In the wake of the Ukrainian revolution in late 2013 and early 2014, pro-Russian separatists, with assistance from Russia, decided to secede from Ukraine, which was under a new government less friendly to Moscow. In February 2014, Russian armed forces began the process of annexing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Within months, Russia had taken control of the region, held a referendum to declare Crimea independent from Ukraine, and integrated Crimea as a Russian territory. Following the Russian annexation of Crimea, Pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of Ukraine declared independence from Ukraine, initiating an armed conflict with the Ukrainian government. Despite repeated attempts to implement ceasefires, fighting has not stopped and all ten ceasefires to date have failed. Backed by Russia, the separatists have managed to create a stalemate – the conflict hasn’t ended, but neither side appears to be near victory. Given that the most recent ceasefire in March 2018 collapsed on its first day, it’s safe to say there’s no end in sight to the fighting in Ukraine.
Where: Crimean Peninsula, Donbass region in Ukraine
Population: 44 million (Ukraine)
Deaths: At least 10,000
Refugees: Approx. 1 million
Displaced peoples: 1.4 million
has consistently opposed efforts by Russia and Pro-Russia separatists to claim former Ukrainian territory as independent or part of Russia. Ukraine has utilized its armed forces, National Guard, Ministry of Internal Affairs (police force), Security Service, and various paramilitary groups to reclaim territory since the fighting began. Most Ukrainian counter-insurgency efforts have centered on reclaiming the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with Crimea fully under Russian control.
Pro-Russia separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces have marshalled a combined 40-45,000 troops to fight against Ukrainian forces in the Donbass region (where Donetsk and Luhansk are located), with the aim of achieving full independence from Ukraine.
has mostly avoided direct military conflict. After Russian armed forces entered the region in conjunction with demands from protesters for an independence referendum to be held, a large percentage of Crimeans voted for independence from Ukraine and subsequent integration into Russia, although some observers have cast doubt on both the legal validity of the referendum and the results of the voting.
has consistently supported separatist attempts to declare independence from Ukraine, supplying troops, weaponry, and other military equipment to be used in the conflict. Russia has made efforts, both in Ukraine and elsewhere in countries like Georgia, to reintegrate former territories of the Soviet Union into Russia via military force. Its support of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics are a part of the overall trend of Russian attempts to reclaim former Soviet territories.
have strongly condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea and voiced their support for the Ukrainian government. In attempts to punish Russia, the US and EU have implemented economic sanctions on high-level Russian government officials and oligarchs. Additionally, EU members France and Germany played important roles in ceasefire negotiations for the two Minsk Protocols.
Timeline of the crisis
The Ukrainian revolution results in the ousting of the Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, who is supported by the Russian government. The revolution is motivated by the Ukrainian government’s decision to suspend the signing of a European Union ascension agreement. Protests in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine break out in response to the government that was installed after the revolution. In particular, protests break out on the Crimean peninsula and within the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in support of Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds an all-night security meeting in which it is decided that the Crimean peninsula should be returned to Russian control by force.
On the 25th, several hundred pro-Russia protesters block the Crimean parliament to demand a referendum on Crimean independence. By the 26th, thousands of Ukrainian Tatars who support the Ukrainian government launch a counter-protest to the pro-Russia protesters that continue to demand a referendum.
Masked Russian troops without insignia seize control of the Crimean government. They take control of the Crimean Supreme Council, important strategic sites, raise Russian flags over government buildings, and install a pro-Russian government in Crimea through the parliament, which votes to install a new pro-Russian Prime Minister of Crimea. By the end of the day, additional troops arrive and set up security checkpoints, cutting Ukraine off from the Crimean Peninsula
The new Crimean Prime Minister takes control of Ukrainian military installations on the Crimean Peninsula and asks for additional Russian military assistance. By the 2nd, Putin receives authorization from the Federation Council of Russia for a military intervention in Ukraine and sends additional troops, armor, and helicopters to secure Crimea.
The Crimean Supreme Council sets the date for the independence referendum to the 16th of March.
A UN Security Council Resolution to affirm Ukraine’s sovereignty failed after Russia vetoed the resolution. China abstained from voting, but all 13 other members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution.
The independence referendum is held, despite being declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine and the Crimean parliament being formally dissolved by the Ukrainian government. The referendum succeeds and the Crimean Supreme Council declared Crimea to be an autonomous republic on the 17th.
Crimean leaders meet with Russian leaders to draft and sign a treaty of ascension for Russia to formally annex Crimea. By the 20th, the treaty has been signed, upheld by the Russian Constitutional Court, and ratified.
The G8 countries remove Russia from the G8 in retaliation for the annexation of Crimea. On the 27th, the UN passes a non-binding resolution condemning Russia for the annexation of Crimea. By this time, the US and most of the EU have imposed economic sanctions on Russian oligarchs as retaliation, contributing to the collapse of the Russian ruble.
In protest of the Ukrainian revolution and spurred by Russia’s successful annexation of Crimea, 1,000-2,000 pro-Russia separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of Ukraine seize control of government buildings and demand an independence referendum similar to the Crimean referendum be held. After the regional government fails to meet their demands, the separatists in Donetsk hold an assembly, vote for independence, and unilaterally declare themselves to be the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).
The Ukrainian President vows to launch an anti-terror campaign, and the Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs publicly states that the conflict will either be resolved by military force or negotiations.
Armed forces in Donetsk led by a Russian operative seize control of other government buildings in the province.
Separatists in Luhansk declare independence as the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and demand the Ukrainian government release arrested protesters, enshrine Russian as an official language, and hold a referendum on the status of the Luhansk province. They issue an ultimatum that if their demands are not met within 48 hours, they will join Donetsk in their insurgency.
The US and EU begin a second round of sanctions on Russia, targeting executives of Russia’s state owned oil company, Rosneft, and 15 other companies.
After holding a successful independence referendum, the new leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic petitions Russia for military support. By this point, government and insurgent forces have begun to fight for control over various cities in both Donetsk and Luhansk.
Fighting for territorial control continues, with Ukrainian government forces slowly reclaiming territory and pushing insurgents into Donetsk and Luhansk cities.
The US and various European countries issue a third round of sanctions to target major Russian oil companies and banks.
Russian forces enter the region to provide support to insurgent forces and reclaim lost territory.
The first Minsk ceasefire is signed by Ukraine, Russia, the DPR, and the LPR, after being organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an intergovernmental organization that works on arms control and human rights within Europe. Multiple ceasefire violations are reported on the 6th and 7th.
Heavy fighting resumes despite the ceasefire still nominally still being in effect. By late January, 9,000 Russian solders and 500 tanks and armored personnel carriers have been deployed to support the insurgent forces.
A new ceasefire agreement, dubbed Minsk II, is negotiated, signed, and largely observed across the combat zone despite occasional violations.
Minsk II continued to be observed, heavy artillery is mostly withdrawn from the combat zone, and casualties on both sides’ are reduced.
Minor skirmishes and ceasefire violations become more frequent, with both sides suffering casualties daily. No territory is gained or lost, and the Ukrainian government labels Minsk II “unworkable” and “impossible to implement”.
Both sides agree to halt all fighting in a new ceasefire. No agreement is reached to sign a formal peace treaty, and the conflict becomes frozen – no territorial changes take place, and small skirmishes occasionally occur along the line of contact.
The conflict remains frozen, with 2016 marking the first full calendar year where the Ukrainian government has not lost territory, and casualties are greatly reduced.
After heavy fighting resumes in the city of Avdiivka in late January, 2017 is marked by a series of minor skirmishes and a string of ceasefires broken by both sides within hours of being signed.
The Ukrainian government passes a new bill expanding the war powers of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko aimed at reclaiming separatist territory. The Russian government criticizes the bill as “preparations for a new war”.
Two new ceasefires are signed and collapse within days.
A new comprehensive, indefinite ceasefire is signed, beginning on July 1.
The new ceasefire begins, but is violated by a flare up of conflict in the first few days.