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Student Discussion Guide: Crisis in Ukraine

Ukraine’s new leaders have accused Russia of declaring war, and world leaders are urging a diplomatic solution.

Here’s what we know:

  • The trouble started in late November 2013 when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a trade agreement with the European Union (EU), instead choosing to maintain closer ties with Russia.
  • Following deadly protests led by Ukrainians who supported association with the EU, Yanukovych was ousted on February 22, 2014, and an interim government was put in place.
  • Threatened by the removal of Ukraine’s pro-Russia leader, Russian President Vladimir Putin convinced Parliament to approve the moving of Russian troops into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Crimea is an autonomous region of eastern Ukraine that has remained loyal to Russia. (Map image above courtesy of Electionworld/Kelisi.) The region is home to 59% ethnic Russians. Putin said he needed to protect Russian citizens and military based in Crimea, although Ukrainian officials dispute that claim.
  • By March 2, Russians had assumed military control of Crimea.
  • The U.S. condemned the aggression, along with other G7 leaders (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom). In a statement, President Obama called Russia’s actions a “violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” that “would negatively impact Russia’s standing in the international community.” Economic sanctions against Russia have been discussed.
  • On March 5, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France to attempt to resolve the crisis.
  • On March 6, the Crimean parliament made a request to become part of the Russian Federation. Crimea planned to hold a referendum on March 16, whereby citizens could vote on the proposal. A Ukrainian government minister said it would be unconstitutional for Crimea to join Russia, and Western diplomats attempted negotiations to prevent Russia from launching a full invasion of Ukraine.
  • With the March 16 referendum, Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
  • On March 27, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced a $14-18 billion loan agreement for Ukraine, tied to reforms. The U.S. Senate also approved $1 billion in loan gurantees, along with sanctions against Russia. The funding is designed to help stabilize the Ukrainian economy.
  • The United Nations on March 28 declared the March 16 referendum invalid, saying it violated the Ukrainian constitution. The U.N. said it will ignore Russian claims to Crimea. Meanwhile, Russia rejected the U.N. resolution, claiming it complicates efforts to resolve the crisis.
  • On March 28, President Obama and Putin spoke by phone. According to the White House, Putin called to talk about an American proposal "for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis," and the two presidents agreed that their respective top diplomats "would meet to discuss next steps." President Obama said a resolution to the crisis would be possible only if Russia pulls back its troops from Ukraine.
  • In mid-April, pro-Russian rebels (separatists) seized buildings in about 10 towns and cities across eastern provinces that represent Ukraine’s industrial centers. In response, Ukraine’s Acting President Olexander Turchynov announced the start of an “anti-terrorist operation” in the country’s Donetsk region.

  • President Barack Obama urged Putin to make separatists in Donetsk and other parts of eastern Ukraine stand down. Many fear that the Ukrainian action against the separatists will trigger a full-scale Russian invasion.

  • On April 17, diplomats representing EU, Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine met in Geneva and agreed that all parties would refrain from “violence, intimidation, or provocative actions” and that all “illegal armed groups will be disarmed.” In addition, all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.

  • In late April, the U.S. said Russia had failed to live up to an agreement to end the crisis, as promised on April 17. Ukraine has warned it will consider any crossing into its territory by Russian troops an invasion, and that they will respond with force.


Student discussion questions:

  1. What is the history of Ukraine? How did it get where it is today?
  2. What is Crimea’s political history? What are Russia’s interests there?   
  3. What is the danger of full-blown war in the region? 
  4. Why has the international community compared the situation in Crimea as similar to the 2008 conflict in Georgia, which resulted in South Ossetia breaking away from Georgia and being recognized as its own country? 
  5. What options does President Obama have in terms of a U.S. response? Why has the Crimean crisis been called the “most difficult foreign policy test of his presidency”? 
  6. How might the United States’ reaction to the Crimean situation impact relations between America and the Middle East? How do Ukraine's economic challenges impact the world economy?
  7. How successful have the international community's diplomacy efforts been thus far?
  8. What is the situation like for people living in Crimea?
  9. How did Crimeans view the March 16 referendum? How did their reaction contrast with the reactions of others in the international community?
  10. What actions, and by whom, might help to de-escalate tensions between Russian separatists and the Ukrainian "anti-terrorist" forces that were deployed in mid-April?


Article by Celine Provini, EducationWorld Editor
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Updated 04/25/2014