Violence in Eastern Ukraine

Violence in Eastern Ukraine

An intensification of fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed militia forces and Ukrainian security forces, with potential overt Russian military intervention


Political instability that overtook in Ukraine in 2013 has escalated into a major international crisis pitting the United States and the European Union (EU) against Russia. Since April 2014, Russian-backed separatist forces have battled the Ukrainian military in the east, where the death toll is over six thousand. Although Moscow denies its involvement, Ukraine and NATO have reported the build up of Russian troops and military equipment near Donetsk.

The current crisis began after massive protests over government corruption, police violence, and unfavorable economic policies brought a violent crackdown by state security forces in early 2014. In March, Russian troops took control of the Crimean region, citing the need to protect Russian citizens. In May, pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine held a referendum that prompted the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk to declare independence from Ukraine.

The United States and European Union have imposed broad economic sanctions against Russia in an effort to dissuade further assistance to Ukrainian rebels, tightening restrictions on major Russian state banks and corporations and targeting the energy and arms sectors. While these punitive measures, combined with falling oil prices, have hurt Russia’s economy significantly, continued fighting in eastern Ukraine undermines efforts to produce a lasting cease-fire agreement.

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

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