Ukraine’s Forgotten Battlefield

On Friday, May 5th after school, the Ukrainian ambassador to Singapore, Dmytro Senik, will be coming to SAS. This event is hosted by Students for Political Activism and its aim is to inform students on Ukraine’s role in Asia as well as issues inside Ukraine at the moment. This visit comes at a time after a Tumultuous year in the Ukraine, with an ongoing conflict in the eastern part of the country.

546 explosions occurred on October 18th in the Donetsk region in Eastern Ukraine and on October 13th, 14 explosions and 45 bursts of tracer rounds were recorded 20km from the city of Mariupol. These are the ceasefire violations that happen in Eastern Ukraine on a daily basis. Now whether these are coming from Russian-backed separatist or Ukrainian forces is an issue for another article, but what we want to talk about is how Ukraine got here and what leaders are trying to do to end this conflict.

Ukrainian riot police during the revolution - Creative Commons License
Ukrainian riot police during the revolution – Creative Commons License

One of the main reasons for this conflict is because Ukraine ousted their President, Viktor Yanukovych. He was ousted after Ukrainians, mainly around the western part of the country protested and rioted against Yanukovych. Now the catalyst that caused rioting and protest was Yanukovych backing out on an agreement that would have brought closer ties between Ukraine and the EU, he instead sought closer ties with Russia.  On the night of Yanukovych backing out of the agreement, people started protesting in Independence Square. On the same night, Ukrainian riot police, also known as the Burkut, violently cracked down on the protesters. The protesters, now turning into rioters built makeshift barricades and fought back against the Burkut. Three months and 106 deaths later, Yanukovich left Ukraine and is now exiled in Russia. Oleksandr Turchynov then took over as the acting president until  25th of may 2014, when Petro Poroshenko was elected as the president of Ukraine.

Russian troops also known as "Little Green Men" in Crimea - Creative Commons License
Russian troops also known as “Little Green Men” in Crimea – Creative Commons License

In the unrest, what is now admitted to be Russian forces moved into the southeast region of Ukraine known as Crimea on the 27 of February 2014. Russian forces took control of administrative buildings and Ukrainian military bases and on the 16th of March, a referendum was held which asked if Crimea should be a part of Russia or Ukraine. The result was 96% of voters, voting to join Russia as a federal subject. Many international groups such as the United Nations and NATO sees this referendum as illegal citing that according to the Ukrainian constitution it would be deemed illegal.

In the Donbas region of Ukraine, two breakaway states have formed, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Firstly the DPR, they proclaimed their independence on the 7th of April 2014 and is one of the main forces that is fighting against the Ukrainian government. The DPR has received both military as well as humanitarian aid from Russia and has control of 8,436 square kilometers. The DPR has been accused of multiple human rights violations such as but not limited to, summary executions, sexual violence, and forced labor. Secondly the LPR, which alongside the DPR are considered “temporarily occupied territories” as well as terrorist groups by the Ukrainian government. They control about 8,597 square kilometers and border the Russian Federation. The LPR have also been accused of human rights violations such as (but not limited to) lawlessness, abduction, targeting killings and torture. In terms of military, there are many militias and armed volunteer groups that have united under the name “the United Armed Forces of Novorossiya.”  In June of 2015, the Armed Forces of Novorossiya had around 40,000 to 45,000 personnel. They get their military hardware from seized Ukrainian military supplies, Ukrainian military personnel who have defected, and from the Russian Federation.

Russian separatist in Eastern Ukraine - Creative Common License
Russian separatist in Eastern Ukraine – Creative Common License

The question of Russian involvement in Ukraine is a contentious one, but here are the facts:  In regards to Crimea, Russian officials admitted to the presence of Russian troops and Putin himself has acknowledged that the Russian military was backing Crimean Separatist stating that it was “To ensure proper conditions for the people of Crimea to be able to freely express their will.” In regards to fighting in Donbas, NATO has accused Russia of deploying troops in Ukraine, although the Russian Government denies any direct action in the conflict and states that the Russian soldiers in Ukraine are voluntary and are not in Ukraine by direct order. Russia has also been accused of sending weapons into Ukraine such as small arms, fixed & mobile artillery, tanks, and anti-air systems. Russia has also been accused of sending the BUK missile system to rebels who were suspects in the shooting down of MH17.

So what have the leaders of the world tried to do to end this conflict? Firstly, the Minsk Protocol attempted to end the conflict in the Donbas region. The protocol aimed to enact actions such as a ceasefire, the monitoring of the Russia-Ukraine border and the withdrawal of illegal armed groups. But by January 2015 the protocol completely collapsed, as stated before, there are ceasefire violations every day, coming from both sides and no one can do anything about it.

So how can the latest United States election affect the conflict in Ukraine? Previously, the United States have taken a hostile stance towards Russia with almost no discussion with the Russian government. Multiple rounds of sanctions have been put on Russia by the United States and many other nations, these sanctions — although trying to stop Russian funding of the conflict in Ukraine — have instead created harsh anti-western sentiment inside Russia, adding fuel to the fire in Russia and Ukraine. But with Donald Trump winning the election, what can we expect from the United States and Russia? Following the victory, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he hopes, “to work together for removing Russian-American relations from their crisis state.”  The last few months, however, have seen increasingly strained discourse between the two world leaders, so there is much doubt as to whether or not we can expect bilateral talks (two-sided talks) between the two nations which can hopefully lead to a longer-lasting ceasefire and hopefully an end to the war in Eastern Ukraine.

If the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is of interest to you, please join us next week as we welcome Ambassador Senik to discuss the ramifications and consider solutions to this modern stalemate in Eastern Europe.

Author: Kai Suherwan

Kai Suherwan is a Junior and his second year writing for The Eye. He is seen as the Republican/Conservative writer in The Eye and has been at SAS since 7th grade. He is heavily involved in Republican politics, enjoys discussing current events and hopes to work in the field foreign affairs one day. He can be contacted at: Suherwan45031@sas.edu.sg

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