By Jay Holmes
As the storm breaks over the Eurasian steppes, the world is busy wondering how far Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, a.k.a. Stalin 2.0, will go in his invasion of Ukraine. To make a guess at that, it’s essential to understand the history that shapes today’s events. In Part One, we began a timeline of the of Ukraine’s violent past from the country’s beginnings at the turn of the 10th century through the ascendance of Vladimir Putin to the office of President of Russia in 2000. In Part Two, we continue that timeline through the current Russian invasion.
In February, the European Union calls for an investigation of the murder of investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze. Opposition demonstrations allege that President Kuchma was involved and call for his impeachment. President Kuchma denies the allegations.
Mass protests occur in Kiev and other cities in September demanding the resignation of President Kuchma.
U.S. officials release recordings in which President Kuchma is heard selling early-warning radar systems to Iraq. On the same tapes, Kuchma is heard ordering an official to “deal with” journalist Georgiy Gongadze.
Kiev demonstrations demanding Kuchma’s resignation grow in size and intensity in November. President Kuchma responds by sacking the prime minister, Anatoliy Kinakh. Viktor Yanukovych is appointed Prime Minister. Yanukovych pledges to fight poverty and corruption and to work toward integration into Europe.
Prime Minister Yanukovych wins the November presidential election. Western observers report widespread vote rigging. Opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko launches a campaign of mass street protests. Many of the protestors dress in orange, and the movement is dubbed the “Orange Revolution.” The Ukrainian Supreme Court later annuls the election results.
Opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko tops the polls in the re-run election in December. Yanukovych resigns.
In January, Yushchenko is sworn in as President of Ukraine.
Parliament overwhelmingly approves his nominee for prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, in February.
President Yushchenko announces in March that the suspected killers of journalist Georgiy Gongadze are in custody. He also accuses the former authorities of a cover-up.
Yushchenko dismisses the government of Yulia Tymoshenko in September, and Yuriy Yekhanurov is appointed prime minister.
In January, Russia briefly cuts gas supplies to Ukraine after a long fight over gas prices. Moscow says its reasons are purely economic, but Ukraine is certain that the cut-off is politically motivated.
Viktor Yanukovych’s party tops the polls in parliamentary elections for prime minister in March. Faced with a deadline to accept Viktor Yanukovych’s nomination or call new elections, President Yushchenko agrees that his rival can become prime minister. Yekhanurov is out.
In September, parliamentary elections result in pro-Russian parties gaining a small majority.
Yulia Tymoshenko is appointed prime minister for a second time in December in a coalition with President Yushchenko’s party.
In March, Russia’s state-owned natural gas company Gazprom and Ukraine agree to a contract to supply Ukraine’s industrial consumers directly, temporarily ending a long fight over gas supplies.
In October, a global financial crisis causes a sharp decline in world demand for steel. Steel is a major Ukrainian export item. The value of Ukrainian currency plummets, and foreign investment in Ukraine dries up. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) offers Ukraine a loan of $16.5 billion (£10.4 billion) to help it weather the storm.
January talks between Russia and Ukraine about unpaid bills and gas prices collapse, and Russia stops all gas supplies to Ukraine. This causes gas shortages in southeast Europe. A week later, Ukraine and Russia sign a 10-year deal on gas transit, and supplies are restored.
That December, Ukraine and Russia sign an agreement on oil transit for 2010. Europe had been concerned that supplies would be cut off again.
Viktor Yanukovych is declared winner of second round of presidential election in February. His main rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, refuses to accept the result, alleging fraud.
Tymoshenko resigns in March after a no-confidence vote, and President Yanukovych appoints Mykola Azarov to succeed her.
In April, Ukraine agrees to eliminate its stockpile of weapons-grade nuclear material ahead of the Washington Nuclear Security Summit. It also extends an agreement on Russia’s lease on the Black Sea fleet base at Sevastopol in Crimea for 25 years in return for cheaper gas imports.
The Ukrainian Parliament votes to abandon any plans for NATO membership in June.
In July, international media freedom watchdogs criticize a Kiev court’s decision to cancel the allocation of broadcasting frequencies to two privately run TV channels.
The IMF approves another $15 billion (£9 billion) loan for Ukraine in August, subject to the government curbing subsidies for utilities bills.
In October, the Ukrainian Constitutional Court overturns limits on presidential power that were introduced in 2004.
President Yanukovych vetoes a tax reform in November that had prompted thousands of business owners and opposition activists to protest in city centers nationwide. The reform was part of austerity measures demanded by the IMF as a condition of the bailout approved in August.
In December, Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko are charged with abuse of state funds. Both deny the charges and say the accusations are politically motivated.
In March, Ex-President Leonid Kuchma is charged for involvement the 2000 murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze. He denies any part in the killing. In the same month, the Ukraine government fails to pass a pension reform bill and also increases the watering down of gas price. The IMF puts its $15 billion bailout on hold.
The main suspect in the Gongadze killing, former Interior Ministry official Olexiy Pukach, goes on trial in April. According to prosecutors, he had confessed to strangling and beheading Gongadze. He claimed to have received his orders from Kuchma.
In October, a Ukrainian court finds former Prime Minister Tymoshenko guilty of abuse of power over a gas deal with Russia in 2009 and sentences her to seven years in prison. European governments view her arrest and conviction as a political ploy inspired by Vladimir Putin and his cohorts within the Ukrainian government. The E.U. warns Ukraine of “profound implications.”
Ukraine postpones a summit of Central and East European leaders in Yalta in May after several leaders boycott it over the mistreatment of Yulia Tymoshenko in prison. Others boycott the Euro 2012 football championship.
In July, a new law makes Russian the regional language. Protestors demonstrate in anger. Police in Kiev tear-gas them.
In October, the first parliamentary elections since President Yanukovych came to power in 2010 see a decisive win for his governing Party of Regions and a surprise boost for the far-right Freedom Party. Observers from the U.S. and the E.U. claim that the poll was seriously tainted.
In February, the European Union gives Ukraine a deadline to meet conditions for the planned trade agreement. At a meeting in Brussels, Ukraine President Viktor F. Yanukovich said he believed that the outstanding issues could be resolved by November 2013.
The European Court of Human Rights rules unanimously in April that the arrest and detention of Yulia Tymoshenko in 2011 was illegal and unjust.
November 21 –Yanukovich’s government abruptly rejects a trade agreement with the European Union on grounds that it would damage ties with Russia. The Ukrainian Parliament also rejects a bill that would have allowed jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko to leave the country. A few hundred pro-Ukrainian, pro-democracy protestors enter Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the Kiev equivalent of Independence Square.
November 24 – About 100,000 protestors occupy Maidan to voice their anger over what they see as Yanukovich selling out the Ukraine to Russian President Vladmir Putin’s government. Large protests occur in other Ukraine cities as well.
November 30 – Riot police brutally attack demonstrators at Maidan.
December 1 – The violence prompts public outrage in Ukraine and some concern around the world. Pro-democracy activists occupy Kiev city hall and establish a tent camp at Maidan.
December 11 – Thousands of riot police storm Maidan but are unable to clear out the protestors. The police retreat after a few hours. Protestors are emboldened, and additional groups reinforce them.
December 8 –Over 800,000 active protestors gather on the streets of Kiev. Thousands more man support centers to handle communications and protect injured protestors in hospitals from being kidnapped by police or Russian agents. An angry crowd topples and smashes a statue of Lenin, Kiev’s most prominent monument to the communist leader.
December 14 – Pro-Russian protestors are bussed into Kiev. Their numbers are about one tenth those of the anti-Russian mainstream protest movements. There is evidence that Putin is directly funding and supporting the “pro-Russian” groups. The pro-Russian protests dominate the Russian government controlled media.
December 17 – After a series of meetings between Yanukovich and Vladimir Putin, Moscow announces that it will to lend $15 billion to Ukraine and slash the price it pays for gas.
January 16 – Yanukovich’s allies in parliament ignore the Ukrainian Constitution and pass bills to outlaw most forms of street protest.
January 19 – Some of the more radical Ukrainian activists barricade Grushevsky Street, which runs from Maidan to the parliament.
January 22 – Police shoot and kill two protesters. A third protestor dies after falling from a colonnade on Grushevsky Street. The police deny responsibility. During the following week, several activists are abducted and tortured by police. One is killed. Yanukovich and his cabal deny knowledge of the kidnappings, but only he and the Russians claim to believe his denials.
January 24 – Protesters occupy the Agricultural Policy Ministry close to Maidan and announce the seizure of local government buildings in several cities in western and central Ukraine.
January 28 – Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigns, and the anti-protest law is rescinded. Opposition leaders refuse to form a new cabinet under Yanukovich.
January 29 – Parliament passes an amnesty bill promising to drop charges against all those arrested during the unrest if protesters agree to leave government buildings. The opposition rejects its conditions.
February 16 – Amnesty is granted to detained protesters after activists agree to vacate some occupied buildings and streets. The ability of the protestors to negotiate the deal and follow up on their promises indicates that they are highly organized.
February 18 – Police block protesters from marching on parliament to demand constitutional reform. Riots erupt. About twenty-five people are killed, including seven policemen, and hundreds are injured by brutal police attacks. The police fail to dislodge the protestors, and some of the protestors become more violent in response to the police aggression.
February 19 – The encamped protestors on Maidan remain defiant, though they are surrounded by riot police. Protesters retake some government buildings in Western Ukraine and reject Yanukovich’s authority. Yanukovich and the protestors agree to a truce.
February 20 – The truce dissolves. Violence increases in Kiev. The death toll in 48 hours of clashes rises to approximately 80 people. About 500 are wounded. Videos show uniformed snipers firing at protesters holding home-made shields. European Union foreign ministers fly in to try to broker a deal. Russia announces it is sending an envoy.
February 21 – President Yanukovych signs a truce agreement with opposition leaders that was negotiated by foreign ministers from France, Germany, and Poland – an attempt to form a new national unity government. The deal includes constitutional changes to return powers back to parliament and early elections to be held by December. Violence continues in Kiev. In Western Ukraine, protesters occupying government buildings remain defiant, refusing to recognize the Kiev authorities.
February 22 – Protesters take control of the presidential administration buildings. President Yanukovych leaves Kiev. He is reported to be in Kharkov in the northeast. Parliament votes to remove him from power and sets elections for May 25. Yanukovych appears on TV to insist that he is still President of Ukraine. His arch-rival and opposition leader, Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, is freed from prison and travels to Kiev. Many of the protest leaders hope that she will serve as a unifying pro-independence/pro-European figure for the various protest groups.
February 23 – Parliament names speaker Olexander Turchynov to be Interim President. Turchynov is a close associate of Tymoshenko. Turchynov tells the Ukrainian parliament that they have until Tuesday to form a new unity government.
February 24 – The Turchynov-led Ukrainian government issues an arrest warrant for Yanukovych.
February 26 – Members of the new Ukrainian government appear before the pro-democracy demonstrators. The Berkut Police Unit, which was responsible for deaths of protesters, is disbanded. Russia sponsors rival protests in the Crimea.
February 27 – Pro-Russian gunmen in uniforms without unit or national badges seize key buildings in the Crimean capital of Simferopol. Their equipment is clean and up-to-date. They lack the appearance of anything like a “home-grown militia.” Yanukovych issues a statement through Russian media saying he is still the legitimate President of Ukraine. Putin and some Russians believe that he is. Many non-Russian Ukrainians and international observers believe that the gunmen are Russian Special Forces and the precursor of a Russian military invasion of Ukraine.
February 28 – Soldiers in uniforms lacking unit and national identities take over Crimea’s main airports. At his first news conference since escaping from Ukraine, Yanukovych, now in Russia, continues to pretend that he is President of Ukraine. Ukraine’s Central Bank limits daily foreign currency cash withdrawals to 1,000 Euros.
U.S. President Obama warns that there will be costs to the Russians for any military intervention in the Ukraine. The president does not explain what those costs will be.
March 1 – Russia’s parliament approves President Vladimir Putin’s request to use Russian forces in Ukraine. Ukraine’s Acting President Olexander Turchynov puts his army on full alert.
Pro-Russian rallies take place in several Ukrainian cities outside Crimea. Western countries express alarm over the Russian deployment. U.S. President Barack Obama holds a 90-minute telephone conversation with Putin, urging him to pull forces back to bases in Crimea. Putin says Moscow reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers in Ukraine.
Putin seems to be using the same playbook with the same propaganda campaign that Adolf Hitler used to occupy Eastern Czechoslovakia in 1938. Nazi Germany subsequently invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. Let us hope that Vladimir Putin doesn’t prove to be quite as maniacal a dictator as Adolf Hitler was.
March 2 – Russian forces continue to deploy in combat kit and surround Ukrainian military facilities in the Crimean peninsula. Russian Secret Police attempt to coerce and blackmail Ukrainian leaders in the Crimea to shift their allegiance away from their central government to Russian-backed elements in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Naval Chief announces that he has transferred his allegiance to Russia.
Critical events continue to occur at a rapid pace. In Part Three, we will look at the complex dynamic of the forces at play in Ukraine and what Putin’s invasion means to the West.
*Special Thanks to photographer Mstyslav Chernov of Unframe Photographers for permission to use his amazing photographs that he made available at Wikimedia Commons. Please visit the Unframe Photographers site at Unframe.com and Mstyslav Chernov’s site at MstyslavChernov.com for more outstanding documentary photos.