While writing these lines, there is a pitched battle is going on between the armed forces of Ukraine and Russia in the capital. The world is witnessing another war with a failed United Nations which is unable to stop a war.

Ukraine’s first parliamentary elections (1991)

After the country gained its independence, the country held its first parliamentary elections. At the time the United States extended its support for independence as President Geroge visited Ukraine and delivered a speech.

The trip displayed great developments in diplomacy between the two countries. The words of President Bush, explicitly outlined America’s support for the Soviet Union to be blessed with the developments of free markets and democracy.

He also offered the assistance of the United States for Ukraine with its transition; as a gesture of friendship between the two countries, the American consulate was established in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. This marked the first-ever presence of the United States in the country, and it continued for years to come.

Evidence of the divide started becoming prominent 

In December of 1991, the country held a referendum to understand the public’s opinion regarding Ukrainian Independence. This referendum was governed by the resolution developed by the Supreme Council of Ukraine.

Along with this, there were also elections organized by the Central Election Commission. This body was to oversee the electoral process in all the 27 major districts where the elections were to take place.

Amongst these districts, there were some in Crimea, the cities Sevastopol and Kyiv as well as in the oblasts of Ukraine. There were great efforts made by the parties for these elections, as publicity for their candidacy was made to a large extent and many candidates traveled to many parts of Ukraine to grain supporters.

Ukraine: The Kashmir of Europe
A map showing the different districts of Ukraine.

According to a report by the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) released in 1992, when the communists’ opposition party, Rukh representatives, a political party in Ukraine, traveled to South and East Ukraine and were advocating for independence.

Disagreements regarding independence were noticed in areas such as Mykolaiv and Crimea where literature supporting the independence was banned. In several sections of Eastern and Southern Ukraine, there were even cries for successionist movements by the populations.

However, ultimately the independence was embraced by the majority of the Ukrainian population and President Kravchuk, the Communist party leader won the elections.

Following this, he met with President Bush in the United States. According to The American Presidency Project, the two agreed that Ukraine would be a nuclear-free country and would commit itself to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the United States would extend its help, treating Ukraine as more of a partner rather than a friend.

They not only committed to giving the country 110 million US Dollars but also promised the country the US would assist in building its currency.

During his presidency, in a joint conference with President Bush I, Kravchuk voiced his worry for the divide in their society specifically the Crimea and Mykolaiv region, and the 1954 legal Act passed by the Soviet Union that these states should join the Soviet Union.

However, at this point, the US president was mostly concerned with successfully making Ukraine a nuclear-free country given the tensions related to nuclear weapons in the world.

Clinton’s administration 

During President Clinton’s presidency, important developments were made concerning the Ukrainian state. Although these developments were centered around nuclear deterrence in the former Soviet colonial states, Clinton’s administration was specifically concerned with the geo-strategic position of Ukraine.

A treaty was signed on the 5th December 1994 between the United States, the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Russian Federation with Ukraine. This treaty was the Budapest Memorandum.

It confirmed Ukraine would be a nuclear-free state on the conditions that three countries would never use nuclear weapons on Ukraine except in self-defense as outlined by the United Nations and would respect the Ukrainian borders and sovereignty. A treaty that as seen today has been only followed to a certain extent.

It is also important to note that before this treaty was signed, a treaty of friendship and cooperation was signed between Ukraine and Russia in 1992 which promises both countries would make efforts toward peace and keep in mind the basic needs of the citizens in each state. All the details of such treaties can be found here.

During Clinton’s time, the USA and Ukrainian relations only improved and Ukraine was considering joining the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). However, even during this time, the Ukrainian President expressed his worry to the Clinton administration regarding Crimea and Mykolaiv but no efforts were made regarding the issue.

Further divisions

During Mr. Kravchuk’s presidency, Ukrainian was introduced as the official language for education and civil service and introduced the official national anthem of the country, which resulted in opposition from the Russian ethnic populations living in the East and South of the Country.

Language is an important aspect of the nationalism and the unity of any country, it is a standpoint for the representation of the civil identity of its people. The dispute over the national language in East and West Pakistan were one of the primary reason for the separation of East Pakistan during the 1970s.

Era of Peace 

Under the Presidency of Mr. Kuchma, Ukraine entered an era of peace, short-lived albeit that peace was, the country made considerable trade agreements with Russia and the United Nations and even signed a cooperation agreement with NATO. At the same time, it also announced its intentions to join the European Union.

During this time, Russia also signed a treaty with Ukraine allowing the entry of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and international law.

The beginning of the deterioration of the Ukrainian democracy

President Kuchma was elected as the next president of Ukraine and the United States was stable in its relations with Ukraine. However, Mr.Kuchma’s presidency was marked by constant criticism from the public, with many journalists criticizing the corruption of his governance leading to suspicion rising for the level of transparency of Kuchma’s government.

The rising questionability towards transparency led Ukraine’s democracy to destabilize. According to the research conducted by Hays et al. (2016), it was revealed as a result of the mass scandals associated with the government of Ukraine.

The US-based committee based journalists committee called “The Committee to Protect Journalists” placed President Kuchma in the top category of presidents against freedom for the years 1999 to 2000.

US-Ukraine relations experienced an all-time low during these years. Furthermore, as protests broke out amongst the public which demanded an accountable and transparent government, the protesters were joined by the opposition parties of the 1999 elections. Support for these protests was also given by the Ukrainian Socialist Party as well as a combination of marginalized groups.

The protests were put to an end forcibly by the Kuchma government, however with the era of war on terrorism, the US foreign policy placed the war of terrorism as their top priority. Moreover, taking into consideration the deteriorating relations between Iraq and the United States during 2001-2003.

Evidence of Kuchma selling systems of surveillance to Iraq by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) in the US disrupted the ties between the two countries and funding to Ukraine was put on hold.

As a result of such developments, Ukraine’s relations with the West were experiencing a downturn and the country was not invited to the NATO Summit of 2002. While Ukraine did try to fix this issue by sending Ukrainian soldiers to participate in the peacekeeping mission in Iraq, little diplomatic progress was made.

2004 elections and the orange revolutions – the seeds of unrest in Ukraine 

International ties could only be fixed for the country with the advent of fair and free elections, however, there was great confusion wrapped around the elections of 2004, as Mr. Yushchenko and Mr. Yanukovych, the candidates standing for presidency received support from the population by 39.22% and 39.88% subsequently. Thus, a run-off election was scheduled for the country.

In the run-off elections, Mr. Yanukovych won the elections with 49.42% support, with Mr. Yushchenko had 467% support. Mr. Yanukovych belonged to the Party of Regions and Mr. Yushchenko to the Our Ukrainian-People’s-Self-Defence-Block. Ukraine at this point was facing immense confusion as portrayed by the division of support as the population was divided by the carrying ideologies of the two parties.

The Party of Regions according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was a political party catering to the interest of the Russian minorities in the South and East of Ukraine.

The party also promised the Ukrainians to recognize Russian as one of the official languages of Ukraine. On the other hand, the party led by Yushchenko supported a more west-oriented and Euro-centric future for Ukraine.

However, these election results sparked much controversy, the OSCE’s election observation mission reported the democratic procedures failed to meet the requirements of elections standards set internationally as well as by the Council of Europe. Once again, mass protests broke out in the country, these protests were formally known as “The Orange Revolution”.

Ukraine: The Kashmir of Europe
Protestors march through the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv waving orange flags

As a result of these developments, the two candidates agreed to have elections once more and the United States was quick to give aid to the Ukrainian government. This time, Mr. Yushchenko won the elections, and relations with the US were going well.

In February of 2005, the Bush administration sent delegates to Ukraine, as reported by the Ukrainian Weekly, the US delegation discussed their foreign policy towards Ukraine and how trade could be improved between the two countries, decreasing Ukraine’s dependency on Russian trade, specifically on Russian oil.

When all seemed to be peaceful, public discontent with the Ukrainian government had not been put to rest despite this new president. The orange revolution has largely left the East and Southern parts of Ukraine largely ignored. Furthermore, as reported by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, it was evident many Ukrainians view the new presidency as being unfair and unjust.

Furthermore, in the NATO Summit of 2005, the United States discussed plans of further assisting the Ukrainian government to join and even fund Ukraine’s position in NATO, extending its hand to assist in NATO’s 2005 Action plan.

While US-Ukrainian ties were going well, on the off-side, the Ukrainian March 2006 showed the public’s opinions siding with Mr. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, the party that had scattered to the minority Russian population within the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine.

As a result of the divide in opinion of the public within Ukraine, the country’s position within NATO remained uncertain and US-Ukraine ties started deteriorating in 2007.

Ukraine 2009-2015

The presidency of Barack Obama was friendlier towards Ukraine. However, during the time, the country had been experiencing a shift in its ideology and foreign policy. In the 2010 presidential election of Ukraine, Mr. Yanukovych was the leading candidate.

He won against his contending candidate, Miss. Tymoshenko who led the Batkivshchyna party in Ukraine was also leaning towards greater ties with Europe and USA.

President Yanukovych worked to build greater ties with the Russian administration in his cycle of the presidency, reversing many of the policies made by Yushchenko. As reported by Krasnodebska (2021), Moscow was increasingly concerned with the European Union Association Agreement in terms of how it might affect the Ukrainian economic ties with Russia. Before the conference for this agreement, Ukraine pulled out of this agreement.

As a result of these actions, protests broke out within the capital of Ukraine. While these protests were peaceful at first, they turned violent and while the police had to forcibly put these protests down, the United States was quick to discourage the act.

The US took initiatives to support the protestors, however, this was mostly centered toward those in West Ukraine. Moscow considered these as acts that reached the sovereignty of the country.

Matters in Ukraine escalated, during the time a private conversation was released between the Assistant Secretary of State with the Ambassador of the US to Ukraine regarding ‘diplomatic ways’ that could be used to stabilize the economic and democratic situation of the country. Details of this conversation can be found here.

The leaked conversation resulted in Moscow accusing the United States of having breached the Budapest Manifesto and resulted in an escalation of tensions between the US and Russia. As the protests worsened, the president of Ukraine fled to the ethnic Russian communities.

At that point, Russia condemned the protests and the support the United States was offering to them. Governance and administration completely broke down in the country as protestors marched into government buildings.

President Yanukovych fled to Kyiv and an interim government was set up in Ukraine. On the 27th of February, Crimea’s administrative hub was stormed by masked men of which the details can be found here.

These men took over the city of Crimea; upon these developments, outrage had broken loose in the capital of Kyiv, of which the details can be found here. Tensions between the United States and Russia had increased at this point. However in March when a referendum was held in Crimea, the Crimean population voted positively for wanting East Ukraine to be a part of Russia.

On the 17th of March, an executive order was signed by President Putin that recognized the new succession state of Crimea, calling it the Republic of Crimea and later that day also signed an executive order to absorb the state into Russia. Furthermore, President Putin also delivered a speech in Crimea realizing its people’s desire to become a part of Russia. This speech can be found here. As a result of this, President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia.

Tensions continued in Ukraine between the rebels as well as Western Ukrainians despite the Minsk agreements. The failure of the first Minsk agreement led to a ceasefire through a second Minsk agreement for the region.

As a result of such developments, the USA assisted NATO and demonstrated its presence in the region through a number of initiatives such as the NATO Baltic Air Policing, all of which these operations can be found here. Relations between the three states remained unstable throughout 2015.

The Ukraine-Russia-United States in the present times

Today Russia has done what it had done many years ago, responded to the minorities within Eastern Ukraine, and recognized Crimea as a part of the Russian Federation.

With the advancement of the United States and NATO, a phenomenon called the ‘security dilemma’, which is well known amongst many international relations scholars is what the two superpowers have fallen into, similar to that of India and Pakistan when it comes to Kashmir.

*The writer is a researcher and writer with a keen interest in international relations and diplomacy.

* The views and research done by the writer are her own and do not necessarily represent the position of the institutions.