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. Since April 2014, pro-Russian separatists have battled Ukrainian forces in the east, where the death toll has reached three thousand. Although Ukraine and NATO have repeatedly accused Russia of supplying the separatists with personnel, arms, and expertise, Moscow denies its involvement. 

In September 2014, the Ukraine government and the separatists agreed to a cease-fire, but skirmishes continue to break out in Donetsk. The Ukrainian parliament passed laws that would grant greater autonomy to rebel-held parts of the east, as well as amnesty for many of the separatists—a major concession to both Moscow and the rebels.

The current crisis began after massive protests over government corruption, police violence, and unfavorable economic policies 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. Following a questionable referendum, Russia formally annexed Crimea despite widespread international condemnation. 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.

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. The United States and the EU introduced more sanctions against Russia in September, as they tightened restrictions on major Russian state banks and corporations and targeted the energy and arms sectors.

Although the most recent cease-fire has reduced violence in eastern Ukraine, the outcome of peace talks remains uncertain and sporadic fighting continues. 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.


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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