The Growing Menace

The Growing Menace

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has never been hotter.
Neil Durning

The current conflict between Ukraine and Russia is once again heating up, and the involvement of the United States will likely determine the outcome. The conflict, which began in 2014, is the bloodiest conflict in Europe since the wars over the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Ukraine can be divided into two separate regions: the pro-European Union (EU) west and the Pro-Russia east. The conflict began in late November of 2013, when Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych suspended talks with the EU about a landmark political and trade deal after facing opposition from Russia. Massive protests began immediately, highlighting the tensions between the pro-European west and Yanukovych’s power base in the pro-Russian east of Ukraine. [1, 2]

In February 2014, a gunfight erupted between protestors and police in Maidan Square in central Kiev, leading to dozens of deaths. Protestors claimed government troops fired on them first, while the government blamed the leaders of the protestors for provoking the violence. [1] Two days later, Yanukovych fled Ukraine as his presidential compound is stormed by the opposition. Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s adversary, and former Prime Minster, jailed in 2011 for “abuse of office,” was then released from prison and addressed pro-Europe protestors in Maidan Sqaure. A week later, on March 1, 2014, the Russian parliament signed off on President Putin’s request to send military forces into Crimea. Russian troops shortly after moved into the peninsula, wearing unmarked uniforms, and completed their annexation of Crimea in a move that was condemned by Ukraine and most of the world. Since then, clashes between the Ukraine government and pro-Russian rebels have left thousands dead, including the tragedy of Malaysia Flight 17, which was shot down by a surface-to-air missile above rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine. A cease-fire agreement was brokered on February 12, 2015, but Ukraine’s National Defense and Security Council reported hundreds of violations after only two weeks. [1, 2] The conflict has continued since then, in small skirmishes and political moves, but escalated on November 25, 2018, when Russian accused two Ukrainian gunboats and a tugboat of violating Russian territorial waters in the Kerch Strait. Russian ships fired upon the three ships, seized them, and took the crews prisoner. [3]

The United States has not given Ukraine lethal aid during this ongoing conflict, but the Trump administration is now supplying the Ukraine with weaponry, making Russia nervous. In December of 2017, the US State Department “approved a commercial license authorizing the export of Model M107A1 Sniper Systems, ammunition, and parts and accessories to Ukraine, a sale valued at $41.5 million.“ [4] In July of 2018, the US Department of Defense announced an additional $200 million to boost Ukraine’s defense capabilities. The funds will be spent on additional training, technology, and advisory efforts, according to the Pentagon. [5] In September of this year, Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, visited Baltimore to receive two former US Coast Guard vessels. [6] The United States Air Force held exercises in Ukraine, making this the first time the US has held exercises in Ukraine since the crisis began. Ukraine is hoping that the exercise, called Clear Sky 2018, is a reminder to Russia that Ukraine has a powerful ally in the US. Seven US F-15C Eagle fighter planes and several C-130J Super Hercules military transport planes took part in the exercise, which ended on October 19, 2018. Other NATO countries also took part in Clear Sky 2018, including the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom. Denmark and Estonia, not NATO members, also participated. Ukraine contributed about 350 military personnel in five separate tactical aviation units. Polish and Romanian aircraft worked with their Ukrainian counterparts for the first time ever, giving Ukraine hope that they will work together in the future to protect Ukrainian airspace. [5]

In response to these recent developments, including sanctions made by Ukraine against Russian officials and businesses, Russia has announced countersanctions against senior Ukrainian officials, businesses, and cultural figures. Among the people mentioned is the former prime minister and frontrunner for Ukraine’s 2019 presidential elections, Yulia Tymoshenko. Dmitry Medvedev, Russian prime minister, announced 322 names, “including the son of the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, and 68 companies that would be barred from doing business in Russia and whose assets would be frozen if they had them in Russia.” Russian also placed sanctions on Ukrainian security officials, including Ukraine’s rightleaning interior minister, the head of Ukraine’s national security and defense council, and the head of Ukraine’s SBU security service. The sanctions were announced one day after Putin said Moscow would increase its support for ethnic Russians abroad, which is the same justification the Kremlin has used when defending its actions in Ukraine. [7]

Because of the worsening diplomatic ties between the two countries, Ukraine is worried that Russia is preparing its military infrastructure in the occupied Crimea for deploying nuclear weapons in the area. [8] Volodymyr Yelchenko, Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told a UN Security Council meeting on 30 October that:

“…active militarization proceeds at full speed. Russia has more than doubled the strength of its military on the peninsula and continues the preparation of Crimean military infrastructure for deployment of nuclear weapons including refurbishment of Soviet-era nuclear warheads storage facilities.”

Russia, however, denies these claims. Dmitry Belik, a Russian member of parliament (MP) representing the city of Sevastpool in the State Durma in Crimea, stated that Ukraine’s fears about nuclear weapons deployment in the area were groundless and actually advised those who spread such rumors to take antipanic drugs. [9]

The United States has two choices: back out and let Ukraine deal with Russia alone, or continue to support the Ukraine both monetarily and in other resources, in order to halt the expansion of Russia into eastern Europe. Trump’s hardline stance in support of Ukraine has given the country hope and may bring about a change in how Russia proceeds.

[1] Natalyia Vasilyeva, “Russia’s Conflict With Ukraine: An Explainer,” Military Times, November 26, 2018, https://
[2] “Ukraine Profile—Timeline,” BBC News, October 12, 2018, https://
[3] “Ukraine—Russia Sea Clash: Captured Sailors Seen on Russia TV,” BBC News, November 27, 2018, https://
[4] Josh Rogin, “Trump administration approves lethal arms sales to Ukraine,” The Washington Post, December 20, 2017, https:// -rogin/wp/2017/12/20/trumpadministration-approves-lethal-armssales-to-ukraine/? noredirect=on&utm_term=.3f38443fdd3c
[5] “Ukraine And NATO Kick Off LargeScale ‘Clear Sky 2018’ Air Exercises,” The Defense Post, October 8, 2018, https:// ukraine-and-nato-kick-off-large-scaleclear-sky-2018-air-exercises/
[6] Lucian Kim, “Ukraine Hopes Russia Takes Note Of Its Air Exercises With US,” NPR, October 15, 2018, https:// /ukraine-hopes-russia-takes-note-ofits-air-exercises-with-u-s? fbclid=IwAR23IZGXX6A2zTPWtLI2lxaZ CdJRoDdeEOZO-MLwrzu5nUtrz04vdI0YKQ
[7] Andrew Roth, “Russia Announces Sanctions Against Senior Ukraine Figures,” The Guardian, November 1, 2018, world/2018/nov/01/russia-announces -sanctions-against-senior-ukrainefigures? fbclid=IwAR2xTG_oMF646_tiWn9r5H 5k2YnsDvNZGxaw9YMiffh_QbLUD6H3mPg5qE
[8] “Ukraine Says Russia Preparing to Deploy Nukes in Crimea,” Unian, October 31, 2018, https:// fbclid=IwAR2LAckqs7jr01rHMTnGrkg HlxuyXtV2f8TvzbwvrF0byInX3cB_We4pW4
[9] “Ukraine’s Panic Over Nukes in Crimea is Groundless, Russian MP Tells RT,” RT, October 2, 2018, https://

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