Political Unrest in Ukraine

Political Unrest in Ukraine

Escalating political unrest in Ukraine results in civil violence

Months of political instability in Ukraine have escalated into a major international crisis pitting the United States and the European Union (EU) against Russia. The risk of military conflict involving Ukrainian and Russian forces is now very real.

After massive protests over government corruption, police violence, and unfavorable economic policies that brought a violent crackdown by state security forces, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in February 2014. In early March, Russian troops took control of the Crimean region, citing the need to protect Russian citizens, and following a questionable referendum Russia formally annexed Crimea despite widespread international condemnation. After the takeover of police stations and government buildings across eastern Ukraine by alleged pro-Russian separatists, the Ukrainian military launched an offensive to restore government control. Although an agreement was reached in mid-April that called for the disarming of separatist groups and amnesty for all protestors, the violence has not abated.

In early May, pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine held a referendum that prompted the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk to declare independence from Ukraine. Though these regions have not joined Russia, separatists there are still clashing with Ukrainian government forces. Violence continues across eastern Ukraine as the military attempts to reassert control and protect the country’s territorial integrity, while Russian troops remain amassed along the border. After his election in late May, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko attempted to negotiate a peace settlement during a declared ceasefire, but renewed his offensive on separatists in eastern Ukraine following failure to produce a deal.

Following the downing of a commercial Malaysian Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in mid-July, which U.S. and European officials attribute to Ukrainian separatists using Russia-supplied ground-to-air missiles, the United States and European Union increased economic sanctions against Russia in an effort to dissuade further assistance to Ukrainian rebels.

Much is at stake in the current crisis, not least the risk of major violence in Ukraine and a fundamental deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations that undermines cooperation on many important issues from strategic arms control to Iran and Syria.


Please note that this contingency was not identified in the 2014 Preventive Priorities Survey, completed in November 2013. It has been added to highlight a crisis that has emerged since the publication of the survey results. 

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