Ukraine has been featured a great deal on the world media recently and is at the center of what is being seen as the chief crisis between Russia and the West. Here are essential things to know about Ukraine.
A country with a size similar to France, Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, which borders seven countries – Russia to the east, Belarus to the north, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia to the west and Moldova and Romania to the southwest.
The population of Ukraine is over 46 million. In 1991, Ukraine gained independence after the fall of the USSR, but there is still a particular leasing settlement that allows the Ukranian city of Sevastopol to house the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Ukraine’s recent political catastrophe began on November 21 last year after the opposition of Ukraine removed President Viktor Yanukovych’s government. Viktor Yanukovych declined a contract of free trade with the EU, which many expected would lead to financial benefits, wanting alternatively to connect his country’s prospect with Moscow.
Then, incited by rival Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who had been imprisoned earlier, thousands of people crowded on Independence Square in Kiev to protest. Yanukovych had opposed European Union demands to release Yulia Tymoshenko. Russian president Vladimir Putin was not pleased and his country, which purchases more than half of Ukraine’s exports, made threats to close borders and channels if Yanukovych agreed with the European Union.
Ukraine has wide-ranging and rich agricultural plains and many large and heavy industries in the east. However, its economy has struggled since the USSR collapsed. Its dependency on the export of steel makes it susceptible to international financial crisis. Ukraine took a multibillion-dollar credit from the IMF in 2008, but the next loan agreed to for 2010 was frozen.
Geographically, Ukraine’s location is very important in Europe. Around 25% of Europe’s total gas needs is supplied by Russia, with half of that being driven along pipelines running through Ukraine.
Also, the tourism industry plays a significant role in Ukraine’s economy. The country holds the eighth place in the world by the number of tourists visiting, according to the World Tourism Organization rankings.
The Autonomous Republic of Crimea is in the southeastern region of Ukraine. Since 1783, Russia has centered its Black Sea fleet at the Ukrainian port city of Sevastopol. In 2009, the pro-Western President Viktor Yuschenko determined that the fleet would have to depart the port by 2017, but in 2010, the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych decided to extend the lease to 2042.
Crimea became part of Ukraine when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine in 1954. Almost 60% of its two million population identifies as Russian. When Yanukovych was thrown out on February 21, there were demands for Crimea to become independent from the rest of the country.
Now an interim government is in control. Russian forces are capturing Crimea and have been in a stalemate with the Ukrainian military. Russia said that its troops are in Ukraine to shield its interests as well as those of the Russian-speakers of Crimea. The parliament of Crimea voted to make Crimea a part of Russia, a decision that will be settled in a referendum scheduled for March 16.
This is perhaps the most significant issue about which the world is worried. The truth is that Ukraine is the rope in a global tug-of-war between the West and Russia. However, the majority of Ukrainians want the government to link itself with the EU and the Western world. On the other hand, as most of the European countries depend on natural gas supplied through Ukrainian pipelines, Putin could hold that supply.
The leaders of the Western countries are trying to put pressure on Putin through sanctions. Ukraine’s troops are on combat alert. If any armed conflict occurs, Ukraine’s forces are in no way a match for Russia’s. It has about 130,000 forces compared with about 850,000 in Russia, while in Crimea it has about 3500 forces compared with the more than 20,000 Russian forces in the region.
By Rahad Abir