As protests in Ukraine escalate, Russia has issued an ultimatum to Ukrainian forces in Crimea: get out or face a “military storm.”
Protesters have been hitting the streets since the end of November when then-President Viktor Yanukovych said the government would be abandoning an agreement to strengthen ties with the European Union. Instead, the government was going to seek closer co-operation with Moscow.
For the past three months, turmoil and violence has been erupting throughout the country. The internal power struggle led to Yanukovych being ousted (he has since sought refuge in Russia) and Ukraine's new government calling for a presidential election to be conducted May 25.
In the meantime, Russian troops near the Ukraine border have been put on alert. In the last few days, Russian President Vladimir Putin has received approval to use military force in Ukraine from the Russian parliament.
Russian troops now have positioned themselves in the Black Sea, surrounding the peninsula of Crimea.
United States impact
The relationships the United States has with its European allies and Russia matters when dealing with important issues across the world, said Richard Harknett, Head of the Political Science Department at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio.
Specifically, Harknett points out that Russia plays an important role in the diplomacy surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and the civil war happening in Syria.
“If relations breakdown, it has impact in these areas,” Harknett said. “It affects U.S. national security, so cooperation matters between the United States and Russia.”
What ultimately happens in Ukraine could affect U.S. and Russia cooperation on anti-terrorism, Harknett said.
“Clearly, if we are having a crisis over Ukraine, there could be talks of breaking meetings off.”
Harknett said the Boston Marathon bombing is an example of how Russia and the U.S. can work together to share intelligence. There was behind-the-scenes information sharing on both sides. But, if relations between the two world powers break down, the amount of counter-terrorism intelligence sharing could be impacted.
With 40 million people living in Ukraine, it is not a small country, but it is also not a high priority for the United States, Harknett said.
“But, it’s how the relationship between Russia and the U.S. could change that should matter to all Americans,” he said.
The world impact
Ukraine currently owes $13 billion in debt. By the end of 2015, the country will owe $16 billion.
Ukraine was relying on a $15-billion bailout by Russia to service debts and help pay for imports. That all ended Feb. 27 when the plan to receive $2 billion in emergency funding fell apart amid the escalating protests.
Nearly 25 percent of Europe’s gas is supplied by Russia and half of that is pumped via pipelines running through Ukraine.
Ukraine is also a leading supplier of grain, and the impact of what happens in the Soviet country could be felt beyond Europe. As a top exporter of corn and wheat, prices could rise and some are even concerned the exports may halt altogether.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said the United States is willing to consider sanctions against Russia. This would mean a top-10 global economy placing sanctions on another, something that would be an unusual circumstance.
“If Russia is able to use military force to intimidate its neighbors and there are no consequences, then Europe has to rethink its relationship with Russia,” Harknett said.
Russia’s behavior is being described by the Obama administration as 19th- and 20th-century moves in a 21st century, Harknett said. So what does this mean for how the United States and other countries deal with international crisis?
It’s a question Harknett said is being discussed.
“After a decade and a half of oversea conflict, some will say we (U.S.) need to come home,” he said.
In 1954, Russia gave Crimea to Ukraine. The power exchange happened while both countries were still part of the Soviet Union.
There are three main ethnic groups in Crimea. The northern area of the peninsula is mostly ethnic Ukrainians. Russians inhabit a majority of the southern part of the peninsula and a group of people called, Tatars, are in the middle of the peninsula.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, some people in Crimea wanted to become part of Russia again. This eventually was voted down.
Even though Crimea is not a part of Russia, the Soviet country has a naval base at Sevastopol on the Black Sea. This base has been there for 230 years. While it is the smallest of the Russian Navy’s fleets, it is described as a strategic port because it provides easy access to the Middle East.
See how the world is reacting to the protests in Crimea below or click here.
This article contains information from The Associated Press and CNN.