United States President Barack Obama has urged Russia to stop “intimidating” Ukraine and to cut the number of troops it has deployed to its eastern border. The statement by Mr Obama comes as ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych called for a national referendum to determine each region’s “status within Ukraine.”
Speaking on Thursday, Mr Obama stated that the move by Russia may “be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that Russia has additional plans.” He added that President Vladimir Putin had been “willing to show a deeply-held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union.” He also warned that the Russian leader should not “revert back to the kinds of practices that were so prevalent during the Cold War,” adding “I think there’s a strong sense of Russian nationalism and a sense that somehow the West has taken advantage of Russia in the past.”
Russia is believed to have deployed a force of several thousand troops close to Ukraine’s eastern frontier. Although the Kremlin has stated that it has no plans to take over the eastern regions of Ukraine, tensions in Ukraine and in other former Soviets states have continued to rise.
A new classified intelligence assessment has also concluded that it is more likely than previously that Russian forces will enter eastern Ukraine. Although US intelligence officials have emphasized that nothing is certain, they have indicated that over the past three to four days, there have been several worrying signs. According to one official, “this has shifted our thinking that the likelihood of a further Russian incursion is more probable than it was previously thought to be.” The build up along Russia’s eastern border with Ukraine is reminiscent of Moscow’s military moves before it went into Chechnya and Georgia in both numbers of units and their capabilities.
The assessment makes several new points including:
- Troops on Russia’s border with eastern Ukraine, which exceed 30,000, are “significantly more” than what is needed for the “exercises” Russia says it has been conducting, and there is no sign the forces are making any move to return to their home bases.
- The troops on the border with Ukraine include large numbers of “motorized” units that can quickly move. Additional Special Forces, airborne troops, air transport and other units that would be needed appear to be at a higher state of mobilization in other locations in Russia.
- Russian troops already on the border include air defence artillery and wheeled vehicles.
According to US intelligence officials, there is additional intelligence that even more Russian forces are “reinforcing” the border region. All of the troops are in positions for potential military action. The US currently believes that Russia may decide to enter eastern Ukraine in order to establish a land bridge into Crimea. The belief is that Russian forces would move toward three Ukrainian cities: Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Luhansk in order to establish land access into Crimea. According to US intelligence information, Russian forces are currently positioned in and around Rostov, Kursk and Belgorod.
In response to growing unrest amongst Western leaders, a Russian security official has also stated that intelligence measures are now being stepped up in order to counter Western threats to Moscow’s influence. Alexander Malevany, deputy head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) was quoted as saying “there has been a sharp increase in external threats to the state. The lawful desire of the peoples of Crimea and eastern Ukrainian regions is causing hysteria in the United States and its allies.” He added that Russia was taking “offensive intelligence measures” to counter Western efforts to “weaken Russian influence in a region that is of vital importance to Moscow.”
Meanwhile on Thursday, Ukraine’s highly-divisive opposition leader, and former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, announced her plans to run in the presidential polls which have been set for 25 May 2014, following last month’s fall of a pro-Kremlin regime. The dramatic announcement completes a highly improbable return to national politics that underscores the scale of changes that have shaken the former Soviet republic in the past few weeks.
Speaking to reporters shortly after walking into a pressroom, the 53-year-old confirmed “I intend to run for president of Ukraine.” In 2010, Tymoshenko, one of the most charismatic and outspoken leaders of Ukraine’s 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution, lost a close presidential poll to Victor Yanukovych after heading two pro-Western cabinets that became embroiled in fighting and eventually lost popular support. During her speech, Tymoshenko attempted to paint herself as a compromise figure who could look after the interests of her older supporters but who could also be able to find common ground with the Russian speakers who are now looking towards the Kremlin for assistance.
Shortly after the 2010 vote, her political downfall was rapid and seemingly fatal as Yanukovych’s government quickly launched a series of criminal probes against his political rival. This led to a controversial trial over Tymoshenko’s role in agreeing to a 2009 gas contract with Russia that many Ukrainians though came at too high a cost. In October 2011, she was convicted of abusing her power and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison, a sentencing that Western nations denounced as the use of selective justice.
However on 22 February 2014, the day the Ukrainian parliament ousted Yanukovych for his role in the deaths of nearly 100 protesters in Kiev earlier that month, she emerged triumphantly from a state hospital, where she had spent most of her sentence under guard. Hours after her release, she arrived at the protest square in the heart of Kiev, which had also served as the crucible of the 2004 pro-democracy movement that had propelled her political career. However the crowd’s reception of Tymoshenko was guarded, a sign of their growing weariness of the corruption allegations that had been made against her. Many now believe that the pro-Western government movement that Tymoshenko once headed is now looking towards a new generation of leaders who played a more prominent role in the latest protests and who now hold key position sin the new interim government.
Twenty-First Century Soviet Union: Could Moscow be Looking Towards Annexing States in Eastern Europe?March 27, 2014 in Russia, Ukraine
With the annexation of Crimea, there have been growing Western concerns of the rising number of Russian troops along the country’s eastern border with Ukraine. Although Moscow has denied that President Vladimir Putin has an ambitious plan to resurrect vestiges of the Soviet empire and stamp his authority over eastern European nations that sought protection from the West following the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall, the presence of 30,000 troops stationed along the border is nevertheless alarming. Furthermore, while Moscow originally stated that it was intervening in Crimea because of concerns over the ill-treatment of Russians there, who make up more than half of the population, since Crimea’s annexation, Russia has done little to ease Eastern European fears of further takeovers. The question now remains, could similar action take place in other parts of the former Soviet Union?
Since the ouster of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych in February 2014, there have been frequent pro-Russian demonstrations that have taken place in Donetsk as well as in other cities in eastern Ukraine. So far, at least one person has been killed. Russians however have blamed far-right pro-Western demonstrators for escalating tensions throughout the country.
With Russian troops having staged military exercises near the border, and Ukrainian officials claiming Thursday that 100,000 Russian forces have massed on Ukraine’s border, it would not be difficult for them to move across into Ukraine itself.
If Putin is indeed considering more territorial expansion, than eastern Ukraine is likely to be high on his list. The political costs however would be high, with NATO and Western leaders already warning Moscow against further expansionism.
Although Crimea, which was previously Russian territory, became part of the Ukraine in 1954, Ukraine’s eastern border goes back much further, ties which could be used by Putin in any possible future take overs.
A great deal of attention has also focused on Trans-Dniester, a separatist region of Moldova, which has already offered itself to Moscow. Proclaiming independence in 1990, which has never been recognised internationally, Trans-Dniester is majority Russian-speaking while most Moldovans speak Romanian. NATO’s commander in Europe has warned that Trans-Dneister may be Russia’s next target as Moscow has already deployed 1,000 troops to the region, which borders Ukraine, near the city of Odessa.
The southern region of Gagauzia, an autonomous region of Moldova which is made up of four enclaves with a total population of 160,000 also held a referendum in February 2014, in which 98.4% of voters backed integration with a Russia-led customs union. The Moldovan government has stated that the referendum was illegitimate.
Russia’s 2008 brief war with Georgia resulted in two areas breaking away, South Ossetia and Abkhazi. Although Abkhazia had already declared independence unilaterally in 1999, since the 2008 war, the two enclaves have existed in a grey zone as they are not recognized internationally, nor are they formally are part of Russia. Although Moscow’s stated aim at the time was to protect Russian speakers, most residents are native speakers of Ossetian and Abkhaz respectively. Furthermore, most residents hold Russian passports and are opposed to the Georgian government in Tbilisi.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
Although the Baltic republics regained their independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, Russians account for about a third of the population in both Estonia and Latvia. Due to the fact that both Latvia and Estonia require knowledge of their languages in order to gain citizenship, some Russian speakers born in the countries are either unable or unwilling to become citizens. Many Russian speakers have complained of discrimination, stating that the strict language laws make it difficult for them to get jobs. This treatment was echoed by the Kremlin in mid-March of this year, with officials expressing “outrage” at the treatment of ethnic Russians in Estonia, the same reason, which they gave for intervening in Crimea.
In Lithuania, ethnic Russians make up about 5% of the population and there is no requirement for them to pass a language test in order to attain citizenship.
However what must be noted is that in the case of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, all three Baltic states are members of both the European Union and NATO. Therefore any Russian incursion would have serious consequences as article 5 of the NATO treaty states that an attack on one member state is an attack on all.
Currently, there is no reason why Russia would seek to intervene in Belarus as the country is already closely aligned with Moscow. Furthermore, Belarus is an economic union with Russia, and Russian is an official language. Although only 8.3% of the population identifies itself as Russian, more than 70% speak the language.
Ties between Russia and Kazakhstan go back to tsarist times, when northern cities such as Pavlodar and Uralsk were founded by the Russians as military outposts. Russians currently account for more than half of the population in northern Kazakhstan which, like Crimea, was once a part of Russia itself.
Like Ukraine, Kazakhstan signed an agreement on nuclear disarmament in 1994 in exchange for protection. It has no port like Sevastopol in Crimea, however it does have the Baikonur space facility.
Although Kazakhstan already has close ties with Russia, as it is one of two other members, along with Belarus, of Moscow’s customs union, it has remained officially neutral in the matter of Ukraine.
Other Central Asian Republics
After independence in 1991, large numbers of Russians emigrated to central Asia, with the percentage of ethnic Russians in the region now ranging from 1.1% in Tajikistan to 12.5% in Kyrgyzstan. However it must be noted that the Central Asian economies remain tied to Russia, bot in terms of trade and remittances from migrants working there.
While it therefore seems unlikely that Moscow would seek to intervene in the region, the post-Crimea turmoil could still have an affect on the area. As the Russian rouble falls, and sanctions hit Russian businesses, jobless migrants returning from Russia could cause trouble for the governments in Dushanbe or Bishkek.
Armenia and Azerbaijan
Although Armenia has no Russian population to speak of, and Azerbaijan has just 1%, both countries tread a geopolitical tightrope between Russia and the West. Furthermore, since Aremenia gained its independence in 1991, Russia has retained a military base at Gyumri.
As was the case in Ukraine, Armenia had been preparing to sign an association agreement with the EU, however in September 2013, officials in the country announced that Armenia would be joining the Russian-led customs union instead.
Azerbaijan on the other hand is less economically dependent on Russia as it exports oil and natural gas to the EU. A pipeline that ends in Turkey effectively allows it to skirt Russian territory.
Russia would like to keep both countries in its sphere of influence, however in the case of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia is more likely to use economic, as opposed to military, measures.
Poland and the Baltics
Outside of Russia’s direct neighbours, countries such as Poland and those in the Baltics have also caused unease, with a sense that they too are under threat.
Although leaders in Poland have played down the danger, repeatedly reassuring the public, there remains a widespread sense of insecurity throughout the country.
While during an event to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Poland joining NATO, Prime Minister Donald Tusk stated that he saw no direct threat to his country, a view that has been echoed by Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski, an opinion poll has shown that 59% of respondents believed Russia’s foreign policy presented a threat to Poland’s security. Some have stated that they “…feel threatened by Russia because we’re next. Ukraine is first, then the Baltic countries and then Russia’s President Putin will make something bad here.” These fears have been echoed across the country, with one resident stating “now they want to attack Ukraine but we are neighbours so I don’t think Poland is safe, especially because we have a shred history with Russia, and they were always aggressors.” While these remarks to not directly indicate that most Poles fear that Russia is about to launch a military attack on the, their shared history however has generated a widespread mistrust of Russia and its leadership.
During the 18th century Catherine the Great annexed eastern Poland, with the country not regaining its independence until the end of World War One. However after just two decades of freedom, the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland just two weeks after Nazi Germany marched into western Poland in 1939. While the Red Army liberated Poland from the Nazis in 1945, this liberation was seen by many as a simple transfer of power, from one enemy to the next. Upon removing Nazi troops out of Poland, Joseph Stalin quickly installed a Soviet-backed communist system throughout the country, with the last Soviet troops leaving Poland in 1993.
According to Marcin Zaborowski, director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, “…there is a sense that certain boundaries have been crossed, that precedents have been created and because of that its not clear where Putin is going to stop,” adding that “this clearly unprovoked aggression against another state is in breach of international law. It doesn’t seem wise to hang on to the belief Putin’s not going to go further.”
Poland’s growing insecurity however is not solely tied to the country, but is also shared by the Baltic countries, which were also incorporated into the Soviet Union after World War Two.
Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite warned last week that Russia was trying to redraw the post-war map of Europe, adding that while Ukraine is likely to be the next on Putin’s list, Moldova, the Baltics and Poland would be next.
Estonia and Latvia both have large Russian minorities, which is of concern considering Putin’s justification for occupying Crimea has been to protect ethnic Russians there.
In response of growing fears of a possible Russian takeover of Poland and/or the Baltics, the United States has announced that it is increasing its military cooperation with Poland and the Baltic states. Officials have indicated that the US is sending six more F-15 fighters and a KC-135 refuelling tanker to increase its support for NATO’s patrolling of Baltic airspace.
In Poland, about 300 US air force personnel and 12 US F-16 fighters will be deployed for a joint training exercise. This is a significant boost to the 10 US airmen who are already stationed in the country. However the United States response will not solely focus on military aspects, but will also concentrate on the energy issue, which has developed out of the Ukrainian crisis. According to sources in Poland, “our prime minister and president have said we have to work more intensely towards energy independence. Energy is vital because the threat is not just of a military nature, its also about turning the gas taps off.” Poland has already experienced this switch-off as much of Russia’s gas supplies to Europe transit Ukraine while on its way West. In 2009, a price dispute between the Ukraine and Russia halted supplies to many European countries.
Despite the 2009 issue, Poland and the Baltic countries remained dependent on Russian gas supplies, with Poland last year importing 60% of the gas consumed by industry and households from Russian gas company Gazprom. According to Poland’s Prime Minister Tusk, Central and Eastern Europe’s dependence on Russian gas effectively gave Putin too much leverage. However after years of stating that it should liberate itself from independence of Russia’s gas supplies, and not doing much about it, Poland is now diversifying its gas sources.
By the end of this year, Poland is set to complete construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal to import gas from Qatar. It has also increased the capacity of interconnector pipelines with German and the Czech Republic in order to boost supplies from those markets. Poland also hopes to start producing its own shale gas in the future.
European Union leaders warned Russia on Thursday that it faces further sanctions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stated that Russia will face escalating EU sanctions if it does not take steps to east the crisis over Crimea. Speaking ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, Mrs Merkel indicated that the current political situation also means that the G8 effectively no longer exists.
Tensions in Crimea remain high after its leaders signed a deal with Moscow to split from Ukraine and to join Russia. Following Sunday’s referendum, which the West and Kiev have stated was illegal, Crimean leaders signed a treaty with Moscow on Tuesday to absorb the peninsula, which was an autonomous republic in southern Ukraine, into Russia. Tensions on the peninsula increased Wednesday, after pro-Russian forces took over at least two military bases in Sevastopol and Novo-Ozyorne. Ukraine’s Navy Commander, Serhiy Hayduk, was also detained, however he has since been released. Russia’s lower house is set to vote on ratifying the Crimea treaty on Thursday, with the upper house voting on Friday. The measure is expected to pass with minimal opposition. In a resolution on Thursday, Ukraine’s parliament indicated that the country would “never and under no circumstances end the fight to free Crimea of occupants, no matter how difficult and long it is.”
Western leaders have denounced Russia’s actions in Crimea as a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and a breach of international law. The EU has already imposed sanctions on twenty-one people connected to Moscow’s intervention in Crimea, and is expected to discuss expanding the sanctions, when it meets Thursday, to include political and military figures close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stated that Russia will face escalating EU sanctions if it does not take steps to ease the crisis over Crimea. Speaking ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, Mrs Merkel indicated that the current political situation also means that the G8 effectively no longer exists. She added that the EU would “make clear that we are ready at any time” to increase sanctions against Russia “if there is a worsening of the situation.” According to the German Chancellor, the EU will also “draw consequences for the political relations between the EU and Russia, as well as for relations between the G7 and Russia….It is obvious: as long as the political context for such an important format like the G8 does not apply, as is the case at the moment, the G8 doesn’t exist anymore. While the German Chancellor did not specify what the sanctions will be, it does remain unclear whether Germany expects Russia to undo the integration of Crimea into Russia in order to avoid tough economic measures. The G8, which comprises of seven of the world’s leading industrialised nations, and Russia, is scheduled to hold a summit in the southern Russian city of Sochi in June.
The United States has also ordered the freezing of assets and travel bans on eleven individuals, with officials indicating that they are considering expanding these. However on Wednesday, President Barack Obama ruled out US military involvement in Ukraine, stating “we do not need to trigger an actual war with Russia.” United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon is expected to meet with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday before travelling to Kiev where he will meet with the Ukrainian interim government on Friday. The UN Chief has called for a solution to the crisis that will be guided by the principles of the UN Charter, including sovereignty, territorial integrity and the unity of Ukraine.
Pro-Russian activists have taken control of the headquarters of Ukraine’s navy in the Crimean city of Sevastopol.
Reports in Crimea have indicated that pro-Russian forces appear to have taken control of the Ukrainian base in Sevastopol, the port city which houses Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Television footage depicted around 200 people, some armed, breaking down the gates and going in to negotiate with senior Ukrainian personnel. On the ground sources have indicated that no shots were fired during the take over however Ukrainian Navy Chief Serhiy Hayduk has reportedly been detained and the Russian flag is now flying over the base. Although officials in Kiev ordered its troops to stay in place, a number of Ukrainian servicemen were later seen leaving the base carrying their belongings. Others are believed to still be inside, refusing to surrender.
The reported takeover of the Ukrainian base came one day after Ukraine’s army indicated that a soldier had been killed in an attack on a base in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol. Russia also indicated that one member of the pro-Russian “self-defence” force in Crimea had also been killed. The reports however have not been independently confirmed. Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk warned Tuesday that “the conflict is shifting from a political to a military stage.”
The latest developments in the on going crisis come one day after Crimean leaders signed a treaty with Moscow, effectively absorbing the peninsula into Russia. Russia’s constitutional court has approved the accession treaty, and there is minimal doubt that parliament will also give its full backing. The move on Tuesday followed Sunday’s referendum, which approved Crimea’s split from Ukraine. The vote, which showed 97% of voters in favour of joining Russia, has been widely condemned by the West. The West and the Ukrainian government in Kiev have indicated that the hastily organized referendum was illegal and will not be recognized. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that the EU must send “a clear warning” to Russia, adding that the G8 group should discuss whether to expel Russia “if further steps are taken.”
The US and the EU are amongst those who have already imposed sanctions on several officials from Russia and Ukraine who have been accused of being involved in Moscow’s actions in Crimea. Brussels and the White House have stated that the sanctions will be expanded, with Moscow warning that this move was “unacceptable and will not remain without consequences.”
Amidst the growing tensions, Ukrainian Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh and First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema travelled to Crimea on Wednesday to try to defuse the tensions however they wee prevented from entering. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is heading to the region, and will meet with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday and with Ukraine’s interim leaders in Kiev on Friday.
What started as a domestic political and economic dispute in November 2013 has escalated into an event with international implications. Upheaval in Ukraine began in November when pro-Russian president Victor Yanukovych’s government decided to abandon closer ties with the EU in favour of Russia (see timeline below). Protests against this move swelled, culminating in last week’s decision by Ukraine’s parliament to foribly eject former pro-Russian President Victor Yanukovych and to install a coalition government. Moscow has not recognised the interim government which took power on 26 February.
In fact, Since last week, Russian troops have been consolidating their hold on Crimea, home to Russia’s naval base on the Black Sea. On Friday, Putin’s government authorised use of Russian military forces within Ukraine to “protect the lives of Russian citizens there.” Interim President Olexander Turchynov, only a week into new role, has issued full military mobilisation of Ukrainian forces in response. Western forces have condemned Russia’s moves; US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Russia that these actions could case the nation to be ejected from the Group of Eight (G8) developed nations. Moscow has not heeded calls to return troops to their stations.
Further complicating matters, on Sunday the newly appointed head of Ukraine’s navy, Rear Admiral Denys Berezovsky, swore allegiance to Crimea and its unrecognised pro-Russian leader, pledging to “strictly obey the orders of the supreme commander of the autonomous republic of Crimea” and “defend the lives and freedom” of Crimea’s people. Berezovsky said 1 March would go down in history as the birthday of the “navy of the autonomous republic of Crimea”. He held his Ukrainian post for only one day before being fired and charged with treason.
The Ukrainan issue is not a “cut and dry” matter. Ukraine, which literally translates to “Borderland”, is a nation with two distinct but powerful identities. There are 45 million people living in Ukraine; in the west, the Ukrainian population largely identifies as ethnic Ukrainian, or European. In the eastern part, the population identifies largely as ethnic Russian. The 2010 Ukrainian election was heavily divided between these two regions. The eventual winner of the election was Viktor Yanukovych, who hailed from the Donetsk Oblast province of eastern Ukraine. Citizens in western Ukraine were dissatisfied with the results, perceiving Yanukovych as a corrupt leader.
Yanukovych’s image worsened in the face of Ukraine’s stunted economy, which has particularly weak over the last two years. The nation’s GDP in 2013 was 0%; in 2012 it was 0.2%. Industrial production fell by 5 percent due to decreases in demand for steel and engineering exports and Ukraine’s energy inefficiency. The unemployment rate is approximately 7.5 percent. There is a shortage of skilled workers; many college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. Insufficient income and an unstable economic environment have resulted in mass migration of skilled and unskilled workers. This resource drain is exacerbated by one of the fastest aging populations in Europe. At the current rate of aging and migration, the workforce is expected to shrink by at least 15% over the next 20 years. Since 24 December, Ukrainian currency (the hryvnia) has dropped 15%. In early January, the National Bank of Ukraine limited individual purchases of foreign currency, and imposed a waiting period of six days on companies purchasing foreign currency.
Yanukovych, hoping to strengthen the stalled economy, met with the EU in November to develop an agreement which would open borders to goods and set the stage for travel restrictions to be eased. However, he backed out of the agreement, citing that the EU’s offer would not be enough to stimulate the economy, and that Ukraine could not afford to sacrifice trade with Russia.
Russia has been particularly eager to assist Ukraine because of its interests in one particular region of the nation. The Crimean Peninsula, which rests between the Sea of Azov on the east and the Black Sea on the west, is home to Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet, Russia’s only warm water port. The desirable region is known for producing tobacco and wine, and its warm climate has made it a thriving tourist area with many seaside resorts. The peninsula has been invaded and occupied as far back as the 7th century.
In February 1954, Crimea was gifted to Ukraine from Nikita Khrushchev to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine becoming a part of the Russian Empire. When the gift was given, the region was still under Soviet control. However, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia found itself with a naval base in an independent nation, causing long-term tensions between the two nations since. Despite negotiations leading to Russia’s lease of the naval port, Russia has not been pleased with terms of their lease, or their reliance on a foreign nation to host their port. The annexation of Crimea would greatly benefit Russia.
Citizens of Crimea largely identify with Russia as well. Crimea’s population is nearly 60% ethnic Russian, 24% Ukrainian, and 12% Tartar. The dominant Russian population is wary of pro-Western leadership in Kiev. Following the removal of pro-Russian president Yanukovych last week, residents have called for the autonomous republic to secede from the rest of Ukraine.
It is unlikely that Russia will give up the opportunity to annex Crimea. Democratic options do not seem likely to be successful. While the standoff between Russia, the Ukraine, the EU and the US is complicated, this complex shift also affects other parts of the world. On Wednesday, Russia’s defence minister announced that Russia would expand its military projection abroad, including in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. In January, Russia docked a spy ship in Cuba. In the Middle East the fallout could particularly affect Syria, which relies on Russia’s support to maintain the Assad government.
TIMELINE OF UKRAINE UPRISING
21 November: President Yanukovych’s cabinet announces it will abandon an agreement to strengthen trade ties with the EU, opting to seek closer co-operation with Russia. Protests begin that same night.
24 November: Protests gain momentum. In Kiev, 100,000 people attend demonstrations, making it the largest Ukrainian protest since the 2004 Orange Revolution.
8 December: The number of protesters surpasses 800,000. Demonstrators occupy Kiev City Hall and Independence Square
17 December: Russian President Vladimir Putin agrees to buy $15bn of Ukrainian debt, sharply cuts the price of Russian gas supplies.
16 January: Ukraine’s parliament passes restrictive anti-protest laws.
22 January: Three people are killed, in clashes with security forces, the first since the start of the unrest.
23 January: After his reported abduction, the body of prominent activist Yuriy Verbytsky is found in a forest.
24 January: Protestors storm regional government offices in Western Ukraine.
28 January: Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigns. Parliament annuls anti-protest laws.
29 January: Parliament passes a conditional amnesty bill to drop charges against all arrested during the unrest, if protesters leave government buildings. The bill is rejected by opposition.
14 February: All 234 protesters who have been arrested are released. Charges against them remain.
16 February: Protesters temporarily evacuate Kiev City Hall and other public buildings. A day later, arrested protesters are granted amnesty.
18 February: At least 18 people are killed, including seven policemen. Protesters re-take Kiev’s City Hall. Riot police encircle Independence Square, which contains nearly 25,000 protesters.
20 February: From the 18th to 20th, the death toll from clashes reaches 77, with hundreds injured. Three European Union foreign ministers are dispatched to Ukraine broker a deal.
21 February: France, Germany, and Poland broker a compromise between the government and opposition leaders. The deal involves a new national unity government, constitutional changes, and early elections, to be held by December. In western Ukraine, protesters defiantly continue to occupy government, refusing to recognise Kiev authorities.
22 February: Demonstrators take control of presidential administration buildings. Opposition leaders call for elections on 25 May. President Yanukovych is missing; believed to have fled to Kharkiv. Parliament votes to remove him from power, setting new elections for 25 May. In a televised appearance, Yanukovych denounces the “coup d’etat”.
23 February: Olexander Turchynov is named interim president. Turchynov gives MPs until 25 February to form a new unity government. A day later, an arrest warrant is issued for Yanukovych.
26 February: The proposed new coalition government is revealed. The acting interior minister disbands elite Berkut police unit, blamed for deaths of protesters. Rival protests are held in Crimea.
27 February: In the Crimean capital, Simferopol, pro-Russian gunmen seize key buildings. The gunmen raise a Russian flag outside the Simferopol regional parliament building.
28 February: Unidentified gunmen, appear outside Crimea’s main airports. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov declares the move an “armed invasion” by Russia.
Speaking from a news conference in Russia, Yanukovych insists he is still president and will oppose any military intervention or division of Ukraine. Ukraine’s central bank limits daily foreign currency cash withdrawals to the equivalent of 15,000 hryvnia (£820).
1 March: Russian parliament approves Vladimir Putin’s request to use Russian forces across Ukraine. Ukraine’s acting President Olexander Turchynov puts his army on full alert. Pro-Russian rallies take place in several Ukrainian cities outside Crimea. US President Barack Obama urges Putin to pull forces back to bases in Crimea. Putin says Moscow reserves the right to protect its interests and those of ethnic Russians.