USA and Europe struggle with Russia over Ukraine

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Arseniy Yatsenyuk is the current acting Prime Minister of the Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been applying intense military and political pressure on the Ukraine’s new government, which has been run by a Congress-like parliament after pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was removed from power late February. The Crimea region of the Ukraine has been particularly contested, as masked Russian troops occupied the area for weeks and local Crimeans voted on March 16 to leave the Ukraine and join Russia. The international community, however, has sided with the USA and European Union (EU) on acknowledging the new Ukraine government as the real one, and refusing to recognize the Crimea region as part of Russia.

The whole conflict began in November when pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych chose Russian economic aid over the European Union, leading to months of massive protests until he fled the country. Putin, displeased with the fact that he was losing influence over the Ukraine, began making moves that mirrored Nazi Germany’s leader Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, by occupying a foreign country after hosting the Olympics.

Unlike the years leading up to World War II, where Hitler continued taking over nearby countries before the world responded, the USA, EU, and international organizations like the United Nations (UN) and World Bank have resisted Putin’s push into the Ukraine with support for the new government.

The push and pull between Western nations and Russia reflects the decades of the Cold War that followed World War II, where the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) wrestled for global influence with the US before splitting up in 1991 into 15 separate countries like Russia and the Ukraine.

Ukraine Russia
Ukraine is sandwiched between Russia (red) and Europe to the west. The dark green region is Crimea.

If Putin has dreams of recreating the USSR’s glory days by bringing other outside nations into the Russian fold, he’ll face strong resistance from the united international community. While elections are already scheduled on May 25 for a new Ukrainian president, Putin has moved quickly in applying pressure on the new government, prompting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk to meet with USA President Barack Obama.

Rival protesters clashed in the Ukraine ahead of the vote for the Crimea region’s possible split, but Russia’s ambassador to the UN said they don’t want war. As for Yatsenyuk, he too hopes to solve the crisis between his country and Russia peacefully.

On March 14, the USA’s highest level diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry, met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. After discussing the Ukraine situation for 5 hours, Kerry says Lavrov basically expressed that Putin was going to wait for Crimea’s vote to conclude before making any decisions.

When the Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to rejoin Russia, the USA and EU imposed sanctions (restrictions) on Russian and Crimean officials. Lawmakers in Crimea also passed a law making Russia’s ruble (their version of money) the official currency, alongside Ukraine’s hryvnia. Furthermore, they’re changing Crimea’s clocks to reflect Russia’s Moscow Standard Time, and Putin’s diplomats are proposing that the official language of the region be changed to Russian. “This [vote] is in violation of international law. The United States is not going to recognize the results,” said White House counselor Dan Pfeiffer on NBC’s Meet the Press. “We are working with our partners around the world, the Europeans in particular, to marshal forces against the Russians.”

Then pro-Russian troops stormed the Ukraine’s navy base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol on March 19, leading USA’s Vice President Joe Biden to warn, “As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increasing political and economic isolation.” By Friday, Russia had finalized the Crimean annexation (absorbing a region), and the Ukraine signed an EU trade agreement. The USA and EU continue slapping restrictions on Russian lawmakers and businessmen, while Russia does the same in return. On Monday, the interim (temporary) Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov ordered his armed forces to abandon Crimea as Russian troops continued taking over bases in the region. Then, on Tuesday, the Ukraine fired its defense minister for losing Crimea to Russia. Also, the Group of Eight (G8), that’s made up of the world’s leading industrial nations, suspended Russia’s membership.

Featured image courtesy of Sasha Maksymenko on Flickr. Image of map courtesy of Don Alessandro on Wikipedia. Image of Arseniy Yatsenyuk courtesy of Ybilyk on Wikipedia.