The country called Ukraine was once part of Russia (the Soviet Union). It became independent in 1991 when the Soviet empire broke up.
Like most countries, many different cultural and ethnic groups live there.
Events leading to the present crisis began weeks ago. The Ukrainian people were angry about their Prime Minister’s rejection of an alliance with the European Union. Instead, he said he would sign an economic agreement with Russia. After demonstrations in the street he was forced to flee the country.
Most of the world cheered when the voice of the Ukrainian people was heard. Russia, which used to rule Ukraine, did not cheer.
In Ukraine there is an autonomous republic called Crimea. It is next to Russia and has a large Russian-speaking population.
The present crisis began when Russian armed forces moved in and took over the Crimean railroad station, airport and Parliament building. Russia said they were “annexing” Crimea.
Russia said forcing out the elected Ukrainian government was illegal. It used the turnover as an excuse to correct what it said was an “historic wrong.” One way or another, Russia wants Crimea, and even all Ukraine, to be a part of Russia.
The international community was alarmed and outraged. They saw the Russian move as a grab for power that must not be allowed.
This crisis is real. Some experts say it may lead to a military confrontation. Both Russia and NATO have troops at the ready. Some say economics are more important. Russia has a weak economy dependent on gas sales. Ukraine’s economy is shrinking. The West has economic sanctions it can impose.
Crimea is holding an “election” later this month to decide whether to split from Ukraine.
Can Russian president Vladimir Putin manage this crisis? He has a sense of Russia’s history and role in the region. The West cannot abandon people freed of Russian rule more than two decades ago.
Diplomacy is needed to reach the best outcome. Germany and China will be part of the solution.
The world is watching. Will “cooler heads” win the day?
Source: The New York Times March 8, 3014