I seem to have killed the Today thread, and this is a topic that deserves a lot more attention than I feel it's getting. Here's a brief history(grabbed off reddit):
- In 2004, there was the Orange Revolution which brought the "All-Ukrainian Union (Fatherland)" party into power. The party is center-nationalist. There is a brief spurt of economic prosperity after this.
- In 2008, the US economic crisis spread to many places in the world including Ukraine. Ukraine has yet to recover from this crisis.
- In 2010, Yanukovich, of the "Party of Regions" wins the Presidential election. This party is considered highly allied wtih Russia.
- Yanukovich puts the former prime minister Yulia Timoshenko in jail for brokering a supposedly self-serving oil deal with Russia. Timoshenko is popular with the people.
- Yanukovich changes the constitution to give himself authority over the Parliament instead of the other way around, as it had been before.
- The deteriorating economic situation is primarily felt by the Ukrainian people in the form of stagnating wages, deteriorating public services, increasing unemployment, and an increase in crime. There was a common sentiment that the government and various institutions were corrupt (though this has always been the case, it was felt that it had reached a new extreme.)
- On going talks with the EU about joining the EU become stalemated over the issue of Yulia Timoshenko. The EU considers her a political prisoner, and wants her released as a precondition for consideration in joining the EU. Yanukovych responds by claiming this is impossible because it was a court decision that he cannot undo.
- In 2013, Moody and S & P gave Ukraine the lowest possible credit rating they are willing to publish. Meaning they cannot simply issue bonds to get loans like the US does. But they have a severe budget shortfall (about $15 billion). So for their budget they are actually forced to come up with cash. What this effectively means is that they have to negotiate very onerous terms on a 1 to 1 basis with entities who will loan them money. Ukraine negotiated with two critical entities: the IMF via the EU, and Russia.
- In November 2013, Yanukovych chose to cancel negotiations with the EU over the IMF loan, and negotiate solely with Russia. This outraged a large number of citizens. On November 21, 2013, people in Kiev started occupying Independence square, in Kiev, the site of the Orange Revolution, and protesting against Yanucovych's decision to cancel the EU deal. Cameras are set up above the square and at other crucial spots, to stream the protest live -- it was essentially covered live, uninterrupted for its entire duration.
- Russia announced that it was willing to loan Ukraine $13 billion (still $2 billion short -- so Ukraine would still default; though, of course, it could sell off assets). This just made the pro-EU protesters more outraged. Russia later offered the remaining $2 billion, but this just just made the protesters angrier. The general sentiment of the crowd was that doing deals with Putin is bad, and in the opposite direction that they want to go. The crowd didn't care about meeting the budget shortfall.
- Yanukovych issued a new law that effectively made protesting illegal. This sparked some outrage from the protesters. The resolve of the protesters just seemed to increase from this.
- Over time there were escalating clashes between the protesters and the state police (the Berkut) which came to try to contain the protesters. A few people were humiliated, a few people were beaten, and a few people were killed. This caused the protesters to get even more outraged, and they demanded that Yanukovych resign. The police periodically tore down their tents and barricades, but the protesters just rebuilt them.
- The opposition parties, "Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform" (led by former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko) and "All-Ukrainian Union (Fatherland)" periodically, send representatives, nominally on behalf of the protestors, to periodically negotiate with Yanukovych to try to resolve the situation. Klitschko demanded "snap elections" (essentially immediate, or early elections) as his version of the protester's demand that Yanukovych be ousted.
- Each side periodically set deadlines for the other side to back down. When Yanukovych's deadlines were not met, he stepped up the police action, which lead to violence. When the protester's deadlines were not met, the protest spread to other parts of Ukraine and government buildings were temporarily taken over. The protest occurred during the cold of winter in Ukraine and has been continuous since they started 3 months ago. Russian sympathizers, typified by "RT" publicly claimed that the protesters were a) being manipulated by the west, b) were fascist entities, led by right wing racist groups, c) were the instigators of violence. Of course, there is absolutely no evidence of significant outside support for the protesters, their "violence" was typically limited to throwing molotov cocktails leading to 0 police deaths, and while there was right wing extremist representation among the protesters, there is no evidence that they performed any specific racist action or that their ideology was the general sentiment of the protesters. The cohesion of the protesters was premised on their one point of agreement: that Yanukovych must be ousted (the original goal that he sign a deal with the EU having been abandoned.) I think the protesters well understood that personal political agendas (such as espoused by Klitschko, or Timoshenko) were unlikely to be supported by everyone, and so people just stood behind the one thing that binded them together; the removal of Yanukovych. Incidents were typified by attacks against the media, then apologies by the government, claiming that there will be an investigation. The size of protest reached a peak of 500,000 people (about 1% of the entire population of Ukraine) by December 8.
- Yanukovych finally relented and withdrew the law that made protesting illegal. This calmed the protesters somewhat, but it didn't make them leave.
- On about February 18, 2014 the police step up their violence significantly and start using snipers to kill protesters. The death toll rises from a less than a half dozen to 70 people in a matter of days. (Reports of over a thousand injured). Numerous very graphic videos of people being shot show up on the internet. Protesters start shooting back and stealing Berkut equipment to shield themselves from the live fire.
- The protesters refused to leave Independence square and were demanding investigations into who made orders to use snipers (and live ammunition in general). Government troops from the ministry of internal affairs surrender to the protesters.
- The EU steps in and brokers a deal which includes early elections, and an investigation into the killings at Independence Square.
- On February 21, 2014 Yanukovych and numerous high ranking officials flee Ukraine.
- The parliament passes a law that restores the constitution, so that they regain authority over the president. They issue some sort of censure against Yanukovych that invalidates him as president. Oleksandr Turchynov of the "All-Ukrainian Union (Fatherland)" party is named interim president. Yulia Tymoshenko is freed. An arrest warrant for Yanukovych is issued.
- On February 27, a very sophisticated but unmarked military force enters Crimea, a region with many Russian sympathizers, and which is home to a military naval base that Russia leases from Ukraine. They take control of the Sevastopol airport. The interim Ukraine government claims that these are Russian forces. Russian news sources claim these are Ukrainian troops (preposterous).
- On February 28, 2014, Yanukovych showed up in Russia and gave a televised press conference. The reporters were dominated by Russian journalists, but some pointed questions were asked. Yanukovych was defiant, insisting he was not responsible for giving orders to kill protesters, that their being armed was defensive, and that he was still the acting president who was only out of the country as a matter of personal safety. The conference was notable for having two gaffs in it: 1) Yanukovych broke his pencils in clear frustration at one question, 2) Yanukovych mistakenly referred to the Ukraine as a good trading partner, rather than referring to Russia as a good trading partner.
I've been looking into the BBC reports, and essentially the US is taking a pro-Ukraine stance, but doesn't really want to get involved, and Poland is mobilizing a lot of armor to the Ukraine border. The Ukraine/Russian border is tense, with Ukrainian reinforcement coming in, but so far no sign of invasion. (00:21 EST 3/4/14)
Now what does Russia have to gain from this? It's all about those trading ports baby. Here's a nice summary:
Because it contains a vital port - Sevastopol.
The Russians have to ask the Ukrainians for permission to use this port, they get a lease on it - they literally "rent" it.
This wasn't difficult with a pro-Russian president in Ukraine, however the Russians are very worried now, because there's been an uprising in Ukraine, and the pro-Russian president was turfed out, they may lose their lease on this port
If they lose the lease, they lose their power in the region. Putin is a very clever man, he knows that he can push a certain amount and there won't be any military repercussions - no one is going to risk a massive war - so in a way he's playing a game of bluff, he'll push forces into Crimea, take Sevastopol all for himself - it'll cost Russia money and international relations - but he obviously thinks that the gamble is worth it to control such a vital port
He doesn't have any strong opposition at home (running in opposition is "difficult" in Russia) and he pretty much runs the media - so he can convince the Russians at home, and those in the Ukraine that he is merely trying to protect them - this is something a lot of them believe
Try not to think of countries as friends, but more as businesses - this is a hostile take-over, internationally it's condemned, but to Putin, that naval port permanently in the hands of Russia is worth it