Curiousmatic has been obsessed with delivering understanding on the developing conflict in Ukraine, from the onset of protests, to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, to the current tensions between Russia, the US, and the EU.
Here’s the Russia Ukraine conflict explained in maps — eleven, to be exact. These important maps, many linked to our previous stories, provide quick context for the growing tensions in Ukraine and Russia.
1. The conflict started with violent protests following Ukraine’s decision to back out of a deal that would integrate them further with the EU, in favor of closer ties with Russia.
2. Issues stem from the country’s divided allegiances.
Northern Ukraine, which is mostly Ukrainian-speaking, favors the EU, while Russian speaking and ethnic Russian regions tend to favor Russia. See the divisions in predominant ethnicity and language below.
3. Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority, was annexed by Russia in March 2014.
Meanwhile, Russian speaking cities Slovyansk, Luhansk, and Donetsk remain prone to attempted government takeovers and attacks by pro-Russian activists, which the Ukrainian military is responding to with force.
4. Historically, these cities and their surrounding area were part of an area known as “Novorossiya” or “New Russia.”
Some believe the area will separate from Ukraine to Russia’s advantage.
The loss of these cities would cost Ukraine a third of its land mass, nearly 45% of its population, and subtract nearly two thirds of the country’s GDP, most its industrial base, all of its Black Sea shoreline, and a major gas pipeline connecting Russia to the EU.
5. In May 2014, Russia had over 45,000 deployed on the eastern border of Ukraine, conducting “military exercises” and stoking fears of invasion.
This detailed map by the Washington Post shows which troops were mobilized, where they came from, and where on the border they operated.
6. Reactions to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine vary worldwide.
Notably, the US and most of the EU condemn Russia’s military intervention. Select countries in Africa, South America, and the Middle East, in contrast, support Russia’s actions and condemn Ukrainian rebels instead.
7. Russia’s strategic interest in Ukraine is allegedly part of Putin’s desire to create a Eurasian Union (EAU) that would rival the EU.
In response to EU expansion, Putin made economic Eurasian integration a foreign policy priority in hopes of establishing an EU rival by 2015. The inclusion of Ukraine would stretch the EAU’s influence far into Europe.
8. Russia is using its natural gas dominance to influence Ukraine, and as leverage against the EU, 30% of which relies on Russian gas.
Due to this reliance, the EU is less likely to sanction Russia over its aggressive action in Ukraine. Nations like Finland and Sweden rely 100% on Russian gas — and Russia has historically shut down and increased gas prices before as an act of intimidation.
9. NATO’s recent expansion (which now reaches all the way to Russia’s border) means an attack against any member would be attack against all.
Since Ukraine has not joined NATO, there is no obligation of allied protection. One of Russia’s greatest fears, Putin has admitted, is that members of the former soviet republic will join, expanding NATO further into Eastern Europe.
10. Russia is determined to increase their superpower status on their own by expanding their navy globally.
Russia has been on a 200-year quest to acquire a warm water port, since their own are notoriously prone to freezing. Conveniently, one of such warm-water ports is located in the newly annexed Crimea.
11. After Russia announced its support for pro-Russian troops in Ukraine on August 29, thousands of foreign tanks and troops were spotted in Ukraine and caught by NATO on satellite image.
Fortunately, the invasion was followed by ceasefire on September 10. Though Ukraine reports a majority of Russian troops pulling away from the border, tensions remain high.