The largely pro-Western Ukrainian Parliament voted 303-8 to overturn a previous non-alignment policy on Tuesday, inflaming tensions in an already heated atmosphere between Kiev and Moscow. The move was generally understood to reflect displeasure towards Russia with the ongoing situation in the eastern region of the country, where pro-Russian separatists have controlled swaths of the country since the February ouster of former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, who had lost nearly all support by stating vocal opposition to the country developing ties with the European Union. While Russia has repeatedly denied allegations of fomenting unrest in Eastern Ukraine, several top officials have made statements expressing that they would view any move to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as intentionally provocative.
NATO is an organization which administers a mutual defense treaty first signed in 1949, which has since accepted the membership of several nations who were former members of the Warsaw Pact, the post World War 2 Soviet alliance. Since its inception, the only invocation of NATO Article 5, that which requires member states to aid a state which has come under armed attack, happened after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. At that time, the United States called on allies to commit troops to their military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia has considered the growing number of its former allies joining NATO to be a display of hostility.
In response to the developments in Ukraine, Russia has released a new military doctrine that characterizes the country’s westward political movement as a key threat. Russia has said this week that the vote taken by Ukraine’s parliament threatens to turn the country into a “frontline of confrontation.” This is largely in response to NATO heads claiming that they have definitive evidence of Russia’s involvement in supporting Ukraine’s eastern separatists.
Tensions between the countries have been higher than normal since the removal of Yanokovych; immediately afterwords, Russia moved to claim the Crimean Peninsula rather than face its sole warm water naval base at Sevastopol being in less supportive hands under Ukraine’s new leader, President Petro Poroshenko. Also in the mix is a multi-billion dollar deal wherein Russia would continue to provide the fractured and impoverished country with energy for heating homes this winter on credit. Ukraine hosts infrastructural equipment to help ship oil and gas, some of Russia’s highest grossing exports, through the country and on to Central Europe.
The latest in developments placing strain on the delicate situation in Eastern Europe came Friday, Dec. 26, when officials in Belarus reported that the peace talks occurring in Minsk between the Ukrainian government and separatist rebels had abruptly been cancelled. Talks that day had aimed to reach agreement on removing heavy weapons from the countries’ Eastern regions and end the economic blockade of rebel-held areas. Also, the same day, the Russian news agency TASS reported that Ukraine had cut off electricity to Crimea for the second time in the same week Thursday. They continued to report rolling blackouts across the peninsula which holds a population of 2.2 million, although they added that the interruptions “have not affected power supplies to vital facilities in Crimea” in a likely reference to the Russian naval base.
By Brian Whittemore