DemDaily: Understanding Urkaine: The Timeline

February 15, 2022

In less than 24 hours, the Russian Federation is expected to invade Ukraine, one of 15 republics that seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991.

At 2:00pm yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced "We are told that February 16 will be the day of the attack ...This afternoon we will hang national flags, put on blue-yellow ribbons and show the world our unity. We have one great European aspiration. We want freedom and are ready to vote for it. 14 thousand defenders and civilians who died in this war are watching us from the sky. And we will not betray their memory."

Less than 13 months into his term and just eight months since he ended "America's Longest War" in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden is balancing concerns about leading the United States into a new war as an international security crisis with Russia plays out, now hourly, on the world stage.

To understand what brings us to this place in history, one must first understand the battle for Ukraine's independence and its struggle between the West and East over the last thirty years.

Understanding Ukraine: The Timeline
From 1989 to 1991, strong nationalist and separatist movements sweep throughout central and Eastern Europe, ending with the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on December 26, 1991.

Months earlier, on August 24, 1991, the Ukrainian parliament, officially called the Verkhovna Rada, adopts the Act of Independence, which is approved by 92.3% of the voters as the Act of Declaration of Independence on December 1, 1991.

The same day Leonid Kravchuk, leader of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic, is elected as the first president of Ukraine, the second-largest country by area in Europe after Russia.

The republics that make up the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), or Soviet Union, include: Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldovia, Tajikistan, Turkmenia and Uzbekistan.

Following its independence, Ukraine declares itself a neutral state, forming a limited military partnership with Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), while also establishing a partnership with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1994.

July: Kravchuk loses the presidential election to Leonid Kuchma, also a former communist, in free elections.

December: In a treaty called the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine, home to the world's third-largest nuclear stockpile, strikes a nuclear disarmament agreement with the US, the UK and Russia.

1994 to 2004
Kuchma's 10-year term is credited with transitioning Ukraine from a Soviet republic to a capitalist society, but is marked by corruption, including 1999 election-rigging and a 2000 scandal over the ordered death of a journalist.

July: Kuchma's hand-picked successor, Viktor Yanukovych, who is supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin, defeats popular, pro-democracy opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko by 3% amid allegations of vote-rigging.

Doctors confirm that Yushchenko, who fell mysteriously ill in the final months of the campaign, has been poisoned. Massive protests follow, known as the Orange Revolution, forcing a rerun of the vote.

December: Yushchenko prevails to become independent Ukraine's third president, promising to lead the country towards NATO and the European Union (EU).

With the 2004 expansion of the European Union to include Cyprus, Malta and eight central and eastern European countries, "Pro-Russian" Eastern Ukraine and the "pro-European" Western Ukraine sentiments development.

Yushchenko, with the support of US President George W. Bush, tries to bring Ukraine into NATO, but France and Germany oppose it after Russia voices displeasure. In a compromise, NATO promises that Ukraine will one day be a member of the alliance.

In February, Yanukovich fends off a challenge by Yulia Tymoshenko, his former prime minister, in the presidential election. He again declares Ukraine a "neutral state," cooperating with both Russia and Western alliances.

2013: November: Yanukovych refuses to sign a free trade agreement with the EU, opting to revive economic ties with Moscow -- triggering months of mass protests in Kyiv.

February 19: Violence erupts in Kyiv’s Maidan Square between police and anti-government protestors, who call for the ouster of Yanukovych over corruption and the abandoned trade agreement. The Maidan Revolution left more than 100 dead in the single bloodiest week in Ukraine's post-Soviet history.

The Ukrainian parliament votes to impeach Yanukovych, who flees to Russia. The Rada votes to remove Yanukovych, charges him with the mass murder of the Maidan protesters and installs an interim government.

February 27: Russian troops take over Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and seize the regional parliament and government buildings.

March 6: With Russian troops in control, the Crimean parliament votes to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. A March 16 public referendum follows, with a widely disputed 97% of residents in favor of secession.

March 18: Putin announces the Russian annexation of Crimea. It remains the only time that a European nation's borders are changed by military force since World War II.

March 24: The US and other leaders of the G8 industrialized nations impose sanctions on Russia and remove it from the bloc, now known as the G7. The annexation is declared illegal in a resolution by the UN.

April: With some 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's eastern border, pro-Russian separatists in the region of Donbas declare independence. The violence continues until September when Ukraine and Russia signed the first Minsk agreement, a ceasefire that is soon broken.

May: Pro-West politician Petro Poroshenko, a former government minister and head of the Council of Ukraine's National Bank, is elected Ukraine's president on a reform, anti-corruption and energy independence platform.

2015: Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany meet again in Belarus to sign the Minsk II in an unsuccessful attempt to end the ongoing fighting Donbas. From 2014 through today, the conflict has killed more than 14,000 people, wounded tens of thousands and displaced more than a million.

April: Actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky is elected president of Ukraine, vowing to make peace with Russia and end the war in the Donbas.

July: On a phone call with US President Donald Trump, Zelensky asks for a meeting about US backing of Ukraine's efforts to push off Russia. While freezing $400 million in security aid for Ukraine, Trump asks Zelensky for "a favor": an investigation into energy company Burisma Holdings and the Bidens. A White House whistleblower complains, leading to Trump's first impeachment in December 2019.

April: Russia sends about 100,000 troops to Ukraine's borders, ostensibly for military exercises. Zelensky urges NATO to escalate efforts for Ukraine's admission.

August: In a White House meeting with Zelensky, President Joe Biden, elected in November, reiterates the US' commitment "to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression."

December 7: Biden and Putin speak by phone. Putin demands an end to eastward expansion by NATO, while Biden threatens to impose harsh economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine.

December 14: Russian troops conduct drills in the Rostov region in southern Russia.

January 2: In a call with Zelensky, Biden promises that the US and allies will act "decisively" if Russia further invades Ukraine.

January 10: US and Russian diplomats, meeting in Geneva, fail to narrow differences on Ukraine.

January 14: A cyberattack warning Ukrainians to “be afraid and expect the worst” hits government websites.

January 23: The US State Department orders the families of embassy staff to leave Ukraine. NATO places forces on standby the next day, including 8,500 US troops.

January 26: The US and NATO deliver their written responses to Putin's demands, stating they cannot bar Ukraine from joining NATO but signal a willingness to negotiate over smaller issues like arms control.

"We are not putting forward our intelligence to start a war, which has happened, we are putting forward our intelligence to stop a war.” - National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, on the Biden administration's transparency

February 2: The US announces the deployment of 2,000 troops to Poland and Germany and 1,000 more to Romania.

February 7: Over the next week, both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meet separately with Putin in Moscow.

February 10: Russia and Belarus begin joint military exercises, with 30,000 Russian troops stationed in the country along Ukraine's northern border.

February 11: The US and the UK urge their citizens to leave Ukraine. Biden announces the deployment of another 2,000 troops to Poland.

February 13: Biden and Putin speak by phone.

February 15: Ukraine reports a cyberattack against its Ministry of Defense and Banks. Russia has over 150,000 troops circling Ukraine and Belarus and along Ukraine's border.

Russia's Defense Minister announces that some military units are leaving their positions near Ukraine after completing military exercises. This afternoon, however, President Biden stated that the US has no verification of such actions and "indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position."

In a 3:30pm press conference today, Biden, speaking to the American people, and at times pointedly to the Russian and Ukrainian people, said, "An invasion remains distinctly possible."

Biden said he and President Putin agree that giving diplomacy "every chance to succeed" is critical, but reiterated that Russia will face "powerful sanctions" by the US and its NATO allies if it launches a military attack against Ukraine.

"If Russia attacks Ukraine, it would be a war of choice - a war without cause or reason. I say these things not to provoke but to speak the truth. Because the truth matters. Accountability matters. If Russia does invade in the days and the weeks ahead, the human costs for Ukraine will be immense, and the strategic cost for Russia will also be immense." - President Joe Biden, February 15, 2022

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Sources: NPR, CTVNewCA, Aljazeera, International Crisis Group, CNN, Reuters, White House, US State Department, Wik

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