Laura Donovan
March 06, 2014 8:00 am

While we’ve been cackling about John Travolta’s truly bizarre “Adele Dazeem” Oscar flub, thousands of Russian troops have been occupying Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula on the coast of the Black Sea. No one has died and the atmosphere is said to be relatively tame, but things could change and escalate quickly, especially given the defiant, uncompromising nature of President Vladimir Putin.

Though far from our world of Academy Awards gossip, showy group selfies and songs about selfies, the crisis deserves our full attention and understanding, especially as President Barack Obama, former Senator Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry further involve themselves in the hostile situation that has rightfully secured its place in our Twitter feeds and newspapers. I’m no scholar or international affairs expert, but I’ve put together a run-down of what’s going on over there, and I welcome your own input in the comments section as well.

The Backstory

On the surface, Russia kicked off the year on a fairly positive note with the Winter Olympics in Sochi. While the athletes were making headlines for their hard work, Putin was processing the fact that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had provoked a series of violent and deadly protests in the last couple of months. Toward the end of last year, Yanukovych told Ukrainians he would be scrapping his plan to strengthen Ukraine’s relationship with the European Union. The alternative? Get closer to Moscow instead. Now, some Ukrainians more closely identify with Russia, but those who don’t were not pleased with the decision.

On December 1, more than 300,000 showed up to a protest in Kiev’s Independence Square to speak out against the pro-Russian government. Two weeks later, Putin announced that Moscow would buy $15 billion worth of Ukrainian government bonds and significantly cut the price Ukrainians pay for Russia’s natural gas, but the protests continued, and dozens — including policemen and protesters — started dying in them.

The massive, out-of-control demonstrations were followed up by Yanukovych’s resignation. More than 300 parliamentary members had voted in favor of removing him, and he’d condemned the increasingly dangerous riots. Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters were jailed and police tried to control the violent protests by keeping protesters out of Independence Square. Russia offered to resume payments within the bailout deal, and in the hours following a truce, the unthinkable took place: Government snipers began shooting at protesters from roofs, killing swarms of people. Yanukovych fled Kiev after protesters took to the capital.

Crimea, which is home to a major Russian naval base, belonged to the Soviet Union until 1991, and has ample pro-Russian sentiment due to its history, started to see a lot of demonstrations against Ukraine’s new leadership. Putin ordered military officials to infiltrate Crimea in opposition to the country’s new path. The Ukraine requested support from the West, and Yanukovych was given refuge in Russia as Putin continued flooding Crimea with troops.

What’s Going On Now

Though Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said Russia’s aggressive occupation meant it was “effectively declar[ing] war” on Ukraine, Putin insists his intentions were good. Putin sent troops to Crimea “until the normalization of the situation” in Ukraine after a slew of crazy anti-government demonstrations.

Like many of us, Yatsenyuk doesn’t exactly believe Putin’s heart was in the right place with the highly intrusive move. Yatsenyuk told reporters in English last week, “This is the red alert, this is not a threat, this is actually a declaration of war to my country. If President Putin wants to be the president who started a war between two neighboring and friendly countries, between Ukraine and Russia, he has reached his target within a few inches. We are on the brink of the disaster.”

Though Putin won’t formally acknowledge that the troops are Russian, he stands by the invasion, stating at a Tuesday press conference, “We did this, and it was the right thing to do, and very timely…The only thing we had to do, and we did it, was to enhance the defense of our military facilities because they were constantly receiving threats and we were aware of the armed nationalists moving in….We will not go to war with the Ukrainian people…If we do take military action, it will only be for the protection of the Ukrainian people… [and] the very last resort.”

Our Own Role in This Disaster

Obama isn’t happy about the unrest in Ukraine, and he tried to stop Putin from dispatching more troops into the country. To show allegiance with Ukraine, John Kerry flew to Kiev on Tuesday with $1 billion in American aid. In addition to helping establish the coming election in May, the U.S. is providing technical support to the embattled country.

“It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of a gun dictate what you are trying to achieve,” Kerry said at a conference at the American Embassy. “That is not 21st-century, G-8, major-nation behavior.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is equally horrified by Putin’s actions, likening him to Adolf Hitler, “Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did … All the Germans that were … the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.”

According to The Guardian, Obama said on the matter, “There is a suggestion that Russia’s actions have been clever, but this has not been a sign of strength, rather a sign that countries near Russia have deep concerns about this kind of meddling and if anything it will push them further away from Russia.”

What Happens Now

Ukraine is set to have a legitimate election toward the end of May, and while many Ukrainians could vote to have closer ties to the E.U., others would prefer to side with Russia. Yanukovych, who ran away from his own country, claimed last week that the elections would still be illegal as he remains in charge, but we’ll see how that attitude works out for him in the spring.

The masked, camouflaged troops are camping out in Crimea, showing no sign of departure or surrender anytime soon. It’s understandably unsettling over there, but the mood is reportedly calm. Even with 16,000 troops in Crimea, there’s been no fighting or death, but that doesn’t mean Ukraine won’t be met with these unfortunate things at the hands of Russia should the conflict worsen.

Ukrainians are going on about their days as usual, but tension is in the air and Putin isn’t doing himself any favors by monitoring Crimea. Maia Mikhaluk, a photographer and ministry worker in Ukraine, told CNN, “The amount of propaganda Russia has poured onto Ukraine is hard to comprehend. Putting troops on Ukrainian land is going to bring the very opposite result from what Putin expected: I believe it’s uniting Ukraine.”

Featured image via CNN, CS Monitor, Tumblr and Reuters (via BuzzFeed).

What did I miss? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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