Russia conquered Crimea
President Putin was authorized by the upper house of the Russian parliament to intervene militarily in Ukraine, “wherever Russian life was threatened”. Ukraine was preparing for general mobilization and the Western Alliance NATO accused Russia of threatening peace and security in Europe.
The Russian government, for its part, blamed the United States and NATO for the crisis by trying to infiltrate what Moscow considered its “area of interest.”
In a swiftly organized referendum in Crimea, 96.7 percent of participants claimed to have agreed to join Russia, and just as quickly, the Russian parliament passed a law allowing Putin to declare Crimea part of Russia.
Not since World War II had a European border been moved in this way. The EU and the US condemned the annexation and NATO decided to strengthen its troop presence in Eastern Europe. The alliance immediately suspended all military cooperation with Russia. Putin’s statements about the right to protect Russian life everywhere, and that Ukraine has never been a real state, increased fears not only in Ukraine but also in the former Baltic Baltic states with large Russian minorities.
At the same time, pro- Russian militias took control of town halls and local government buildings in a number of cities in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border. Two “Soviet People’s Republics” were proclaimed in Donetsk and Luhansk. The Ukrainian government, concerned about the weak army, approved the formation of a semi-military volunteer force named the Azov Battalion. It attracted right-wing extremist nationalists from a number of countries, including Sweden, which strengthened the Russian image of Ukraine as a Nazi nest.
In April, fighting between militias and the army claimed its first casualties. Loyal local politicians were kidnapped. In practice, more and more cities were taken over by the militias.
Civilian plane shot down
On 11 May 2014, large majorities of residents of parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk counties were said to have agreed to self-government in referendums condemned as illegal by a fairly united world, but not by Russia. Russian citizens appeared openly in leading positions in the two “People’s Republics”.
On May 25, big businessman Petro Poroshenko was elected president of Ukraine with 54.5 percent of the vote. The two right-wing extremist candidates for Svoboda and the Right-wing sector together received less than 2 percent.
The conflict took another serious turn in July when a Malaysian airliner crashed in a rebel- controlled area and all 298 on board were killed. The government accused the rebels of shooting it down, citing, among other things, alleged wiretapped phone calls. The rebels and the Russian government, for their part, blamed the Ukrainian government, but Western intelligence services said there was evidence of the rebels’ guilt.
In the summer of 2016, a Dutch-led international investigation established that the plane had been shot down from a separatist-controlled village by a Russian-made robot that had been taken across the border from Russia the days before and then transported back there. The information was based on technical data, wiretapped conversations, eyewitness accounts and pictures of the transport that were posted on social media. Whether it was regular Russian soldiers or Russian-backed separatists who fired the robot could not be determined, but the criminal investigation continues.
From July 2014, the army began to retake significant parts of the areas that the rebels had controlled. But there were more and more reports, including alleged photo evidence, of direct Russian involvement in the war.
In late August, as the army appeared to be approaching victory, the rebels launched a surprise counter-offensive and opened a new front on Lake Azov, a bay of the Black Sea. According to NATO, they had the support of at least 1,000 Russian soldiers.
President Putin began openly hinting at plans to create a Russian dictatorship in southeastern Ukraine. Western leaders accused Russia of breaking relations with the rest of Europe in practice.
Both in Russia and in the West, statements were made, as well as concrete military measures, which were strongly reminiscent of the tensions that prevailed during the ” Cold War “. The EU, the US and other countries imposed sanctions on Russia’s oil and financial sectors, as well as on a number of people in positions of responsibility. Russia responded by stopping food imports from the EU. Russia had already been excluded from the cooperation of the rich industrialized countries G8.
When the separatist advance threatened to lead to a major war, President Poroshenko agreed to a ceasefire in September. The threatening situation forced Parliament to make such concessions that the rebel-controlled areas were virtually lost. They were promised far-reaching autonomy for three years, the right to cooperate freely with neighboring Russian territories, the right to build up their own police forces and judiciary.
However, the ceasefire was broken immediately. The fiercest fighting was fought around the Donetsk airport that the separatists were trying to capture.