Sample Political Science Paper on The Ukraine Crisis


The Ukraine Crisis


The Ukrainian crisis has shocked the world and left many world leaders flailing around helplessly as the situation unraveled rapidly. The crisis came to a head in November 2013 when mass protests broke out in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, against the decision by president Yanukovych to suspend an imminent political and economic agreement with the European Union (EU) (Trenin 5). The president chose to look east to Russia for economic assistance, a decision that angered the masses in Kiev. This triggered immediate street protests, leading to a standoff on Kiev’s Independence Square where protesters camped. The protests were mainly by ordinary citizens suffering from poverty and angry at rampant official corruption, which they felt began from the presidency. For these protestors, associating with the EU was the best chance they thought they had for securing a better Ukraine. What had began as a civic protest quickly morphed to a political protest when nationalist groups who felt that president Yanukovych, an easterner, was ruining the country and trying to merge it with Russia joined the protest.

Finally, Ukrainian oligarchs, seeing the protests as a means of undercutting Yanukovych whom they felt had too much power as well advancing their own interests began to fund the protests. By the end of 2013, the political situation was becoming untenable as the protestor stand-off continued. In early 2014, political allies of Yanukovych began to desert him and some were forced off the political scene (Grytsenko and Harding, no pag.). On 21st February 2014, the Ukrainian parliament voted unanimously to impeach the president, who had already fled the capital (Frizell, no pag.). The impeachment of the president opened the door for the fracturing and disintegration of Ukraine as Russia annexed Crimea on grounds that ethnic Russians were under threat from Ukrainian nationalists. There were also insurrections in the eastern part of Ukraine as more regions with a majority of Russian speakers sought to declare independence (Denyer and Nemstova, no pag.). The Ukrainian crisis is interesting because it represents the dismemberment of a country and is a study in international power relations.

International System Level

The Ukrainian crisis has its roots in the international power jostling between the EU and the US on one hand, and Russia on the other (Trenin 4). The Russia Georgia war of 2008 sowed the seeds for an intense tussle to determine the geoeconomic orientation of former Soviet republics, of which Ukraine is the most important. Russia has always been opposed to NATO expansion close to its borders, and the Georgian war helped to halt any further expansion of the union. Despite the halt in NATO expansion, the EU launched the Eastern partnership program that was primarily aimed at enhancing the Western orientation of former Eastern communist countries. Naturally, Russia saw this as a challenge to its influence and launched the Eurasia customs union project to lure the same countries that the EU was wooing. In this economic war, Ukraine became a desirable partner for both Russia and the EU owing to its relatively large market coupled with the geopolitical importance of its location (Wilson 263). To keep Ukraine within its ambit, Russia applied the stick of economic trade barriers to show what the country could miss by aligning with the EU before later providing an aid package to demonstrate the benefits that Ukraine stood to gain by making the right choice (Trenim 5).

The crisis is also a byproduct of the changing international power system, occasioned by emerging powerful international players. The collapse of the Soviet Union ushered in a unipolar world, as the US became the only major international power in the 1990’s (Yekelchyk 39). Russia has developed a persecution complex as it views the EU and US as having taken advantage of its weakness in the aftermath of the collapse of the cold war to encroach on its former sphere of influence (Borhi 3). Consequently, Russia has been on an aggressive path to reassert its position on the international scene. The 2007/8 economic crisis brought fundamental changes in the outlook of the US, which became more introverted to tackle its internal problems while the Euro zone also experienced a period of unprecedented weakness since its inception as the debt crisis ravaged its members. Russia on the other hand is in a position of relative strength having partially reformed its economy. Therefore, the country feels confident that at this moment of US and EU weakness, it is its time to reestablish its international influence (Wilson 261). Therefore, the country has used any opportunities that arise to challenge the West’s hegemony aggressively, with the Ukraine crisis being a graphic example of the newfound chutzpah.

The new Russian nationalistic narrative has also contributed to the Ukrainian crisis with the Russian president, Putin, intent at resetting Russia’s borders and expanding the country. He has talked of the ‘divided’ Russia, implying that all ethnic Russians should be part of the motherland. Russia’s invasion of and annexation of Crimea was premised on the need to ‘unite’ ethnic Russians to the motherland (Walker and Traynor, no pag.). The insurgencies in Eastern Ukraine have been tacitly supported by Russia, which considers eastern Ukraine as part of Russia due to the large resident Russian communities. Russia’s imperial ambitions have significantly contributed to the crisis and unfortunately, the West is too weak and disjointed to effectively check Russian aggression.

State Level

The main cause of the crisis in Ukraine was an economical problem that later morphed into a political crisis (Pivtorak, no pag.). Since the fall of communism, Ukraine has been going through a series of economic crises, which usually transmute into economic crises later. The 2008 world economic recession hit Ukraine hard, exacerbating an already bad situation (Segura et al., no pag.). The economic fundamentals of the country were negatively affected, and the country instituted talks with the EU with the hope of getting a sufficiently good economic package that could help the country to cushion its citizens from the harsh economic climate. However, Brussels was not willing or able to give the package that the president needed to assure his own political survival. Therefore, when the Russians came up with an enticing economic package, the president suspended talks with the EU and accepted the Russian offer (Trenin 5). However, the president’s decision angered the people who saw this agreement as a betrayal of their hopes and the economic problem now took a political dimension.

Poor governance at the national level contributed significantly to the escalation of the crisis with Ukraine having a serious corruption problem since the country became independent in 1991 (Fedirko, no pag.). The country is saddled with weak institutions that lack the capacity to tackle the vice, low morale, and a poor sense of public service, hence corruption is pervasive from the highest office (the president) to the lowest state workers. Most people are poor and feel that they cannot have a chance of progressing or even accessing basic public services due to the endemic levels of corruption. The crisis was a way for the frustrated populace to vent their frustrations and demand accountability from leaders. Poor governance was also apparent on the way that the Ukrainian government approached the task of controlling protestors. In most occasions, excessive force was used and police fired live protestors at protestors killing a substantial number. Killing of innocent protestors just charged the emotions of protestors and escalated the situation as much as the government’s attempt to illegalize protests reignited a situation that had begun to calm down, eventually leading to the government’s ouster (Paramaguru, no pag.).

Internal political dynamics also played a role in sustaining and escalating the Ukrainian crisis since after independence in the early 1990’s, divisions have persisted between the east and south as well as the west and center in Ukrainian politics (Pifer 16). The Ukrainian political elite have always been divided on the geopolitical orientation that Ukraine should take. The country is divided roughly down the middle on those who want greater integration with the West and those who recognize the Russian heritage in the country and want closer ties with Russia. The East-West divide in the political sphere has made it extremely difficult for the country to inculcate a sense of Ukrainian identity in the populace. The country had long-running tensions between the oligarchic families and the emerging bourgeoisie over access to and control of state power. Oligarchic families want a monopoly to the access of state power to protect and enhance their vested interests. In a country with a significant poor and unemployed population, the competition for political power between the oligarchs and bourgeoisie is intense because access to political power invariably means access to economic power.



Individual Level

At the individual level, there are a number of factors that contributed to the crisis, chief among them an identity crisis that a substantial number of Ukrainians are suffering from. Ukraine For a long time had been under Russian rule in addition to hosting a significant ethnic Russian minority. The Russian rule left a legacy of political, cultural, and economic ties that could not be lost in the space of a few decades. A significant portion of Ukrainians have an affinity for and identify with Russia or are ethnic Russians, and therefore they conflicted when the country suddenly lurched to the West and wanted to completely dissociate itself from Russia (MacFarquhar, no pag.). The identity crisis that many were experiencing contributed to the crisis because people were willing to fight to protect what they considered as their heritage. A substantial number of Ukrainians speak Russian, and consider it as their first language, especially in the eastern regions of the country (Kaplan, no pag.). An attempt by the Ukrainian parliament to withdraw the language privileges enjoyed by Russian speakers was ill-advised and served to increase the angst felt by ethnic Russians (Blacker, no pag.).

The high level of joblessness and poverty also contributed to the outbreak of the crisis since young people in Ukraine do not have jobs and the recession caused by the international economic crisis has made it even more difficult for individuals to secure any employment (Kupets 5). For a protest to be sustained, there must be a critical mass of people who are willing to sacrifice their comfort and even life to ensure that their voices are heard. It is rare for persons who are having a comfortable middle class existence to commit themselves to a protest cause because such actions are detrimental to their standards of living. However, people living at the bottom of the pyramid have nothing to lose considering that their existence is precarious. When an individual does not work or is not involved in productive activities, he/she can afford to camp in protest because he/she might not have anything better to do with his/her time (Williams, no pag.). Ukraine had this mass of individuals, who were jobless and did not have any hope that their economic protest could imminently improve. Therefore, the protest served as a medium through which individuals could release their pent up frustration with the system, and served as well as expressed their desire for a better Ukraine.

Important Elements that Explain the Ukrainian Crisis

The most important element that contributed to the Ukrainian crisis is the economy where a number of economic factors precipitated the outbreak of the crisis. At the international level, the biggest issue was the economic orientation of Ukraine, with the country having a choice between having a Western leaning economic policy or a Russia leaning policy. The intense competition between Russia, on one hand, and the EU and US on the other was responsible for exacerbating divisions between the political elite and the country. At the national level, the global economic crisis had a severe impact on the Ukrainian economy with job creation being below par and level of unemployment rising to unprecedented levels. The economic inequality between the rich and the poor widened, creating resentment from the poor, who felt excluded from the economic mainstream.

At the national level, there were also tensions between the oligarchs as well as the oligarchs and the ordinary citizens. Competition for access to the means of production and wealth creation increased tensions within the country, which later morphed into political tensions. The need for a preferential treatment in the economic sector made actors to seek political power, which could facilitate the exploitation of economic opportunities in a country that is notoriously corrupt. The poor economic prospects of individuals also caused them to protest as a means of expressing their frustration and helplessness.

Proposals on Resolving the Crisis

At the international level, there should be more cooperation between the Russian federation and the West, especially in economic issues. The current zero-sum game of either or, puts Ukraine at an awkward position considering its history. Therefore, the Russians and the EU should work together to provide Ukraine with an economic aid package that can help to alleviate the economic hardships. The Russians should also stop blackmailing Ukraine and using proxies to ferment trouble and division. Rather, they should let the Ukrainians to decide the course of their internal affairs without undue interference and pressure.

At the national level, the government must reform the economic system and liberalize it to allow young people a chance to participate in the economic development of the nation. Parliament should set up strong institutions that are backed with a robust legal framework and enough financial clout to help in policing and reforming the country’s economic sector. The country should also set up a fund to help the young people to set up business instead of waiting to be employed. To asset the youth businesses to grow, the government should specifically set aside a portion of the government procurement for the youth enterprises. This can help to put the youth in the economic mainstream and significantly reduce joblessness and despair.




Works cited

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