Poland_and_Ukraine (1)
Issue Background

Ukraine Crisis

In recognition of Ukraine becoming a signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum was signed by Russia, the UK and the US which includes:

Respecting Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within its existing borders

Refraining from the threat or use of force against Ukraine

Refraining from using economic pressure on Ukraine in order to influence its politics

Seeking United Nations Security Council action if nuclear weapons are used against Ukraine

Refraining from the use of nuclear arms against Ukraine

Consulting with one another if questions arise regarding these commitments

Why is the Ukraine crisis important to Poland and Polish Americans?

On March 1, 2014 after the ousting of Mr. Viktor Yanukovych from the presidency of Ukraine by the Ukrainian Parliament, Russian troops occupied several areas of the Crimea and surrounded Ukrainian military and naval installations in the region in violation of international law and agreements guaranteeing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russian Troops have also massed on the eastern boundary of Ukraine. This action is in clear violation of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of 1994 of which Russia was a signatory. This international treaty, which was also signed by the UK and the US, guarantees Ukrainian sovereignty and respect of their internationally recognized borders and was signed once Ukraine gave up their substantial nuclear arsenal.  

On Sunday March 16, Crimean Residents voted to leave the Ukraine and join Russia with over 95% voting in favor of joining the Russian Federation. Crimean election officials indicated that there was an 83% voter turnout of the Crimean population of 1.5 million. There were two options available to voters: the first was a union with Russia and the second would be to give the Crimean regional leadership, which is controlled by pro-Kremlin politicians, the right to choose their own path. There was no option to vote outright for remaining in Ukraine. Most Western governments announced that they would not recognize the results of the election whatever its results because of the occupation of Crimean by a foreign military force and the conditions under which the vote took place. Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, dismissed the vote as well. During a phone conversation with U.S.Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the vote was legitimate but “the results should be a starting point in determining the future of the peninsula.”

In the weeks since the Russian annexation of Crimea there has been increasing tension and outright violence in Eastern Ukraine between pro-Kiev Ukrainians and pro-Russian Ukrainians who favor either becoming a part of Russia or becoming independent states with closer ties to Russia. There has been rioting between factions and allegations of brutality between the opposing sides, as well as evidence of Russian agents and citizens taking part in pro-separatist movements in Ukraine. One of the most interesting examples of potential Russian provocateurs in the pro-separatist circles occurred in the eastern city of Kharkiv in early April, where protestors had demonstrations and later stormed the town opera and ballet hall thinking it was their city hall. They later did storm and take over the city hall however.

This Russian intervention, aimed at subverting the effort to create a new democratic Ukraine and bringing the country under Russian influence, threatens not only the integrity and independence of Ukraine itself but also the stability of the entire region. Poland has played a key role in the attempt to mediate the crisis and bring a peaceful solution to the crisis. This is the most serious crisis the area has faced since the fall of Communism a quarter of a century ago. Russian intervention in the Crimea, ostensibly to protect Russians living there from harm, echoes earlier patterns of Russian Imperialism and for many presages its revival in East Central Europe. These are the same arguments that Catherine the Great made to justify the First Partition of Poland and more recently the reason Mr. Putin made to give cover to his invasions of Georgia.

On Sunday, May 11 the Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine voted to become independent from Ukraine, while pro-Russian leaders stated they wished to ask Russia to be allowed to join the Russian Federation, as did Crimea earlier this year. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that he wished that the vote be delayed until after the presidential election in late May, but local separatist forces went ahead with their original plan. Ukraine claimed the vote was illegitimate noting among other irregularities widespread voter intimidation. Various other sources reported that only around 30% of the voting age population participated in the election.  Those in favor of independence, however, claimed 74% voted.

On Sunday, May 25, billionaire Petro Poroshenko was elected as the new President of Ukraine with 54% of the vote in the first round of elections. This means that there will be no need for a runoff election since he received a majority of the vote. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated he respects the results of the vote and looks forward to working with the new government. The Russian foreign minister stated that even though he had some reservations about the vote, Russia respects the choice of the Ukrainian electorate.

On Thursday July 17 Malaysian Airlines flight 17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine by Eastern Ukrainian separatists, likely with a Russian designed surface-to-air missile (SAM). A total of 298 people from 10 countries died. Separatist forces initially claimed responsibility for the crash, going so far as to post information on their actions on social media websites. Once it became clear that the plane that was shot down was not Ukrainian military but a civilian passenger jet the posts were taken down and the Donbass area separatists denied any part of the incident. A few days later Ukrainian military aircraft reported being fired upon by missiles allegedly launched from the Russian side of the border with the breakaway regions of Ukraine and there have been reports of Russian missiles striking Ukrainian military materiel and soldiers. The Ukrainian military has pushed the rebel forces out of much of their territory, roughly ¾ of rebel held territory is once again under Ukrainian government control.

In mid-November NATO European forces Commander Philip Breedlove reported that Russian troops and armor were entering Ukraine in the contested eastern border regions. Russian officials denied the claims as anti-Russian and alarmist.

On November 24th Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko announced that Ukraine began a 6 year plan to meet the criteria to join the EU and NATO. Once these criteria are met Mr. Poroshenko said the Ukrainian people will be able to vote on entering the two organizations. Pro-Russian factions have appealed to the United Nations to authorize a peacekeeping force into the war torn region to prevent a humanitarian disaster.