MH17: backgrounder on the situation in Ukraine
This airplane crash, which according to the evidence appears to be the result of an attack by pro-Putin forces, has really shocked us Ukrainians. It would have shocked us even more if not for all these victims of the situation between Russia and the Ukraine, every day. It is known that people from many countries, including Australia, have died in this crash. I feel obliged to apologise for our government, which probably could and should do more in order to avoid such a situation.
After all, the terrorists (as they are rightfully called on our Ukrainian TV), using the Russian weapons, had already shot down several Ukrainian military planes before. Our side, military leaders and experts, could have anticipated that pro-Putin forces might, even by mistake, attack a civilian airplane from the third country. We did manage to stop them on that occasion. We did not manage to prevent a disaster. I feel deeply sorry for that.
A brief history of the situation involving Ukraine may help readers understand the geopolitical realities.
Ukraine had not seen any wars on our territory since the country obtained independence in 1991. Most Ukrainians hardly even thought seriously about such matters. “Who the hell could attack us? Well, maybe Russia can, but … it’s just impossible.” That was what people thought — until the so-called “Russian Spring” in March 2014.
Four-and-a-half months have passed since Russia’s strong intentions about Crimea became obvious. The Crimean peninsula was eventually ceded by Ukraine without armed resistance. The unprovoked aggression, backed by lies, was a shock for us. Russia, which had a permanent military base in Crimea, was prepared. It is very possible, though we will never have known, that the majority of Crimeans would have voted to stay with Russia even in the fairest of referendums.
One way or another, the control of Crimea was de facto taken over by Russia, which now considers the peninsula to be part of its country. However, Ukraine also officially claims Crimea as part of Ukrainian territory, which is temporarily occupied. These days, even the craziest pro-Ukrainian activists usually do not clam that it would have been wise to resist in Crimea militarily. We were not ready, from all viewpoints.
But it was also clear for everyone on the Ukrainian side that after Crimea the “red line” begins, and no other Ukrainian territory will be given to Russia or pro-Russian separatists without a full-contact fight. The pro-Putin side (both in Ukraine and Russia) announced their plans to annex seven other regions in southern and eastern Ukraine, in addition to Crimea.
But expectations that Russian-speaking Ukraine hoped to return to Russia turned to be unrealistic. In these regions opinions are, to a greater or lesser extent, divided. This division has led to outbursts of violence, most notably the battle between the pro-Putin and anti-Putin activists in my hometown Odessa on May 2, when more than 40 people died. No one will be surprised to hear the tension still remains here.
“What is going on these these days is a real war, and in Ukraine it is unofficially but widely considered to be a war between Ukraine and Russia.”
Eventually the pro-Russian rebels managed to take control only in parts of two regions, Donetsk and Luhansk — and it is Donetsk where MH17 crashed. What is going on these these days is a real war, and in Ukraine it is unofficially but widely considered to be a war between Ukraine and Russia. (Officially it is an anti-terror operation for Ukraine, while Russia, oddly, denies its systematic involvement.)
Our Ukrainian side tends to overestimate the role of Russia and Russians in the conflict, but surely many of the rebel leaders and most prepared troops are Russian citizens. They use Russian weapons and all kinds of support in Russia except for a massive direct intervention. But as new groups of fighters come from Russia all the time, the size of the Russian support to “rebels” increase constantly.
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