Ukraine Crisis Context Center

The Fight Over Ukraine

The Fighty Over Ukriane

A context center for deeper understanding about the Ukraine conflict

Summary of Recent Developments

January 26, 2015: The September peace treaty has been shattered.   Fighting has renewed in earnest as fresh troops are mobilized, civilians shelled. 

 The BIG Picture

Ukraine map


The current Ukraine crisis traces it’s roots to a 2013 EU trade agreement which divided Ukraine into pro-EU and pro-Russian factions. After protests toppled Ukraine’s pro-Russian elected government in February 2014, Russia annexed Crimea.  A peace treaty brokered in September 2014 froze the conflict before it reignited in January 2015.


Russia claims to have special interests in Ukraine – especially concerning the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine. Russian motivations were made clear during a Russian parliament session authorizing military action in Crimea (each image below is linked to a detailed briefing on the topic)


As the conflict moved forward, Russia’s President Putin spoke of “Novorossiya”, a term that embodies emotional and historic attributes that are an important part of understanding the Ukraine crisis (click on image):

9 things you should know about Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s new President


NATO and the West

The Ukraine crisis has generated claims and counter-clams between the U.S .and Russia that seem to echo each other. It’s disconcerting, because the claims look like a tit-for-tat  blame game.  Here’s a short list of the claims and counter claims to give you an idea of where each side stands (click on image to read article): 


Strategic Drivers

Behind the Ukraine story are a strategic issues that are worth understanding. One is the new expansionist Russian naval strategy, which calls for new naval muscle across the globe. It’s explained here (click on image to read article):


Russia is pushing for a new Eurasian union that stitches together aligned partners to rival the EU. This effort is designed to provide  Russia with more global relevancy:

Image courtesy of (pdf) the Eurasian Commission.


Adding to the complexity of the region is a network of oil and gas pipelines that deliver Russian energy to Ukraine and the EU. We explain how the network enables Russia to influence events in Ukraine and the European Union.

Photo of a Gazneft facility courtesy of greg westfall via Flickr.
Photo of a Gazneft facility courtesy of greg westfall via Flickr.
Western Options

The West  has relatively few options to counter Russian military activities in Ukraine. NATO – which the Russians see as an over expansionist interloper in their former territories- has capabilities that are only activated when a member nation comes under attack. The NATO  framework (click on image below for full article):

What would happen if NATO was attacked?

As a result of the Ukraine crisis the West has already instituted some targeted sanctions against Russia. But do sanctions really work ? (click on image to read full article)

Photo courtesy of harveypekar84 via Flickr.
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Maps, Charts and Side Notes

The Russia Ukraine Conflict Explained in 10 Maps

Ukraine’s size (economic, population and landmass) is valuable to understand. Comparisons to Russia and Germany help provide context.  

Ukraine Russia Comparison

Looking at a map of Ukraine and its relationship to the EU and Russia makes it easy to understand the competing influences in the country. 

ukrainemapbig (3)

The Washington Post published a good map showing Russian and Ukraine troop strength and deployments. Regrettably, NATO deployments are not shown.

Side Note

Ukraine domestic intelligence authorities use a system closely modeled after Russia’s domestic communication intelligence- collection system, called the System of Operative-Investigative Measures (SORM). Curiousmatic writes about SORM and the  domestic surveillance that occurs in in Russia using the system.

In late August a second front was opened by separatists who were energized by fresh Russian troops and equipment.   This map shows the area around Mariupol, where the second front is located.


Running Archive of Updates and Analysis:

(Continued from updated developments at top of page)

November 12: Peace treaty in tatters as skirmishes intensify. Kiev reinforces Mariupol, NATO accuses Russian of sending tanks and artillery into E. Ukraine. Russian denies it.

November 3: Separatist Eastern Ukraine areas hold elections. Russia accepts results, but EU, US contest them.  NATO reports increase in Russian military air, land sea incursions along EU border zones. 

September 10: Peace treaty instituted and holds fast as Ukraine reports Russian troops pulling back from border.

August 30:  EU Commission head says “thousands of foreign troops and hundreds of foreign tanks” are now fighting in Ukraine. Mariupol braces for attack  as second front takes pressure off Dontesk and Luhansk.


August 29: Russia’s President Putin states his support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and also suggests Russian expansionist intent in the Arctic (read our previous article about the competition for the Arctic). 

Ukrainain announces suAugust 23:  RU convoy delivers aid to eastern Ukraine without incident, returns swiftly to Russian territory as Moscow hails success.  However, the success raises questions.  NATO yet to show proof that Russian military units are inside Ukraine.  

August 22:  RU aid convoy enters Ukraine as NATO says Russian artillery units have crossed border to engage Ukrainian troops. Peace talks in doubt. 

ukraineNATOAugust 6th:  NATO fears Russian troop buildup could be precursor to “peacekeeping” invasion  

British MPs report that NATO unprepared for Russian threat

Curiousmatic, July 30:  Are Russia’s Spetsnaz special forces In Ukraine? An original article.

July 17:  Malaysia flight MH17 shot down in Ukraine,  295 feared dead


August 4: Ukrainian forces close in in on Donetsk,  Russian forces announce huge military exercises nearby

July 5: Government offensive retakes Slovyansk, rebels retreat towards Donetsk

June 27: Ukraine signs trade agreement with European Union

June 16: Gazprom suspends gas delivery as Ukraine misses $2B payment.

June 14: Rebels shoot down military plane, U.S. accuses Russia of giving tanks to separatists

June 7: Ukraine’s Poroshenko on EU political, economic agreements: “my pen is in my hand”

June 4: Ukraine government fights for control of Dontesk region. Obama offers military reassurances to eastern Europe,  meets with new Ukraine president Poroshenko.

May 25: Poroshenko claims Ukraine national elections, faces challenge to unite country 

May 23: Putin says he will ‘respect the choice of Ukrainian people’ in the May 25th national elections

May 18: Ukraine authorities open dialogue with eastern separatists in advance of May 25th national elections. 

May 12:  Ukraine separatists,  with elections complete,  ask to join Russia

May 7:  Putin plans to pull back troops from border,  calls for dialog between Ukrainians. 

 May 6: Fighting reported in Slovyansk as Kiev cancels all flights to E. Ukraine.

May 4: NATO commander Breedlove  says “shadow soldiers” supported by Russia may win E. Ukraine.  But NY Times reporters Chivers and Sneider in Slovyansk find no evidence.    

May 3: Odessa , Ukraine’s 3rd largest city, in chaos as pro-Kiev and pro-Russians clash. Civil war fears grow.

May 2:  Kiev attacks militants in Slovyansk, angering Moscow. Pro-Russian militants now control a dozen eastern Ukraine cities.

 Updated 8.30.14


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