Understanding 'Ukrainia'

Ukraine has been in the news a lot lately. Some would say that the Trump-Ukraine scandal that’s rocking the political world right now has its origins in the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. To save time, I’ll start in 2014.

The Basics of Ukraine-Russia Relations

Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe that shares a long border -- and history -- with Russia. The western half of Ukraine is Ukrainian-speaking and historically leans more toward Europe politically.

The eastern half of the country is Russian-speaking with a deeply ingrained Russian cultural footprint.

Ukraine also has territory on the Black Sea that Russia wants for military and trade purposes, including a peninsula known as the Crimea. 

Russia’s current president Vladimir Putin has a habit of invading neighboring countries, chasing the dream of regrouping the lost republics of the former Soviet Union.

In 2014, Putin ordered the annexation of Russian-speaking Ukrainian territories and Crimea in particular.

This annexation was viewed as an extremely concerning and aggressive act by international governing bodies. 

US-Ukraine-Russia Relations

In response to the annexation of Crimea, President Obama kicked President Putin out of the G8, a diplomatic summit of eight major global economies -- now known as the G7.

The Russian annexation of Crimea is the key turning point in US-Russia relations, although they had been worsening for a while due to Putin’s pesky habit of murdering journalists and jailing political rivals.

The U.S. also put sanctions (financial boycotts) on Russian state-owned companies.

This severely hurt Russia’s economy, which relies heavily on oil and natural gas for revenues (in other words, Putin and his friends lost out on billions of dollars).

Most of US-Russia relations for the last five years have revolved around Putin trying to get these sanctions removed by any means necessary, including rigging a certain presidential election. 

Ukraine had a revolution in early 2014 against their corrupt pro-Russia president Victor Yanukovych, whose ridiculously extravagant lifestyle is described here.

For this reason, Ukraine is a fledgling democracy whose elections are very susceptible to rigging by the Russians to install a friendly government.

The U.S. has offered military and financial aid to Ukraine to fund their defense against Russian invasion for the last five years.

We have troops stationed there as well -- something the Russians really don’t like. If that military aid were to suddenly stop, there would be essentially nothing preventing the Russians from taking even more Ukrainian land and destabilizing their government.

The Trump-Ukraine Scandal

The 2016 election was plagued with accusations that the Trump campaign accepted help from the Russian government to rig the election.

It has been since confirmed by U.S. intelligence agencies that there was a concerted effort by the Russians to spread misinformation about Hillary Clinton (“fake news”) online, which severely damaged her reputation.

The Trump campaign’s communications with the Russians were reviewed by a special investigator, who concluded that while they were troubling and unethical, they were not technically illegal.

Trump’s overly friendly relationship with Putin, an adversary of the U.S., has also long troubled the U.S. intelligence community.

So, when Trump called the new Ukrainian president Volodmyr Zelenskyy in July of this year and asked for the “favor” of investigating Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in exchange for continued military support, it alarmed several people who were aware of the call for a few reasons:

  1. The president was inviting foreign support into a U.S. election, four years after the same support helped him win the presidency.

  2. Discontinuing military support for Ukraine goes against all mainstream U.S. foreign policy and would damage our relationship with an important buffer state between Russia and Europe.

  3. Withholding military support for Ukraine is exactly what Putin wants and would signal a lessened U.S. role in fighting Russian aggression.

What’s Next?

Ukraine is a strategic partner and an ally in the fight against Russian aggression in Europe. 

More information will unfold over the next few weeks regarding this scandal.

Just days ago, text messages between State Department officials and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine showed that Trump may have planned to withhold the prospect of a meeting between himself and President Zelensky to force Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.

The entire situation shows a deeply concerning effort by the president to put the security of Ukraine and U.S. interests in Europe on the line in exchange for receiving a personal favor and undercuts the long-term U.S. policy of supporting fledgling democracies around the world.