Ukraine, the West’s border with Russia and the scene of conflict both political and armed. Today it is home to nearly 42 million people since the annexation of Crimea that shook the world 4 years ago.
President Yanukovych began moving away from a deal to join the EU. These actions sparked protests, largely led by the younger generation, whilst a 17% of the population, mainly in the Donbass area, was ethically Russian and supported the president’s move towards closer ties with Russia.
It was for this reason that Russia annexed Crimea. The conflict gave them an opening and they capitalized in retaking what was originally a Russian territory with the excuse of protecting ‘ethnic Russians’.
A map of Ukraine
However, this conflict was not a spontaneous decision by some upstart organisation, but rather holds roots in the lay of the land and is the consequence of decisions made long before our birth.
First and foremost we must understand why people in Eastern Ukraine hold such deep ties to Russia and the dream of the former USSR. Understandably, it is simply because the time of the USSR was a better life than the ones they know now.
A Nazi attack in the city of Sevastopol in 1942 courtesy of the BBC
The reconstruction of the Donbass region after the devastation form the Second World War brought huge relief to the region that had suffered particularly from the Nazi conquest and fighting to retake the area.
A steel factory in Donbass
This encouraged economic growth and the investment into coal and steel production facilities brought employment and raised the standard of living in the area. This was funded by the USSR and, while the area might have been part of Ukraine, there was a large influx of Russians to the area, which in turn developed into a large pro-Russian sentiment after the collapse of the USSR. The consequent collapse of the economy in the area post 1991 left many feeling that, a return to their motherland would be beneficial.
Ukraine’s GDP has not risen whatsoever since the fall of the USSR, and certain regions such as Donbass have lost a large part of their economy since the production of steel and coal declined in favor for other ventures. Whatsmore, Ukraine’s reputation as the most corrupt country in Europe only sucked money out of the area which in turn opened the door to discontent and anti-Ukrainian sentiment amongst those living in the Donbass Region. This was only amplified by the 2008 economic world crisis which had devastating effects on the already struggling economy. This led to many migrating over the border to Russia to find work, leaving their families behind and sending what meager surplus they had back. So while the natives in the Donbass region felt betrayed by their government and felt that Russia was the better of the two options, Russia however had a different motivation.
The Ukrainian economy has suffered since the fall of the USSR and the 2008 economic crisis hurt it badly
Russia however has a different motivation for their subtle conquest of Eastern Europe. Russia is a prisoner of its own geography, the flat plains from the the Ural Mountains to the Black Forest and the Alps is, in all senses, an open door to Moscow.
A physical map of Europe clearly showing the vast Eastern plains form the Urals to Germany
For centuries that vulnerability to foreign invasion has motivated Russian leaders to expand. With no natural defenses, they have adopted the Roman strategy of ‘the best defense is a good offence’. Ukraine has the largest border with Russia and presents the greatest opposition in the case of expansion. So when NATO and the EU began talks, Putin feared that Western influence could turn the country into a staging point for troops to move easily into the Russian heartland, much like the Nazi forces in the last war.
So with such stakes in hand Putin made a preemptive strike to secure Russia’s position. Taking Crimea had the added benefit of giving Russian warships the ability to move into the Black Sea and more importantly have a warm water port that did not freeze in winter.
The northern port of Murmansk that leads to the Atlantic
However the West can do very little in regards to truly intervening in Donbass; because it is Russia’s gas that heats the houses during the winter. Russia sells gas to the West and as a result holds countries by the throat when it comes to intervening in the conflict. The threat of cutting the supply, especially with western Europe’s aging population, means that very little can be done in terms of military action. While economic sanctions have certainly hurt Russia, they do not strike a decisive blow and the western governments are forced to watch as Russia ridicules them, as demonstrated by a russian war fleet moved through British waters, without being able to retaliate.
A Russian air-carrier with fighter jets of the coast of Dover, England.
As the war enters the end of its 4th year, there is very little media presence in the area, either due to government action which cannot afford to create any tension with Russia or the sad fact that sometimes Kim Kardashian's makeup mishap is more worthy of receiving attention than the nearly 4 million people trapped in a warzone on the same continent as us. The war has taken a terrible toll on the people in the area and frankly is a disgrace that the EU and the West allowed it to happen.
The inhabitants in the area only wish for peace, no matter which side they support, families are divided with children and parents separated by only 1.5 km and the frontline. Civilians are killed in the heavy shelling and rocket attacks. The future of the war in Ukraine looks grim and unlikely to end soon. And so as we come into the new year and no new efforts are being made to end the conflict which has already claimed more than 10,000 lives, we begin to question how long will this pointless war be, how long will the EU stand by as Europeans die?
How long until the West’s (the USA and Europe) governments, the press and the populace realise that ignoring the problem will not make it go away?
An Ukrainian soldier in the trenches