A look at key dates in the Ukraine-Russia crisis
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With Ukraine and Russia at a standoff, here’s a look at the important dates in the ongoing crisis between the two countries.
Tensions between Ukraine and Russia have escalated sharply since the Russian coastguard seized three small Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait – a narrow passage of water that connects the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea – on November 25.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared martial law in parts of the country in response to the crisis, evoking the threat of a “full-scale war” with Russia. For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Kiev against any and all “ill-advised” action.
It is the first major conflict between Moscow and Kiev since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. The incident led to protracted fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, which has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people and displaced 1.7 million in the past four years.
Mass protests in Ukraine
On November 21, 2013, Ukraine’s then pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich abandoned a deal for closer cooperation with the European Union for one with Russia instead. The abrupt decision unleashed a wave of mass protests against Yanukovich’s leadership in Kiev’s central Maidan Square, drawing as many as 800,000 people in December.
Clashes between protesters and security forces intensified in early 2014, with nearly 90 people killed in Kiev. On February 22, the Ukrainian parliament voted to oust Yanukovich, who fled to Russia. A transitional government was established after his departure. Meanwhile in Russia, Putin denounced what he described as a coup d’état, warning that he “reserved the right to use all means, including force as a last resort” to protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine.
Russia annexes Crimea
In late February, 2014, clashes broke out between anti- and pro-Russian protesters in Crimea, which became part of Ukraine in 1954. Russian special forces quietly entered the predominantly Russian-speaking peninsula, taking up position at strategic points. On March 16, Crimeans voted overwhelmingly in favour of seceding from Ukraine to join Russia in a referendum. The United States and the Europe Union refused to recognise the poll, which they said was “illegal”. Despite international outcry, Putin signed a treaty officially annexing Crimea on March 18.
War erupts in eastern Ukraine
In April, 2014, a pro-Russia separatist movement, backed by Moscow, began to spread through Ukraine’s predominantly Russian-speaking east. On May 11, pro-Russia separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk declared their independence following a referendum, which Kiev characterized as “illegal”. On May 25, Porochenko was elected president. Meanwhile, Russia began amassing troops on its border with Ukraine. A month later, Porochenko signed the long-awaited economic and political association agreement with the EU.
Ukraine-Russia crisis talks
Porochenko and Putin met for face-to-face talks for the first time on the sidelines of World War II D-Day commemorations in the northern French region of Normandy on June 6, 2014. The negotiations were attended by then French president François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who hoped to find a resolution to fighting in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass. A number of talks between Porochenko and Putin would be held in the years to follow, but to no avail.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17
On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine as it was en route for Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam. The crash claimed the lives of all 298 passengers and crew onboard. The United States and its allies immediately suspected Russian involvement in the incident, a claim Moscow denied. In May 2018, international crash investigators concluded that the missile used to down flight MH17 was Russian made.
Ukraine and pro-Russia separatists signed a peace accord in Belarus’s capital Minsk on September 5, 2014. The next year, the two sides accepted another agreement known as “Minsk II”, which was negotiated by France and Germany and outlined an end to the conflict. Despite the ceasefire, fighting continued to flare on the frontline in eastern Ukraine. With the peace deal essentially dead, both sides rejected responsibility for its failure.
Putin and Porochenko again met for talks mediated by Merkel and Hollande on October 19, 2016. The summit, however, ended without an agreement, with both sides of the conflict at a stalemate.
Ukraine and NATO
In July 2017, Ukraine announced that NATO had agreed to consider its bid for membership. Meanwhile, low-key fighting continued in eastern Ukraine.
Tensions in Crimea
In May 2018, Putin presided over the inauguration of a new bridge directly linking Crimea to Russia over the Kerch Strait. Designed to reduce the annexed peninsula’s isolation, the bridge was fiercely criticised by Western powers. Six months later, Russia seized Ukraine’s ships near the strait, thrusting the years-long conflict between the two countries back into the spotlight.