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Flag of Russia
  1. Russia Main Page
  2. The Bolshevik Revolution
  3. Emergence of the USSR
  4. The Berlin Blockade and the Cold War
  5. Dissolution of the USSR
  6. Financial Crisis and Political Upheaval
  7. Putin's Rise to Power
  8. Attempts at Chechen Independence Fail
  9. A Shocking Hostage Situation, a Move Towards Climate Change, and Radiation Poison
  10. Crumbling Relations with the United States and Conflict with Georgia
  11. String of Suicide Bombs Sparks Fear of a Crackdown by Putin
  12. Protests and Unrest Surrounds the 2012 Presidential Election
  13. Russia Blocks U.N. Action in Syria
  14. New Laws Passed against Political Activists, Pussy Riot Arrested
  15. Russia enters the World Trade Organization, Won't Renew Weapons Pact with United States
  16. American Fugitive Seeks Asylum in Russia
  17. Russia Assists with Chemical Weapons Investigation in Syria
  18. International Protests and Multiple Bombings Threaten 2014 Olympics
  19. Russia Annexes Crimea, Experiences Economic Fallout Due to Sanctions
  20. Putin Signs Gas Accord with China, Begins Eurasian Union as Ukraine Fallout Continues
Russia Annexes Crimea, Experiences Economic Fallout Due to Sanctions

On March 1, 2014, Russian president Vladimir Putin dispatched troops to Crimea, citing the need to protect Russians from extremist ultranationalists, referring to the anti-government protesters in Kiev. The Russian troops surrounded Ukrainian military bases, and by March 3, Russia was reportedly in control of Crimea. The move sparked international outrage and condemnation just days after Russia successfully hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. President Obama called the move a "breach of international law."

The move by Russia came after several weeks of protests in Ukraine. In Feb., those protests turned violent. More than 100 people were killed and hundreds were wounded in the protests. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich fled Kiev on Feb. 22. On Feb. 24, an arrest warrant was issued for Yanukovich, citing the deaths of civilians during the protests.

In a press conference on March 4, Putin said he didn't see an immediate reason to initiate a military conflict, but Russia "reserves the right to use all means at our disposal to protect" Russian citizens and ethnic Russians in the region. In the middle of the crisis, Russia test-fired a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile, but said it was scheduled before the turmoil began and was not related to the political turmoil.

On March 6, the U.S. imposed sanctions on officials, advisers, and other individuals who have been involved in the undermining of democracy in the Crimea. The sanctions involved revoking visas for travel to the U.S. for those who hold them and refusing visas for those seeking them. On the same day, the Crimean Parliament approved a referendum, scheduled for March 16, asking voters if they want to secede from Ukraine and be annexed by Russia. "In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders," Obama said in response to the move. Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, threatened to dissolve the Crimean Parliament.

Nearly 97% of voters in Crimea chose to secede from Ukraine in the referendum on March 16, 2014. The next day, the Crimean Parliament declared the region independent and formally sought annexation by Russia. Russian president Vladimir Putin said the vote was legal and binding, and in a statement the Kremlin said, "The referendum was organized in such a way as to guarantee Crimea's population the possibility to freely express their will and exercise their right to self-determination." Obama told Putin that neither the U.S. nor the international community would recognize the results of the referendum. He said the referendum "violates the Ukrainian Constitution and occurred under duress of Russian military intervention." On March 17, Obama imposed economic sanctions on 11 Russian officials and Putin advisers, including Crimean prime minister Sergey Aksyonov, who were "responsible for the deteriorating situation in Ukraine." The sanctions froze the assets held in the U.S. and banned Americans from doing business with those sanctioned.

On March 18, Putin signed a treaty stating that Russia had annexed Crimea, reclaiming territory that was part of Russia from 1783, when Empress Catherine II took it over from the Ottoman Empire, to 1954 when Nikita Khrushchev transferred the region to Ukraine. "Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds of people," Putin said. After signing the treaty, Putin gave a speech that both defended his move, denounced internationally as a land grab, and lashed out at the West. "Our Western partners have crossed a line," he said, referring to the West's support for Kiev. "We have every reason to think that the notorious policy of confining Russia, pursued in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, continues today."

The move certainly jeopardized Russia's relationship with the U.S. and Europe, and complicated any hopes for a peace agreement in Syria and cast a cloud over the talks over Iran's nuclear program. Neither the U.S. nor the European Union recognized Crimea as part of Russia. The members of the Group of 8 industrialized nations announced on March 24 that they had suspended Russia from the group and moved the upcoming meeting from Sochi, Russia, to Brussels. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution on March 27 that declared Russia's annexation of Crimea illegal and described the referendum on the issue as "having no validity." One hundred countries voted in favor, 11 voted against, and 58 abstained. The resolution has no enforcement power, making it symbolic. Nonetheless, it clearly sent Putin a message.

After annexation, Putin continued to deploy troops on the southern and eastern border with Ukraine, areas that are dominated by ethnic Russians, raising fears that he may attempt to take over additional regions of the country. By the end of March, there were as many as 40,000 Russian troops stationed on the border.

Those fears were realized in early April, when pro-Russian protesters and armed militants in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Mariupol took over several government buildings and police stations. They also announced they were forming an independent republic and would hold a referendum on secession from Ukraine and annexation by Russia in May, clearly borrowing from the playbook used in Crimea. Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine's acting president, threatened the pro-Russian militias with an "antiterrorist operation" if they didn't withdraw. The militants ignored the ultimatum and Turchynov asked the UN to dispatch a peacekeeping force to the eastern part of the country. Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeatedly denied the government orchestrated the demonstrations.

On April 17, 2014, in Geneva, representatives from the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union reached an agreement intended to de-escalate the tension in eastern Ukraine. The agreement stated that all illegal armed groups will lay down their arms and all buildings seized illegally will be surrendered. Both sides agreed to end the violence and intolerance, with anti-Semitism being singled out. Protesters who were not suspected of committing capital offenses would be granted amnesty if they surrendered their arms. The statement also said while drafting a new constitution, Ukraine would make the process inclusive, transparent, and accountable. Russia did not commit to withdrawing the 40,000 troops it has massed on the Ukrainian border.

In response to Russia's refusal to comply with the agreement reached in Geneva to rein in the pro-Russian groups, the U.S. imposed additional sanctions in late April on seven Russian individuals, including Igor Sechin, the head of Russia's largest oil producer, and 17 companies with close ties to Putin, targeting some of the country's wealthiest and most powerful businessmen. The sanctions, announced on April 28, put a travel ban on the individuals and froze the assets of the officials and the businesses. They also restricted the import of U.S. goods that could be used for military purposes. The European followed with similar sanctions. The EU in general has been more reluctant than the U.S. to impose severe financial sanctions on Russia because of the closer economic ties between many European nations and Russia and Europe's reliance on Russia a source of energy. Nevertheless, the sanctions have begun to take a toll on Russia's economy. Standard & Poors cut Russia's rating, leaving it just one notch above junk status, investors have withdrawn about $50 billion from the country, and the stock market has fallen 13% in 2014.

Next: Putin Signs Gas Accord with China, Begins Eurasian Union as Ukraine Fallout Continues
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