Reading is hard sometimes. Reading about the news is even harder, given the fact that it’s usually soul-crushingly depressing.
Unfortunately that doesn’t make either any less important, so in a bold attempt to turn every well-intentioned, uninformed American into a mobilized, informed voter, I present to you:
News For The Well-Intentioned, Semi-Informed Layperson
Ukraine: That Place That Just Doesn’t Sound That Pleasant To Begin With
The latest: On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested during a prerecorded television interview that one of the issues that needs to be resolved when it comes to Ukraine is that of “statehood” for the eastern regions of Ukraine which are now controlled by separatists (which is a polite way of inferring ‘yeahh umm Russia’s going to be taking that land, thanks‘). And while Ukraine, Russia and pro-Russia rebels are technically currently attending peace talks in Belarus, because this is the real world, no one really believes these talks will bring about anything of consequence, including Ukraine’s President (Petro Poroshenko told the BBC he was “absolutely not confident” that peace could be achieved at the Minsk talks, which was heartening). Meanwhile, the EU and the United States are left with nothing but political and economic sanctions at their disposal because they’re afraid of accidentally starting World War III.
But that’s getting WAY ahead of ourselves.
To catch us all up to speed…
– Ukraine is a country about the size of Texas that is situated between Russia and Europe. It was part of the Soviet Union until 1991 and since then it has been a pretty crappy country in terms of all the things you’d want out of a country (sorry Ukrainian readers!).
– Politically, it’s divided between those that align with Russia because of Ukraine’s strong historical and cultural influence and those that align with Western Europe because they view Russia as an imperial ruler that Ukraine should break away from.
– All this tension came to a head (meaning this story started making the news) back in November when then-President Viktor Yanukoyvch (you don’t need to remember this hard name) rejected a deal to become more integrated with the European Union, causing mass protests from a population that was ready to get away from Putin’s influence (you can’t blame them).
– Yanukoyvch quelled the protests with some pretty hardcore violence, but by February he was ousted by parliament (he’s living in exile in Russia right now, if that tells you anything).
– Only a few weeks later though, a bunch of armed gunmen seized government buildings in Crimea, a region in Ukraine that already had tons of Russian military bases on it (in a legal way) and most of whose citizens are actually Russian. Many Crimeans rallied behind their ousted president, but soon it became apparent that the armed gunmen were — SURPRISE! — Russian special forces who helped lead a bloodless, successful military occupation of the region.
– On March 16th, Crimeans voted by a landslide margin for their region to become a part of Russia, however their are tons of reports of this being a pretty shady election.
– Most of the other “important” countries in the world see this secession as illegitimate because not only was the whole military occupation kind of illegal, it’s also illegal under Ukrainian law (like how Texas can’t leave no matter how much they want to/how much we wouldn’t mind them being gone).
– After the Crimean annexation, pro-Russian separatist rebels began capturing land in eastern Ukraine, and they were doing a great job because they include unmarked Russian special forces and are being led by people like Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, a Russian citizen and military veteran who retired from Russia’s internal security services right before he began leading the rebels.
He literally just looks like a Russian bad guy in an action movie:
– Eventually, Russia started just outright arming rebels with things like surface-to-air missiles, which they made good use of, but on July 17th they very likely accidentally shot down a civilian airliner (that Malaysia Airlines accident you heard about) and finally the rest of the world took notice, making sure that Ukraine knew they had to squash this thing once and for all.
– Then, Russia did the most Russia thing of all and, while STILL publicly saying they weren’t invading Ukraine, began blatantly invading Ukraine with Russian military troops. The Ukrainian President has called them out on it, the leader of the rebels outright announced he received 1,200 troops from Russia, there has been satellite imagery taken of Russian artillery crossing the border, and because this is the age of YouTube, just last week someone in Ukraine uploaded a video of Russian tanks Fast & Furiousing their way down the road.
– This is bad because the long and short of it is Russia is invading countries. However, the rest of the world (meaning the EU and the US) still can’t really do much beyond their current economic and political sanctions without fear of starting World War III (we’re still like 3 years away from that…).
Summary of that Summary:
Ukraine is a country with Russia to the east and Western Europe to its west. As a former member of the USSR, Ukraine’s population is complicatedly split between people that still feel very much affiliated with Mother Russia and those that are eager to break away from what they consider an imperialist ruler. Protests in November led to the fall of the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, but pro-Russian rebels seized Crimean government buildings (a region in Ukraine with strong Russian ties) and have been fighting against the Ukrainian government in the Eastern Ukraine ever since.
The rebels would have been beaten by the Ukrainian government by now, only Russia has, at first secretly but now blatantly, been supporting them with troops and artillery. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to deny that Russia is invading Ukraine, like a liar. There are currently peace talks taking place, but no one expects them to do much of anything, while the EU and the US can only throw more sanctions at Russia for fear of risking World War III.
This situation isn’t going to be resolved soon.
In One Tweet:
— Henry Langston (@Henry_Langston) September 4, 2014
A Reasonable Opinion To Have:
That’s not to say there will never again be a valid reason for U.S. forces to intervene overseas. But in Ukraine with a proxy war against Putin, the conflict would quickly be seen as another go-it-alone American military excursion, diminishing the affair into a contest between the U.S. and Russia, rather than the entire world against Russia. Unilateral action would absolutely decimate what might otherwise be accomplished through building upon what’s quickly becoming a universal accord against Russia’s aggression against civilians.
What You Could Say To Sound Extra Smart:
Ukraine has been under partial or total Russian rule centuries, thus why one in six Ukrainians is actually an ethnic Russian, one in three speaks Russian as their native language (the other two-thirds speak Ukrainian natively), and much of the country’s media is in Russian. It’s these kinds of cultural and historical ties between Ukraine and Russia that make this situation that much more complex.
A More In-Depth Article That’s Still Easy To Understand:
Washington Post‘s “The crisis in Ukraine, as told by leaked phone calls”
Originally posted on The Daily Banter on September 5, 2014