A 35-Step Guide To Understanding Why Russia Decided To Follow The Olympics With A War

After the Sochi Olympics, Putin invaded Ukraine. How months of anti-government protests led to the current standoff.

1. Ukraine, population 45 million, is strategically located between Russia and Europe. The current crisis has reignited the divide between Ukrainians who identify more with Europe and those who identify with Russia.

2. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union from 1919 until 1991. Millions died from state-imposed famines in the 1930s and then war with Nazi Germany. In 1986, a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl exploded, causing widespread damage that Moscow tried to silence.

3. In 1991, Ukraine declared its independence as the Soviet Union disintegrated, with 90% of Ukrainians voting for independence in a nationwide referendum. The country then struggled to rebuild its economy, end corruption, and develop its political system.

4. 2004 was a turning point. In November, Viktor Yanukovych, then prime minister, won the presidential election. Opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who was more Western-leaning, accused Yanukovych of vote rigging and called on Ukrainians to protest.

5. The mass anti-government movement became known as the Orange Revolution. Ukraine’s top court eventually annulled the results and called a new election, which Yushchenko won.

6. Another prominent politician, Yulia Tymoshenko, became Yushchenko’s prime minister. Over the next few years, political infighting, failed policies, economic stagnation, and corruption charges would weaken the Orange Revolution coalition.

7. In a move widely seen as a means of punishing Ukraine for turning westward, Putin cut the flow of gas to the country in 2006 and 2009. In 2010, as the country suffered a deep economic crisis, Yanukovych was elected president.

8. On Nov. 21, 2013, Yanukovych abruptly announced he would not sign an association agreement that would mean closer ties with the European Union, backtracking on previous statements. It was taken as a sign of Yanukovych’s move closer to Russia.

9. In response, protesters took to Independence Square in Kiev, the Maidan — the site of the Orange Revolution. The second day of protests, Nov. 22, was the 2004 revolution’s ninth anniversary. That same day Yanukovych at an EU summit said the deal was dead.

10. By Nov. 24, more than 100,000 peaceful protesters had gathered. They cheered, “Ukraine is Europe,” and called for Yanukovych's resignation. Shortly after, riot police abruptly raided the square and violently disrupted the demonstrations.

11. Over the following two weeks, protesters continued to fill Independence Square and clash with riot police as the political standoff deepened. Activists built tent camps and barricades, with intermittent attempts to storm government buildings.

12. They stole the dream. If this government does not want to fulfill the will of the people, then there will be no such government, there will be no such president,” Vitaly Klitschko, heavyweight boxer turned opposition politician, said at a Dec 1. rally.

13. Meanwhile, Russian TV dismissed the amassing protesters as being funded and aided by the U.S. State Department. One channel called them “professional revolutionaries, for whom organizing riots is a job.”

14. On Dec. 10, thousands of riot police tried to clear the tent camps and barricades with bulldozers, but were held back by protesters. On Dec. 17, Putin offered to lend Ukraine $15 billion and cut gas costs by a third to drum up support for Yanukovych.

15. The brutality continued to escalate. On Dec. 25, masked men dragged Ukrainian opposition journalist Tatyana Chornovol, 34, from her car and brutally beat her. Photos of a bludgeoned Chornovol quickly went viral.

16. Yanukovych wavered between outright force and mild restraint. Meanwhile, some EU and U.S. politicians, including EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and Sen. John McCain, came to Kiev to support the opposition and criticize Putin and Yanukovych.

17. On Jan. 16, the Ukrainian parliament passed a series of laws that essentially banned all forms of protest. Western countries roundly condemned the new legislation, which the Ukrainian opposition called a “coup d’état.”

18. This sparked further outrage. Hundreds of anti-government protesters fought pitched battles with police officers, who reportedly retaliated with rubber bullets, sound and gas grenades, and water cannons in freezing cold weather that plunged below -8°C.

19. European officials called for sanctions against the Ukrainian government and sharply condemned the violence. After negotiations with the opposition, parliament overturned all but two of the laws. Prime minister Mykola Azarov also abruptly resigned.

20. On Feb. 17, violence broke out yet again when protesters standing outside parliament started hurling projectiles, further complicating prospects for a truce between the government and opposition.

21. Thirteen people (seven protesters, six policemen) died in the resulting brawls. The government responded with an ultimatum to the protesters: If attacks continued past 6 p.m. that day, the police would have to “resort to harsh measures.”

22. The death toll continued to rise. On Feb. 19, Obama strongly condemned the Ukrainian government’s violent response. That same day Yanukovych and opposition leaders announced that they reached a “truce” and were in the beginnings of “negotiations.”

23. The deal called for early elections and limits to presidential power. The parliament also voted to fire Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko for the police’s violent attacks on civilians. By Feb. 20, 42 were dead (some from snipers) and hundreds injured.

24. On Feb. 22, Ukraine’s parliament voted to remove Yanukovych, who had fled Kiev for Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east, where his support is stronger. Yanukovych gave a speech opposing his removal.

25. That same day, the government released former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison, where she had been held for 2.5 years on corruption charges she denies. She spoke in Independence Square, a career politician before a divided people.

26. In the days that followed Yanukovych's whereabouts remained unknown, though it was speculated that he was in Russia. A warrant for his arrest was issued for charges of mass murder.

27. With Yanukovych gone, Ukrainians raided his residence, for the first time glimpsing his lavish lifestyle, including a zoo, funded by taxpayer money. Many also collected potentially incriminating documents from his home.

28. On Feb. 23, Ukraine’s legislature voted to give the president’s powers to the parliament’s speaker, Oleksander Turchynov, a Tymoshenko ally.

29. The same day, the Winter Olympics in Sochi closed after two weeks during which the Kremlin tried to project an image of a new, revived Russia onto the world stage.

30. Yanukovych was rumored to be in Crimea, a pro-Russian region of Ukraine with a Russian fleet. On Feb. 27, pro-Russian protestors took the street, as armed men seized control of Crimea's parliament and raised Russian flags.

31. Today many in the semi-autonomous Crimea region identify more with Russia than Ukraine. Crimea, which is predominately Russian-speaking, houses Russia's Black Sea fleet.

32. Events continued to escalate. Armed men, reportedly in Russian uniforms, seized Crimea's airport on Feb. 28 as Yanukovych resurfaced in Russia near Ukraine's border. That same day Yanukovych gave a defiant speech saying he was still president.

33. On March 1, Putin asked Russia’s parliament for permission to use Russian troops to defend Crimea and Ukraine. Parliament voted a unanimous "yes" less than two hours later. Obama condemned the move, which some Ukrainians called an "invasion."

34. Putin's request for war powers extends to all of Ukraine, including the east, where pro-Russian sentiment runs high among the largely Russian-speaking population. Russian troops are now amassing, threatening to destabilize Ukraine's new government.

35. Decades after the end of the Cold War, Ukraine remains politically and geographically divided. Putin, meanwhile, has been accused of failing to see Ukraine as a sovereign state, and has hoped to entice it to join his Eurasian Union.

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