Sparked by frustration with the social and economic conditions in Russia during the country's involvement in World War I, the Russian people rioted against Tsar Nicholas II. The Tsar's government collapsed in February 1917, and this "February Revolution" brought a new socialist economic system spearheaded by the Bolsheviks to what would become known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The USSR was initially led by Joseph Stalin, whose reign was marked by economic growth and strict regional policy. Stalin faced significant resistance particularly in Ukraine, which suffered greatly due to the forced collectivization of the new socialist system. Stalin was succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Gorbachev. The USSR weakened over time, falling finally after a coup in August 1991.
Following the dissolution of the USSR on December 25, 1991, the Russian Federation established itself as the region's largest successor state. Many former Soviet territories also established themselves as independent states, such as the Ukraine, yet the region remained heavily under the control of the new Russian government. Boris Yeltsin, elected President of Russia prior to the Soviet Union's dissolution, instituted reforms to replace the previous state-controlled economy with a market-controlled economy. The radical market changes of the Russian Federation resulted in a severe economic depression. Russia's economic situation did not improve until Yeltsin's resignation in 2000 and the election of Vladimir Putin.
The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was formed in the wake of the USSR's collapse in order to act as a forum with the numerous former Soviet republics. Russia attempted to continue influencing these states through methods such as economic pressure on the Ukraine. The CIS, however, accomplished little, and relations between Russia and the former Soviet republics continued to be strained.
Putin's presidency lasted until March 2, 2008, when he became Prime Minister and was succeeded in the presidency by Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev's presidency, however, was tumultuous. Medvedev faced military conflicts in Georgia, Chechnya and other separatist Russian states, and it was announced 2011 that Putin would run for president in the 2012 election, intending to appoint Medvedev to the Prime Minister seat. Despite public resistance leading up to voting, Putin was elected to his second presidential term on March 4, 2012.
Ukraine is an independent nation in Eastern Europe and a former republic of the Soviet Union. In 1954, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the region remained under Ukrainian control. Ethnic Russians have continued to constitute the majority of Crimeans, despite the cartographical and political delineation.
The territorial transfer is said by commentators of history to have been a gift to mark the three-hundredth anniversary of Ukraine uniting with Russia. The Kremlin cited economic ties between the peninsula and Ukraine as another reason for the transfer, but at the time the region's major economic engine was tourism from throughout the USSR. The history commentators suggest that part of the real reason for the transfer was actually an act of reparation motivated by Khrushchev's affection for Ukraine and the Stalin-induced famine that had plagued the country two decades earlier.
Ukraine had nuclear weapons placed in its territory by the Kremlin during the Soviet era. In 1994, it agreed [PDF] to give these nuclear weapons to Russia as terms of the Budapest Memorandum in exchange for a covenant by the US, UK and Russia to keep the nation's current borders.
Ukraine was the Soviet Union's most populous republic aside from Russia. When more than 90% of Ukrainians voted for independence in 1991, it entailed the end of the USSR. In Crimea, the vote for independence was more than 50%. Considering the ethnic makeup of Crimea, this means some ethnic Russians voted for independence as well. The Soviet leader at the time, Mikhail Gorbachev, tried to join Russia, Ukraine, and other former Soviet republics in a more decentralized union. The new leaders of Russia and Ukraine, Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk, declined to join. The two leaders did join their nations to the Commonwealth of Independent States, which serves to promote trade and legal cooperation between the former Soviet republics.
Current Russian President Vladimir Putin actively supports former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted by pro-European protesters in February 2014. Yanukovych was elected president in 2010 and fled to Russia following his fall from power. During his reign, allies of Yanukovych took up leadership positions in Crimea while the Kremlin funded pro-Russian groups in the region. Once Yanukovych fell, these groups organized militia forces to defend Crimea from pro-European Ukraine. Yanukovych maintains he is still the president of Ukraine.
Russian laws allow the Russian military to deploy in foreign nations to protect ethnic Russians. On March 1, 2014, the Russian parliament granted President Putin authority to deploy Russian forces not only in Crimea but all of Ukraine. At the same time, thousands of unmarked Russian-speaking troops appeared all throughout Crimea and particularly around Ukrainian military installations. The Kremlin denies that the forces are Russian military and claims the troops are members of pro-Russian militias. Western commentators say the forces bare contemporary Russian military equipment and are too well-organized to be militia forces.
On March 6, 2014, a week after the pro-Russian forces commandeered government buildings, Crimea's parliament voted to join Russia and set a referendum for the approval of Crimeans. The referendum was held ten days later on March 16. The result was a 97% vote in favor of joining Russia. The West refuses to recognize the referendum and has deemed it illegitimate. Russia formally annexed Crimea on March 18, 2014.
The 2008 Russian invasion of another former Soviet republic, Georgia, bares similarities to the 2014 Russian involvement in Crimea. Like with Crimea, the Kremlin asserted that it had an interest in protecting ethnic Russians. Military conflict ensued after Russian forces entered Georgia. The result was and continues to be de facto Russian control of the pro-Russian autonomous Georgia regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This roughly amounted to a 20% territorial loss for Georgia.
The Ukrainian Crisis
The Ukrainian government under President Viktor Yanukovych announced on November 21, 2013, that it had suspended preparation for a trade deal with the European Union. The decision purportedly came about as a result of intense pressure from the Russian Federation to reject the deal and establish a stronger bond with Russia. The suspension of talks with the EU proved unpopular with many Ukrainians, and by December 1, 2013, 300,000 protestors had gathered in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev despite a court order prohibiting protests. By late January 2014, after Yanukovich signed a controversial anti-protest bill on January 18, the protests turned violent and clashes with armed riot police led to several deaths and over 200 injuries to protestors in Kiev's "Independence Square." In an effort to quell the violence, Yanukovych offered concessions to the protestors: the president promised to change some of his cabinet members; he offered amnesty for some imprisoned protestors; and he proposed to reform the controversial anti-protest legislation.
One of Yanukovych's promised concessions came through on January 28, 2014, when the Ukrainian Parliament repealed the anti-protest legislation. The Parliament carried through on another promised concession on January 30, 2014, when it passed a law that offered conditional amnesty to arrested protestors. Yet, on February 20, following the killing of 42 unarmed protestors in Kiev two days earlier, the Parliament voted the Ukrainian president out of office after he refused to resign. The ousted Yanukovych became the target of an arrest warrant issued by the Ukrainian government on February 24 for his role in the mass-killings of protestors, but Yanukovych escaped the reach of Ukrainian authorities and issued a statement on February 27 that he was still the Ukrainian president. The following day, reports from Crimea suggested that Russian troops had taken possession of regional airports.
The Invasion of Crimea and Its Secession from Ukraine
Though it remained in dispute whether it was actually Russian troops that took possession of Crimean airports and had surrounded Ukraninan military bases in the region. On March 1, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin received approval from Russian Parliament to invade Ukraine, tt became clear over the next several days where the Crimean parliament and Russia believed the region's allegiances rested. On March 6, 2014, members of the Crimean parliament asked the Russian government to allow the region to become part of the Russian Federation. On March 11, 2014, Crimea's parliament voted to secede from Ukraine and announced its intention to declare itself an independent state in the event of a "yes" vote in a scheduled referendum. Residents of Crimea began voting in that referendum on March 16, and the majority cast their vote to secede from Ukraine and seek annexation by Russia. Putin and representatives of Crimea signed a treaty that incorporated Crimea into the Russian Federation on March 18, 2014. On March 19, the Ukrainian government announced that it would withdraw its forces from Crimea. The EU and the US have responded to Russia's actions in Crimea by imposing sanctions on members of the Russian government.
03/22/2014: Ukraine PM signed elements of EU trade pact.
03/21/2014: Russia finalized annexation of Crimea.
03/18/2014: Putin signed treaty incorporating Crimea into Russia.
03/17/2014: Crimea Parliament declared independence following refenderum.
03/13/2014: EU Parliament demanded immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops from Crimea.
03/11/2014: Crimea Parliament voted to become independent state via referendum.
03/06/2014: Crimea Parliament set referendum to become part of Russian Federation.
03/01/2014: Obama condemned Russian military intervention in Ukraine as a violation of international law.
02/26/2014: Ukraine interim government requested international arrest warrant for Yankuvych.
02/25/2014: Ukraine parliament voted to send ousted president before ICC.
02/24/2014: Ukraine issued arrest warrant for ousted president.
02/22/2014: Ukraine opposition leader released from jail.
02/03/2014: Ukraine opposition called for constitutional changes.