The former Soviet Bloc country of Ukraine has been in a state of chaos for the last month. In November, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned a trade agreement with the European Union, instead choosing to align Ukraine with Russia. This came as a big blow to the large amount of the public that supported EU membership. Yanukovych awoke a sleeping giant. A large portion of the public saw the EU as the future, as apposed to an alliance with Russia, which read as a throwback to Ukraine’s Soviet past. By December, Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev, was attracting hundreds of thousands of protesters.
Anti-government protests escalated in Kiev in January, when Yanukovych signed anti-protest laws into effect. On Jan. 22, police with high-powered rifles killed two protesters. Despite the killings, protests continued. On Feb. 20, police snipers killed 70 protestors in one day, leaving hundreds injured on the streets. The death toll reached 18 at that point.
A day later, Yanukovych fled for his home region of Crimea, which is a peninsula on the Black Sea, about 300 miles up the coast from Sochi, Russia. Crimea also happens to be one of the most pro-Russian regions of Ukraine.
Tensions have always been high between ethnic Ukrainians and Russians. In the 1920s, Joseph Stalin oversaw the genocide of seven million ethnic Ukrainians, which was covered up as a “famine” called the Holodomor.
On Saturday, Feb. 22, the Ukrainian Parliament voted to remove Yanukovych, setting May 25 as the date of the next presidential elections. Meanwhile, protestors and international media took over Yanukovych’s estate. Yanuko- vych had exploited government funds to build amenities for his estate, such as a private zoo and a large yacht in a pond. There were even allegations, which were later proven false, that the palace had a gold toilet.
Also on Feb. 22, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison. Tymoshenko, the right-wing leader, lost the 2010 presidential elections to Yankukovych. Subsequently, Yankukovych paid off judges to sentence Tymoshenko to seven years in prison. Rough country.
Tymoshenko is no saint either. She has a questionable history of embezzlement while leading one of Ukraine’s largest gas companies. In the 1990s, she was known as the “gas princess.” Tymoshenko’s trademark braids, à la Princess Leia, are not the only things she wants to be known for. Many of her advisors admit that Tymoshenko sees herself as the reincarnation of Eva Perón, international celebrity and former first lady of Argentina. Evita, as she was affectionately known, was also a megalomaniac.
Meanwhile in Crimea, Russia is currently sending troops to defend Yanukovych’s home region. Looks like we have a war approaching. Yet again, Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to relive his Soviet KGB glory days. Post-Soviet Russia has persistently had trouble letting go of its iron fist over Ukraine.
It was only 10 years ago that the Kremlin, the Russian government, was in a tizzy over the Orange Revolution, where Ukrainians overthrew the last Pro-Russian government. Déjà-vu.
The real issue is that Ukraine, much like the rest of Europe, is heavily reliant on Russian oil. If Ukraine wants to free itself from Russia, it needs to turn off the Russian oil taps. The U.S. is not the only place that energy independence is a hot-button issue. Europe is just as guilty. (Fortunately, hydro-fracking has a shot at making the U.S. energy independent, once again.)
Russia also likes its proxy wars. Deploying Russian troops in Crimea was Putin’s way of thumbing his nose at Western Europe. Pay attention to Crimea; Russia is looking to shake up the status quo.