The predominant news lately has been developments in the Middle East with ISIS and new cases of Ebola in America. And rightly so—both are serious, pressing issues that affect us. Yet only six months ago, problems in Ukraine were the ones making the headlines. With the onset of ISIS and Ebola, concerns about Ukraine and its influence on us went away, but its problems did not. Six months after the Western world turned their attentions to something else, Ukraine is just as bad as it was when it was on the front page of our newspapers, with many new developments that have not improved its situation.
In early September, a ceasefire was called between the government and the separatists. However, while the ceasefire did decrease the number of casualties, it was not entirely effective. One month after it was agreed upon, 331 people had died because of violence from both sides. Most of the civilian deaths were caused by attacks on residential areas, which of course is against the Geneva Convention. Three weeks after reports of the ceasefire casualties, Human Rights Watch issued a statement that cluster bombs seemed to be being used in the fight in Ukraine and were causing injuries and deaths among civilians. Cluster bombs are indiscriminate, each holding many smaller bombs inside it which explode on contact, and are therefore also against the Geneva Convention.
The fighting affected the Ukrainian government as well. On October 12, Ukrainian defense minister Valery Heletey resigned his post two months after a devastating fight resulted in the deaths of over 100 Ukrainian troops and volunteers, with many more taken prisoner. Russian soldiers fighting in support of the separatists fought against Ukraine’s military in Donetsk, the main separatist-held city. Russia did not acknowledge the deaths of the Russian soldiers that came from the fight. Heletey was Ukraine’s third defense minister since Ukraine’s previous president, Viktor Yanukovich, was forced from the country in February. Two days after Heletey’s resignation, fighting broke out again.
In Kiev nationalist protesters became violent, attacking the police with rocks, sticks, chains, and smoke grenades. The protest began after Ukrainian parliament did not pass a legislation that would have given honors to a WWII group that occasionally aided the Nazis. 17 of the police officers were injured, two seriously. 37 of the more violent protesters were arrested. The fight did not accomplish anything tangible, but it did underline the schism between much of the people and their government. Vladimir Putin blamed it on the “estrangement of the Ukrainian and Russian peoples,” which may reflect an opinion of his that became public one week later.
In mid-October, Poland’s parliamentary speaker and former foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski told the American press that Putin had suggested a geographical change in Ukraine to the Polish government. According to Sikorski, Poland’s then-Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, visited Moscow to meet with Putin in 2008. While in Moscow, Putin told Tusk that Ukraine was an “artificial country,” historically divided between Poland and Russia, and that the two countries could split Ukraine between them, each taking back the areas they used to have. Naturally Poland’s Foreign Ministry declined to say anything on the situation except that they would never take part in dividing a country, and, naturally, Russian officials did not comment. But if Putin did suggest such an action, it makes Russian intentions in Ukraine abundantly clear.
All of these events came to a head in Ukraine’s parliamentary election last week. Prior to the election, many people were worried that violence would interrupt the vote or sway people’s decisions, especially in the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, where the fighting has been most prevalent. Thankfully on the day itself there was no particular increase in violence. The election was the most pro-European in Ukraine’s history, but it did not solve the country’s problems. As a result of the pro-democratic election, separatists decided to hold their own elections in Donetsk and Luhansk, where the self-appointed leaders of the two rebel regions won easily, as was expected. Russia has declared that they will support the election. This has only deepened the rift between them and the West and means the sanctions against them, issued in March, will stay in place.
Ukraine’s situation is nowhere near being resolved, and until it is, America will be affected. As long as there is fighting, Russia and the West will be at odds, and Russia’s sanctions will remain. And as long as there are sanctions on Russia, our own economy will be affected. So while ISIS and Ebola are certainly important and demand our attention, we cannot let ourselves think that Ukraine can be set aside. If we stop watching them, heaven knows what they—or Russia—will do.
Media source: reddit.com