What’s happening in Ukraine – is the Cold War heating up?

Posted on March 5, 2014


Events in the Ukraine are being described by UK foreign secretary William Hague as the “biggest crisis in Europe in the 21st century”.

Crimea - Between a rock and a hard place       *SkyNews

Crimea – Between a rock and a hard place *SkyNews

Here’s what happened

The pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia (after his family were allegedly shot at by militants) as Ukraine’s month of protests against a Russian financial bail out turned bloody. The EU also tabled a more popular bail out.

In December, 20,000 people occupied Kiev’s Independence Square. They remained there for three months despite the best efforts of riot police, resulting in an estimated 82 deaths and 600 wounded, including 15 police officers. As a result of the civil unrest, Ukraine found itself with a new, unelected government and an interim head of state in former parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Turchynov. He says Ukraine is “on the brink of disaster”.

The revolutionaries who toppled Yanukovych’s government have been dubbed as “rampaging hooligans” by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in an “anti-constitutional coup and armed seizure of power” according to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. To clarify, the west call these individuals protesters and Russia has dubbed them as rioters. As is usually the case, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.

In response to this undemocratic change of a Russian-backed government, Russia seized the autonomous region of Crimea in the south of Ukraine (since 1954), marching in 16,000 troops in a parade less like an invasion and more like a heroic homecoming. Hordes of tanks and helicopters supplement the naval blockade of the region.

Putin claims the seizure of land was to protect the Russian populace, many of whom support the invasion. However, visiting Kiev, US Secretary of State, John Kerry said: “It is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further”.

Both forces are yet to clash

A Russian ultimatum to the Ukrainian armed forces in Crimea expired yesterday (Tuesday 4th March). The terms were: accept positions within the Russian army – or leave the area. Despite the non-compliance of the terms and there is yet to be a military escalation between the two forces. Nonetheless, the Russians can make life difficult for the Ukrainians under siege in several bases by restricting access to electricity, water, and food. The Ukrainians are boldly defiant against a superior force.

Russian’s seizure of Ukrainian territory was universally branded as an invasion. Putin was quick to point out the Iraq war was an illegal invasion too thus underlining the hypocrisy of the UK and USA.

The ousted Mr Yanukovych requested Russian forces to restore order. The question is, which side has the stronger claim of legitimacy? The ousted but elected leader who allowed foreign soldiers into his land or the newly formed government forged in the fires in revolution which will cripple itself with debt to the EU. Surprisingly, events have descended into a war of propaganda. East vs West – Cold War style.

Ukraine needed financial aid from country A or B.  Ukrainian citizens are split between loyalties to countries A and B. Furthermore, A and B want to control Ukraine and will do anything but all out war to secure it. There is no dominantly legitimate claim. The best-case scenario is that despite who gains control, there will be no bloodshed. The worst case scenario? How would you like that view from your window if it was on fire?

Assuming there is no conflict and the new government stay in charge with or without Crimea

The US are offering a $1bn loan to the new Ukrainian government to bankroll and legitimise them. However, Ukraine is reliant upon Russian national gas company Gazprom providing discounted gas – which will raise in prices this year to harm the new regime. In real terms, the price of gas will jump from $268.50 per thousand cubic meters to about $400 in the second quarter. This will harm the economy and therefore stability of the new Ukraine.

So what is going to happen?

Politics is mainly talking and a whole lot more talking. Sanctions have been tabled but only the United States of America are optimistic in this pursuit. Russian money runs through the veins of London’s banking industry, France sells them weapons and the German automotive industry is financially backed by Russia, the eighth largest economy in the world. Any sanctions upon Russia will equally harm western economies.

No sanctions then?

Instead, tongues are being wagged about the seizure of Russian assets. Additionally, a potential (and unfeasible) boycott of the Russian Fifa World Cup in 2018 has been suggested. The final nail in the coffin however was when the UK officials cancelled the Earl of Wessex’s visit to Sochi for the Paralympics.


Should it come to be here is a comparison of both sides.


It should be noted that there are only around 16,000 pro-Russian troops are in control of Crimea – in what remains a bloodless invasion.

Here’s an indication of the Russian deployments.



This is no resurgence of the Soviet Union, despite the Winter Olympics and a brave face, the Russian economy is struggling too. This is just a bit of Russian dick-waving and an opportunistic land grab. As it emerges, Russia’s pretty well hung and every other nation is still blushing.