russians and “their say” is what you want them to say. At gunpoint. From nationless, democracy-loving troops.
No really, the two options on the Crimean ballot were essentially, do you want Crimea to be more autonomous or do you want Crimea to become part of Russia, neither of which allowed Crimea’s administration to remain the same. And so it was with 97% of the vote that Crimea determined it wanted to join the Russian Federation.
To be fair to Russia, Crimea is essential their backyard. It was part of the Soviet Union for decades and the Russian’s only got gibed out of it due to a territorial administrative law back in 1954 when it transferred from The State of Russia to the State of Ukraine. It wasn’t a big deal because they were all still in the USSR. It would be like Northern Virginia deciding that it really wanted to part of Maryland instead (In all fairness we really should just become our own state and push NoVA up next to Nantucket where it belongs, but hey what can you do)
There are also obvious security issues with a country like Ukraine which shares a large land border with Russia improving ties with the West. With closer ties with Western Europe and the European Union, it is always possible that Ukraine ultimately joins NATO, potentially serving as a threat and eliminating any buffer zone that Russia still had with NATO member states.
Finally, Crimea has an ethnic Russian majority population so it is possible that even without the threat of invasion or without a rigged election they would have wanted to rejoin Russia, but with a 97% vote of confidence? – yeah I don’t think so.