Revolution of DignityIn November 2013, student protests in Ukraine turned into a full-fledged revolution against government corruption that has since been dubbed the Revolution of Dignity. Now, with a new government in place, the country is attempting to align itself with its European neighbors and become a stable democracy. With multiple roadblocks in the way, such as the annexation of Crimea by Russia, Ukraine will need to rely on its allies in order to achieve its goals.  

How the Revolution of Dignity Began

Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity started out as a series of student protests to pressure the prime minister to sign an association agreement with the European Union. However, as the protests raged on, they became a catalyst for the rest of the country to express its discontent with larger issues with the government like the regime’s power grabs and rampant corruption.  

Despite these issues, protests only became a revolution when violence broke out between the government and protesters on Nov. 29, 2013. After this point, the goal became to overthrow the government and establish a more democratic state, one free of corruption and acting in the people’s best interests. In 2014, the people in overthrowing the government, reinstating the previous constitution and holding new elections in May.

While the revolution was successful, it was not without consequence. The destabilization in the country helped lead to the annexation of the southeastern Crimea region by the Russian Federation. On top of that, while the previous regime was friendly to the Russian government, the new one looked for a more independent governance supported by the E.U. and other western allies. With tough challenges ahead, Ukraine needed to look to allies for help.

What Allies Are Doing to Help

Since the protests initially started to pressure the Ukrainian president to sign an agreement with the E.U., it comes as no surprise that the E.U. is a key ally in helping Ukraine handle its political turmoil. One of the first things the newly elected government did was pass the Ukraine-European Union Associated Agreement and join the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. These moves strengthen the nation’s economic, political and cultural ties with Europe through mutually beneficial relationships.  

While the U.S. is not as geographically close to Ukraine as the E.U., it has a vested interest in keeping the region stable and independent. Currently, over $204 million is planned in foreign aid for Ukraine. Among this, 33 percent is for peace and security, 32 percent goes toward human rights, democracy and governance, 29 percent is for economic development, and six percent goes toward health. With this aid, the U.S. hopes to keep Ukraine free of Russian influence and welcome them into the western world.

Through USAID, foreign aid is being used to help out local communities of Ukrainians.  In 2017, the organization helped 50 communities effectively manage resources and become sustainable without the central government. This not only fights corruption but also helps improve the everyday lives of Ukrainians who face instability in the face of recent changes.   

Continuing Progress in Ukraine

The aftermath of the Revolution of Dignity and the struggle with Russia has left many Ukrainians in a state of upheaval. With an uncertain future and violence a real possibility, it is key that allies help the country through this traumatic point in its history. The humanitarian impact of political uncertainty is often understated in the media, but it is real. While there are larger political reasons for Ukraine’s allies to help it, the aid these allies give to the Ukrainian people has an impact on the ground that can help save many lives.

– Jonathon Ayers
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Ukraine
Water in Ukraine is scarce and highly contaminated. The country’s water system is degradable and the tap water should not be consumed by anyone in the southern region of the country.

Overall, water quality in Ukraine has drastically deteriorated in the last decade. Water resources in the country are unevenly distributed and have resulted in high costs for water security. Ukraine’s availability of water has decreased while water contamination has increased due to trace metals and emerging pollutants.

Despite Efforts, Treatment Systems are Imperfect

The water treatment methods for drinking water can only provide partially safe drinking water. The country is concerned that large amounts of chlorine in water treatment processes cause the formation of mutagenic and carcinogenic chlorine organics. These organics have a negative impact on drinking water security and neurogenic health effects. The Ukraine government has recently developed and implemented a national and regulatory framework for strict sanitary measures. Such measures include a law on drinking water standards and increased public awareness on the changing culture of water use in the country.

Water quality in Ukraine is affected by the lack of pipe systems in the southern region of Ukraine and the Crimea. The poor state of water pipelines are a major concern for the country and has led to wasted drinking water and a reduced quality of tap water.

The pressures on water resources in Ukraine are extensive. Eight out of ten southern oblasts, as well as the entire Crimean Republic, do not receive enough water. Poorly treated wastewater is discharged in 136 cities and towns in over 50 urban villages each day. More than 1,000 communities have had to be supplied with delivered water.

Water quality in Ukraine can improve by minimizing contamination of surface and underground water sources. Through improving water treatment, renewing water and sewage pipelines, and funding to implement the country’s draft program that was proposed in 1995,  improvements to water quality in the Ukraine look hopeful.

Rochelle R. Dean

Photo: Flickr

STAND for Ukraine
Back in 1991, the Ukrainian Parliament declared independence from the U.S.S.R. A level of tension has existed between Russia and Ukraine fueling a variety of conflicts in time since.

February 2014 marks one of the most violent months in the past 70 years, with 88 killed in Kiev during a protest. The next month President Obama urged Russia to withdraw, making the conflict truly a global affair after Crimea annexed to Russia.

Fast-forward to April of this year and the STAND for Ukraine Act is introduced to deter Russian aggression and help Ukraine transition into a more democratic government process. STAND, is an acronym meaning Stability and Democracy for Ukraine Act and is sponsored by Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY. STAND for Ukraine has now become law and now the United States is providing Ukraine with weapons to deter continued interference from Russia.

While Ukraine has activists on both sides at this point, the country is actively moving toward self-betterment and real independence. The goal now is to empower Ukraine into choosing its future that benefits the people living there instead of what benefits Russia.

Since 2014, Ukraine has made economic progress despite the circumstances, with the country’s GDP expected to grow 1.5 percent this year. Aid in the form of $25 billion has fueled what Natalie Jaresko, a Ukrainian investment banker, has called Ukraine’s “longest and most successful reform process.”

While many factors such as vested interests and populism present obstacles to progress, more donors are willing to back Ukraine and ensure a fair election process and optimized wellbeing. Current issues needing support include modernizing educational facilities and hospitals, upgrading technology used by governmental organizations, as well as general updating of all urban infrastructure.

As recently as 2009, Ukraine’s multitude of political and foreign policy issues also led to a sharp 15 percent decline in Ukraine’s GDP. This economic comeback is truly a triumph of foreign aid and STAND for Ukraine as well as those that supported its plan to assist Ukraine’s path further out of semi-periphery.

Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr

poverty_in_russiaEarlier this month, the International Business Times reported “critical” levels of poverty in Russia.

This can come as a surprise to a lot of people, mainly due to the fact that Russia is a part of the Group of 8, an elite group that compromises the eight most advanced economies in the world. Russia has an annual GDP of $2.3 trillion and unemployment hovers around 5.6 percent. These statistics do not paint a picture of poverty.

Given these circumstances, the use of the term “critical” to describe the poverty in Russia is baffling. The impetus to how Russia got here is woven into their annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea, and the subsequent reaction by the European Union and the United States.

On March 14 of last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country would be annexing Crimea, citing the historical ties the peninsula has with Russia. Although Russia claims the Crimean citizens conducted a referendum to secede from Ukraine, NATO says it was illegal and “doesn’t count.” Samantha Powers, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, equated the annexation to “theft.”

In response, the European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Russia’s finance, arms and energy sectors.

The sanctions, enacted last September, prevent Russia’s state banks from financing long-term loans in the European Union. Exporting military equipment and oil technology to Russia is also banned.

In addition, the Russian elite, many of whom control the businesses that have been impacted the hardest by the sanctions, have been subject to asset freezes and travel restrictions.

A year later, the sanctions have rippled through the Russian and European Union economies. Russian citizens living in poverty number around 22.9 million, roughly 3 million more than last year; this comprises 15 percent of the country. Although unemployment has remained stable, the inflation rate has soared and the value of the ruble, Russia’s currency, has plummeted along with wages.

In addition, the stark drop in oil prices, one of Russia’s main exports, has exacerbated the effects of the sanctions.

The Russian economy is expected to shrink three percent in 2015.

The leaders of NATO and the UN believe that this sends Russia a strong message that its annexation of Crimea, and support of pro-separatist forces in Ukraine, is unacceptable. However, the sanctions have affected more than Russia.

According to research by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research, the European Union economy will be adversely influenced by the sanctions. The report found that 2.5 million jobs will be cut, which would drain nearly 30 million euros from the economy.

Europe depends on Russia for 30 percent of its oil and gas supply. This has been problematic because the sanctions specifically targeted Russian oil and gas companies.

While the sanctions have slowed the Russian economy and isolated the country diplomatically, the residual, mostly negative, effects on some of the countries that imposed them have been counterintuitive.

NATO’s response to the Crimean annexation highlights how interconnected global markets are. Although many world leaders denounce Russia’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine as unacceptable, their response could affect the economic security of millions who have nothing to do with the situation but are living in poverty in Russia.

Kevin Meyers

Sources: BBC, Heritage, IB Times, Huffington Post 1, Huffington Post 2, Huffington Post 3
Photo: IB Times

Around 230,000 people have fled their homes due to the conflict in Ukraine between the Kiev government forces and self-defense forces.

As of July 18, around 100,000 have left the conflict-ridden area for other parts of Ukraine while nearly 130,000 have crossed the border into Russia.

The destinations of Ukrainians displaced by the conflict are camps in other parts of Ukraine or in southern Russia. Some have registered as refugees, while many are staying in Russia without visas after Moscow announced Ukrainians could stay for 180 days. Many Ukrainians have not applied for refugee status because they are afraid of punishment if they return to their homeland of Ukraine.

UNHCR spokesman Dan McNorton stated that there are many reasons for people leaving their homes, with the fear of being caught in the crossfire as a main reason.

The number of people escaping the fighting to other areas of Ukraine has nearly doubled since the end of June. That number includes 12,000 Muslim Tatars from Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in March.

The number of people escaping the conflict in Ukraine and crossing the border to Russia has increased exponentially since the spring.

Thousands of Ukrainians cross the border into Russia everyday. Since the beginning of the military operation, about 517,000 refugees have come to Russia from southeast Ukraine.

More than 28,000 refugees from Ukraine have applied to the Russian Employment Office and almost 2,000 have been employed. Among the refugees, the largest number that have applied for jobs are education and health care specialists, blue-collar workers, construction workers, sales people and drivers.

Almost 30,000 Ukrainian refugees have applied for Russian citizenship.

Russian schools are preparing for enrollment of Ukrainian children who fled their homeland.

The legal procedures for Ukrainian refugees applying to receive Russian citizenship have also been sped up.

Young mother Natasha left home amid the conflict in Ukraine when her town of Krasnogorivka became the forefront in the battle between Russia and Ukraine. She said everyone who had the resources had to leave the town immediately. Natasha and her family are now in the refugee camp in the Russian city of Blagodatny.

“We left everything and fled in a hurry as they were bombarding the town,” she said.

In only three months, the eastern Ukraine conflict has taken more than 1,000 lives.

– Colleen Moore

Sources: NDTV, Ria Novosti, ABC News
Photo: Trans Conflict

The Russian Federation’s President, Vladimir Putin, has made a nasty habit of irritating the Western world. When he is not riding through the Siberian wilderness, shirtless and on horseback, Putin has found the time to annex land from a sovereign state, harbor an American whistle-blower and effectively silence most of his opposition.

Surprisingly, the invasion of Ukraine has been largely popular among Russians; recent polling suggests that 71 percent of Russians believe in aiding fellow Russians living in the Crimea. In fact, Putin has seen his approval rating grow to 86 percent—only two percent lower than at its peak in 2008.

Why do the Russian people favor a president with so little regard for human rights? The answer lies within the history of Russia’s economy, and that in the choice between poverty and tyranny, the latter is the lesser of two evils.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian economy was all but devastated. In an attempt to adjust to capitalism, the government enacted a series of mass privatizations via vouchers divided among the population. However, in a country where at the time a pair of stockings from Finland could afford a weekend of luxury in Moscow, a voucher meant much less to the average citizen than the small price it could fetch in criminal or ex-Soviet elite circles. It was during this period that many of Russia’s current oligarchs gained their vast wealth in buying up vouchers well below their value.

In this time of great despair, President Boris Yeltsin allowed the economy to run wild as he amassed his own fortune. So when then-unknown Putin took power on New Years Eve in 1999 without warning, the impoverished Russian people had little to lose.

Since taking office, Putin has brought some amount of economic stability to the country, confronted oligarchs, and reignited patriotism with the Sochi Olympics and Security Council vetoes of resolutions on Syria. Members of the older generation are quick to remind the youth that even in lieu of democracy, at least there is bread on the table. The $50 billion price tag for the Olympics and the annexation of Crimea inspire new waves of pride among Russians who hope to see Russia reclaim its status as a serious rival to the West.

Regardless of whether Putin’s reputation as a bold enough leader to challenge to West will sustain his popularity, his iron rule has far from solved Russia’s economic woes. With ever-increasing inflation and investors taking their business elsewhere, perhaps it is time for Russians to expect more from their government.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: Diplomatic Courier, NPR, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Bloomberg, The New York Times
Photo: Business Insider

Now that Crimea is officially a part of the Russian Federation, nations, especially those with borders near Russia, need to focus on the newly created border of Crimea and Ukraine. Unrest, illegal markets, and more training exercises or amassing of troops need to be watched carefully. Ukraine may not have a full army or the ability to support one, but that will not stop small guerilla groups or militias who are still sore about the event from causing trouble for innocents.

In regards to Russia and Putin, the American Intel and other nations must not simply believe that the buck stops here. Ambition is hard to kill. With Crimea obtained rather easily Putin may take this as a building block to strike at more countries and “reclaim” more territories. So be prepared and keep watch for the borders of all nations surrounding Ukraine and Russia which include Finland, Belarus, which already has armed Russian forces in it, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and nations in Central Asia.

Recently, Russia has been removed from G8 due to its activity and if this international shunning continues to take place, expect to see Russia become more aggressive and yet somehow isolationist in its foreign policies. The separation from trade will hurt the economy and force internal production, which may force the nation to close off and take on a North Korean attitude against the world, only emerging to take more nations. This is an extreme and slim probability, but one that should not be ignored.

So things such as decreased foreign trade, further removal from international organizations, increased domestic production and random or sudden contact with smaller nations not normally contacted should be things to have a close eye on. Besides these warning signs, something else to watch for is how well the integration process with Crimea and Russia itself goes.

The intelligence community, and maybe even the UN itself, will need to see how peaceful the process will be, examine the social and economic aspects and also watch for dissidents in either territory. The policy Russia implements and puts to action for the integration of Crimea must be reviewed to see if it will be fair for both parties and if it is equal and democratic.

-Matthew Price

Sources: NightWatch, National Post

Russia invaded Crimea a mere couple of weeks after the appointment of Ukraine’s new acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov. In response, Ukraine has threatened to mobilize troops which many believe will spark a revolution and civil war. A referendum is to be held this weekend in Crimea that will vote upon whether it should join Russia or stay with Ukraine.

Both sides of the crisis in Crimea view each other in a very negative light and there is a lot of difference of opinion on the matter. Crimea was passed from the Soviet Union to Ukraine in 1954 and the population living there was then and is now mostly Russian with a few minorities, like the ethnic Tatar, but much of the population would prefer to not be a part of Ukraine.

Russia partially wants Crimea because of its strategic position on the Black Sea where Soviet naval fleets were stationed, and also wants it because in the agreement that gave Russia access to facilities in Crimea, Russia was prohibited to own any territory. The Russian media is portraying Ukraine as neo-Nazis who have reportedly held non-peaceful protests, but at the same time, the Ukrainian media is accusing Putin of being a neo-Nazi as well because he is annexing Crimea.

The reason why either of these countries actually even wants Crimea is questionable in that there are significant shortcomings for both. Crimea has a majority of ethnic Russians who want their independence from Ukraine and want to be able to join their homeland again. There are many downsides to Russia continuing in its annexation of Crimea because if it remained Ukrainian, those in support of Putin would vote for pro-Russians candidates and/or parties in Ukraine’s elections. Also, Russia will have to invest a fair amount of money in rehabilitating what would be the newly-Russian Crimean economy.

The role that the West, especially the United States, is playing in this situation is an interesting factor to consider. Ukraine used to have around 900 nuclear weapons, but the U.S. convinced them to give them all up in exchange for a guarantee that they would maintain Ukraine’s territorial integrity and security. It is just that which has been compromised and now many people are turning to the U.S. to take action. Ukrainians have made signs that are in English so that the U.S. can see their message more clearly–that they need to hold up their end of the bargain.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot that the U.S. can even do because of the very delicate situation. The American people do not have enough interest in this issue to support spending billions to intervene, not to mention that the U.S. would be facing a very powerful enemy if it went up against Russia. The European Union cannot impose sanctions on Russia because they are the ones that are dependent on Russia for natural gas. It seems that the West will have to stay out of the crisis for the time being until another big event happens–the referendum.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: National Journal, USA Today, CBS News
Photo: iLife Journey

Military Crimea
The Russian region of Crimea is a region noted for its high Russian population and its continued support of recently ousted and currently missing president, Viktor Yanukovych. On February 28, it was reported that independent security forces entered the port towns of Simferopol and Sevastopol. The forces entered the region in army regalia, with no indicating patches, leaving their origins a mystery to Ukraine and many international observers.

Allegations are being placed against the Russian government. They are accused of hiring mercenary forces to take control of several airports in the area.

The alleged goal was to prevent pro-revolution protesters and forces from entering the area and preventing the semi-autonomous region of Crimea from falling under the control of the newly formed Pro-Western national government. Western Ukraine views lean primarily pro-Western, an ideological divide from the eastern portion of Ukraine, which shares a more cohesive bond with their Russian neighbors.

Russia had a critical interest in the overthrown government.

Yanukoyvch rejected a deal that would of brought the nation into closer relation with the European Union, a deal that the Russian government and Vladimir Putin were strongly against. The Crimean population is ardently against distancing relations with Russia, and with the nations autonomous attitude coupled with their own government structure, the forces were moderately welcomed.

To keep from creating an international incident and from preventing blame, unconfirmed sources claim Russia hired private security forces.

The forces are asserted to be from “Vnevedomstvenaya Okhrana a “private security contracting bureau inside the Russian interior ministry that hires mercenaries to protect Russian Navy installations and assets in Crimea.” Sergei Lavror denounced allegations placed against Russia, arguing Russia was in no way involved, and the only Russian or Russian-condoned forces in the area are in the Black Sea monitoring the ongoing situation.

Ukrainian government officials have condemned the actions, considering the “non-invasion” as a breach of “international norms” and as a way for Putin to enact Russian control in its former Soviet state. United States President Barack Obama quickly denounced the invasion by the Russian federation, stating it would be a “clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine and of international laws.”

Russian and U.S. relations have been at an all-time low, following revelations the U.S. was engaging in covert intelligence gathering in Russia through the National Security Agency as well as Russia’s refusal to hand over fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

A subtle warning was made by President Obama, stating there “will be costs” to an invasion. It is considered by some as a visible warning to Russia for military intervention, Other observers view it as a reminder that the invasion could further destabilize Ukraine, a nation that has already dealt with bloody and costly civil unrest.

– Joseph Abay

Sources: The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast World News, CNN, The Guardian
Photo: Dailymail