1. Why the protests?
It all began with a promise. Former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych had began negotiations for a trade agreement with the European Union but veered away from the partnership in favor of creating an economic deal with Russia. That did not go over well with the people in Ukraine. Protests against the Prime Minister’s decision turned violent and eventually Yamukovych fled the country for Russia.
2. Why is geography important?
Eastern Ukraine, including the Crimea region, is closely tied to Russia both culturally and geographically. The Easterners not only speak Russian (60 percent of Crimean people are ethnically Russian) but have long supported the Russian government. West Ukraine identifies more with the rest of Europe and supported the benefits that came with the pact made with the EU.
3. Why is Russian President Vladimir Putin sending troops to Crimea?
Russia has both personal and economic interest in the Ukraine. A large portion of Russia’s gas exports travels through the Ukraine. After pro-Russian Prime Minister Yanukovych was ousted, Putin sent troops to Crimea to protect his country’s investment and the pro-Russian Ukrainians.
4. What is the U.S. going to do?
For now, not much. The most President Obama can do without causing an international incident is sanctions on Russia. The U.S. has offered a $1 Billion aid package to the Ukraine, and the EU has pledged $15 billion in aid as well. The rest of the world, including Russia’s allies, has strongly discouraged Russian troops being sent to Crimea. Since Ukraine is not part of NATO there isn’t much the EU and United States can do.
5. What’s the latest news?
Crimea has set a referendum to officially join Russia. As you can imagine, the referendum was denounced as criminal by the Ukraine and the West. The referendum has been declared as illegal because it would violate Ukraine’s constitution. Meanwhile, there are still Russian troops in Crimea as the conflict comes to a stand-still and Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk scrambles to find a solution.