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In the post-Cold War years Russia, with its immense and tapped natural reserves of oil and gas had become something akin to Europe’s main energy supplier.
In the face of rising living costs and food prices, the European Union (EU) were keen to maintain a constant supply of gas and oil at affordable prices in an attempt to control inflation.
Having been humiliated after the collapse of the Soviet Union and incensed at NATO’s almost provocative expansion into what Russia has always considered its “sphere of influence”, nationalism and ultra-nationalism in the country has been steadily rising since the late 1990s. With its coffers swollen from EU and Chinese purchases of its resources, successive governments have expanded Russia’s conventional military. While the US and several eastern European nations have been vocal about the Great Bear’s sabre rattling at nations such as the Ukraine and other former Soviet Republics, by 2013 the EU as a whole limited its condemnations to token efforts.
Many former Soviet-Republics watched the 2008 South Osseita War with nervousness, particularly Russia’s tactic of issuing ethnic Russians with Russian passports and then moving to “protect” them from Georgian forces in the fighting. With substantial populations of Russia diasporas in nearly every eastern European nation, and a large number of those populations have been vocal in their opposition to plans of moving further away from Russia and closer to Europe.
In November 2015,the Russian government offered passports and citizenship to any citizen of Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Lithuania and Estonia that could prove Russian ancestry to at least one set of grandparents. In two days, over 250,000 people applied.
The governments the Baltic States, fearing a repeat of 2008 immediately moved to seize the passports. The EU declared this a violation of international law but as Ukraine and Belarus were not in the Union and Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia had been become “second tier” member states in 2014, there was little that Brussels could actually do.
Some villages and towns near the Russian border resisted the government with force and in turn more force was used. On March 2nd, 14 people were shot dead by troops in Ukraine. The Russian government was besieged by their new citizens for protection and when 200 people occupied in the Russian embassy in Ukraine’s capital, Russia moved troops to the border in a peacekeeping capacity. The Ukraine government, now desperate to stop the flood of people and money across the border to Russia deployed it’s own troops with an ultimatum that if a single solider stepped foot onto Ukrainian soil or if a shot was fired, it would be considered an act of war. Russia responded with an ultimatum of its own: if any citizen were prevented from travelling in any way, they would move to protect innocent with force.
No one quite knows what happened but at 06:32 March 7th a Private in the Ukrainian army was shot dead. The Russians were immediately blamed and the Ukrainian forces in the area began shooting back. This resulted in a skirmish that by the end had left 3 soldiers and 7 civilians dead. The Russian forces moved across the border. The Ukrainian government declared war on Russia. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania moved to support Ukraine and as one contacted the EU to request assistance. Fearful of escalating the conflict and fully aware that the US had no interest in getting involved, the EU in fact ordered its members to stand down and offered to send in peacekeepers. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania responded with leaving the Union, citing their anger at the lack of will to defend them.
The Russian-Ukrainian War remained fairly low-key and consisted of minor border skirmishes until March 12th when a stray Russian missile veered off course and destroyed an Ukrainian shelter. 42 people, mainly women and children were killed. Ukraine retaliated with a massive air raid on the Russian city of Tula, resulting in the death of 62 people.
As the conflict threatened to turn into an all out war, NATO ordered Russia to desist with the attacks and allow peacekeepers to be sent in. Russia offered to withdraw provided the Ukrainian armed forces were prosecuted for war crimes.
Any hope of NATO making a difference to the conflict was hamstrung by lack of involvement by America (who had no interested in becoming involved in foreign wars after Iraq and Afghanistan) and the weakness of European forces and constant infighting.
Refugees from Eastern Europe who were desperate to escape the warzone before it spread flooded EU ports and airports. Using the EU’s laws on free movement, most of the refugees went straight to those member states with high Eastern European populations. The vast majority went to the United Kingdom were angry and violent scenes were seen at Heathrow and Gatwick. Hounded by all corners of the press and with several parts of the country threatening open revolt at the sudden influx, the UK’s David Cameron order the UK Border Authority to turn away all future planes and ships. When the EU in turn ordered him to allow them access, Cameron began to openly discuss leaving the European Union unless other nations accepted those fleeing – by force if necessary. Eventually, 1.5 million people were accepted and shared between Spain, France and Germany.
The Ukrainian forces, despite fighting valiantly were clearly beginning to lose the conflict and by March 15th, Russian tanks were advancing on Keiv. When the capital fell on March 23rd, revolts by pro-Russian militias across Eastern Europe brought down a number of governments. This period of revolt became known as the Russian Problem.
By May 15th, Ukraine had surrendered and a heavily pro-Russian interim government was in power. Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Belarus all suffered revolts and are now either under the control of pro-Russia groups or are currently being monitored by international teams for upcoming elections.
By the end of May 2016, Russia had secured buffer governments in a number of surrounding countries as well as proving to the world at large that Russia had the ability to strike Europe and the European Union.