For centuries Ukraine was in the Russian sphere of influence. Back in the days of the Russian Empire, the term “Little Russia” was commonly used for parts of modern-day Ukraine then under control of the Russian tsars. Nearly 100 years later, the Russian President Vladimir Putin is still using the diminutive name. Putin also once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” and in this context it seems like he thinks about annexing further parts of the country after beeing successfull with Crimea.
Accordingly, Russia considers the pro-Western demonstrationsand the potential rapprochement between Ukraine and the EU/NATO as a threat and accuses the West of formenting the revolution.
Then there is also the fact that without Ukraine, there is no Eurasian Union, which was planned by Putin as a counterweight to the European Union. He wanted to develop trade and economic relations with members of a customs union that would include Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Ukraine was considered as a key part of the plan.
Gas supplies had also long been an explosive issue between Russia and Ukraine. Russia is the key supplier of gas to the European Union, the biggest amount of gas runs trough Ukrainian pipeline network.
The fear might also be that the pro-Western protests in Ukraine might swap over to Russia and effect the Russians get ideas about taking to the streets, ecpecially after the “color revolutions” of the past decade (2003 Georgia, 2004 Ukraine, 2005 Kyrgyzstan).
- EUROPEAN UNION
For years the EU tried to negotiate with Ukraine about the European Union Association Agreement, but those efforts were always blocked by former President Viktor Yanukovych and his predecessors who were put under pressure by Russia.
After Yanukovych was removed from power through the revolution in February, the political and economical part of the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement was signed by the new government.
At the beginning of the revolution in Ukraine the EU acted as a mediator, after change of government and with the beginning of the uprising of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine it supported the pro-European government in Kyiv by introducing economic sanctions against Russia for supporting the separatists. The call for toughter sanctions might be heard as the crisis worsens.
Especially the eastern European members (mainly Poland and the Baltics) urge for a toughter line against the Kremlin as they fear they could be next on Vladimir Putin’s list.
Poland, Finland and the Baltics already asked NATO for additional bases and military presence in their region.
- UNITED STATES
In face of Russia’s position in the Ukraine crisis, as member of NATO and because of geostrategic means, the United States attach more importance to the situation in eastern Europe.
At first they counted on the crisis diplomacy of the EU, but they quickly realized it had reached an impasse and decided to make more pressure by developping the sanctions system with the EU and later calling for stronger response against Moscow.
They also offered economic support which is linked to political and econmic reforms.
The plan is simple, but hard to carry out - the US aims to restore stability to the region by keeping Russia out of Europe. It’s all about geopolitics.
But the effort to end the crisis and reach the stabitity in Europe has also some practical means. With the Israel-Gaza conflict, the Syrian Civil War and ISIS in Iraq, the US has from their position a much bigger problem to handle in the Middle East. So it might be in the highest interest of the United States to end the conflict in Ukraine as fast as possible.
The question now is: WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP NOW?