Ukraine Crisis: How They Got There & Why It Matters to Everyone

ukraineYou may have noticed that the Eastern European country Ukraine made headlines this week. Revolution has rocked the capital city, Kiev, through the winter. And now, a part of Ukraine called Crimea may break off and become part of Russia -- and world leaders like President Obama are alarmed. What's all the fuss about? And why should we care? Here's the quick and dirty on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

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Where is it? Ukraine occupies a key position between Russia and several other Eastern European countries, including Poland, Romania, and Hungary. It also borders the Black Sea.

What's Russia's beef? Ukraine used to be part of Russia. After the Russian empire collapsed in 1917, Ukraine declared its independence. Then it got sucked back into the Soviet Union years later. And then it declared its independence again in the 1990s. Russia wants power and control over Ukraine because of its access to the Black Sea -- major trade ports there! Russia is also fighting off what it sees as too much Western influence in Eastern Europe. 

What started the revolution this winter? Ukraine made some moves to integrate with the European Union in November. But then Russia stopped importing chocolate from Ukraine, so the government decided not to sign an association agreement with the EU after all. Ukrainians started mass protests in the capital city of Kiev against President Viktor Yanukovych for bowing to pressure from Russia.

Who won? After weeks of intensifying violence and the deaths of at least 77 people, protesters stormed government offices, the EU imposed targeted sanctions, and President Yanukovych fled the country. It was looking like the opposition won. Olexander Turchynov was elected interim president.

Cool, that's what Ukrainians wanted, right? Well, sort of. Roughly half the people in Ukraine say they want to be allies with Russia (or maybe they're saying that because they're afraid of Putin). The other half wants to be allies with the EU. 

Putin says, "Ess NOT okay!" At any rate, this situation was not cool with Russia. Russian soldiers showed up in Crimea ...

Wait, what's Crimea? Crimea is this semi-independent part of Ukraine. It's a peninsula that juts out into the Black Sea. Remember what we said about trade and ports? Russia wants Crimea, badly. Ukraine just gave them an excuse to make a power grab. Putin says he's just protecting ethnic Russians and Russian speakers.

Now Crimea is saying they're holding a referendum on breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia.

The west says, "Ess NOT okay!" Yesterday Obama told Putin that this would violate the Ukrainian Constitution and international law. UK Prime Minister David Cameron got on the phone with Obama and was all, OMG, can you believe Vladimir? Like, that's so wrong.

And then the inevitable ensued.

WAIT, WHY DO WE CARE AGAIN? Because! Instability! The west and its allies! Basically, the US and other western countries are trying to support its allies (Ukrainians who wanted to join the EU) because we need friends in every corner of the world. The U.S. has no plans to get directly involved at this point, though. We are just talking about imposing sanctions and diplomatic efforts.

Do you think the US should be at all involved in this conflict, or should we just leave it entirely alone?

 

Image via Danil Prikhodko/Demotix/Corbis 

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