Wednesday (24 February) marked six months of fighting in Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he called a ‘special military operation’. On this day in 1991, Ukraine became independent from the then Soviet Union. Let’s take a look at the rise of the country since independence and the situation today.
Before launching a special military operation in Ukraine on February 24, Putin said his goal was to ensure Russia’s own security against NATO expansion and to disarm the country to rid it of far-right nationalists who threaten Russia.
Major events in Ukraine’s political history since independence in 1991 have had many facets. In 1991, the leader of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, Leonid Kravchuk, declared independence from Moscow. In the referendum and presidential election, Ukrainians overwhelmingly supported independence and elected Kravchuk as president.
He succeeded Leonid Kuchma in 1994. Ukraine then also agreed to abandon its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal, the world’s third largest, under the Budapest Memorandum signed by Russia, the United States and Britain in return for security guarantees based on respect for its independence and sovereignty.
In 2004, pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych was declared president, but protests over alleged vote rigging led to protests known as the Orange Revolution. As a result, the polls are forced to be re-run. Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-Western former prime minister, was later elected president.
Yushchenko took power in 2005 promising to steer Ukraine away from the Kremlin’s orbit and toward NATO and the European Union. He appointed former energy company boss Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister. But he was sacked after fighting in the pro-Western camp.
In 2010, Yanukovych defeated Tymoshenko in the presidential election. Russia and Ukraine struck a deal to fix gas prices in exchange for extending a lease for the Russian navy at a Black Sea port on the Crimean peninsula.
In November 2013, Yanukovych’s government suspended trade and association talks with the EU and decided to restore economic ties with Moscow. As a result, mass rallies took place in Kiev for several months. Later, Putin accused the West of inciting and supporting the protests.
In 2014, protests centered around Kiev’s Maidan Square turned violent. Dozens of protesters were killed. In February, parliament voted to remove Yanukovych. Later he ran away. Within days, armed men seized the Crimean parliament and raised the Russian flag. Moscow annexed the region after the March 16 referendum.
In April 2014, pro-Russian separatists declared independence in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Fighting broke out and continued sporadically until 2022, despite frequent ceasefires.
In July 2014, a missile shot down passenger plane MH17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur over eastern Ukraine. 298 people died in it. Investigators traced the weapons used to Russia. But they denied involvement.
In 2017 President Petro Poroshenko, a pro-Western billionaire businessman in power since May 2014, secured an association agreement with the EU on free trade in goods and services. Ukrainians also gain the right to visa-free travel to the EU.
In 2019, former comic actor Volodymyr Zelensky defeated Poroshenko in April’s presidential election on promises to tackle local corruption and end the war in eastern Ukraine. His party, the Servant of the People Party, won the July parliamentary elections.
In January 2021, Zelensky appealed to US President Joe Biden to allow Ukraine to join NATO. In the spring of the same year, Russia sent troops near the Ukrainian border for training exercises. In December, Russia presented detailed security demands with a legally binding guarantee, requiring NATO to abandon any military activity in Eastern Europe and Ukraine. In response, NATO reiterated its commitment to an ‘open door’ policy, offering ‘pragmatic’ discussions on Moscow’s security concerns.
In a televised speech on February 21, 2022, Putin said that Ukraine is an integral part of Russian history. They never had a real state history. The country is ruled by foreign powers and has a puppet regime. Putin signed an agreement recognizing the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine as independent and ordered Russian troops there. As a result, the West imposed more economic sanctions on Russia.
On February 24, Putin declared war in a televised pre-dawn address, and Russia launched a three-pronged offensive targeting Ukrainian forces, with missiles and artillery targeting areas hitting air bases and cities. As thousands fled their homes, Zelensky ordered general mobilization.