Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the Ukrainian Prime Minister recently said in a news conference in Kiev “Why did Putin send his army to Ukraine? What was his aim? Protecting the Russian language? But all of Ukraine speaks Russian, we don’t need protection. Protecting Donetsk and Luhansk? From whom? Five thousand people killed – this is what Russia’s responsible for,” he said.
The official count by the UN is 4707 dead since the Ukrainian revolution turned violent at the end of February 2014. Police and protesters who were demanding their country to foster closer relations with the European Union clashed on the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev. At least 79 people were killed in the five days the street battles lasted. On February 21, President Viktor Yanukovych fled, through Crimea and into Russia, where he still remains. The Maidan protests were the beginning of the worst year for Ukraine since the ‘War’, what Ukrainians call World War II. Russia annexed Crimea in March. In his New Year’s speech Vladimir Putin has hailed his country’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsula as an achievement that will “forever remain a landmark in the national history”.
Following the annexation, in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv government buildings were seized by Pro-Russian separatists and unrecognised status referendums were held. Meanwhile the war raged in the east between the pro-Europe government and pro-Russian militias until a cease-fire was agreed in September. The US and the European Union agreed in sanctions against Russia in condemnation of its role in sending troops and tanks to support the rebels.
Nearly half a million Ukrainians have fled the country since April. More than 387,000 went to Russia, and among them most were Russian speakers from the east. This is evidence of the distrust in Eastern Ukraine for Kiev and the West and the implicit support Russia and the separatists. Kiev’s policies do not help either. Last month the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, decided to freeze government pensions and cut off funding for schools and hospitals in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Currently the resilience of the truce suggests that Kiev and Moscow are progressing into a forced co-existence. With the Russian economy significantly weakened by the sanctions it looks as if the civil war in Ukraine will probably turn into a “frozen conflict,” similar to the ones at play in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kosovo, Cyprus or Israel. With the option of a full European membership essentially elusive for Ukraine it looks like their best bet for economic viability is an association agreement similar to Turkey’s. However they would still have to re-build the bridges with Russia. A probable and pragmatic reality would involve a parallel trading relationship with both Europe and Russia.