Here's What's Happening In Ukraine And Why It Matters

UkraineAP/Sergei ChuzavkovAn anti-government protester relaxes during clashes with riot police in Kiev’s Independence Square, the epicentre of the country’s current unrest, Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014.

The capital of Ukraine is on fireafter the most violent day since the former Soviet republic became independent in 1991.

What happens next will have “civilisation-defining” implications.

The country of 46 million is caught between ties to Russia and the West, with lucrative gas pipelines connecting the two sides.

The geopolitical clash is being played out by Kremlin-backed forces loyal to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and citizens calling for integration with the European Union.

In November, Yanukovych snubbed an open invitation to integrate with the West and veered back into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s orbit. Protesters took to the streets, and over time their demands evolved into calls for the resignation of Yanukovych and his government over perceived corruption and abuse of power.

Now, as people are dying on both sides of battle lines drawn in Kiev’s Independence Square (aka Maidan), the stakes and tensions have never been higher. And both sides are digging in.

Things could get a lot worse: On Wednesday, Ukrainian security forces launched an “anti-terrorist operation” across the country and the Western region of Lviv
declared independence from Yanukovych’s government.

The worst case scenario is full-blown civil war, which would reverberate across Europe. The best case is a political truce, which seems less and less likely.

This is where the clashes are taking place.

Screen Shot 2014 02 19 at 10.36.10 AMREUTERSMap locating unrest and fighting between anti-government protesters and police in several Ukrainian cities.

Whatever the outcome, the conflict will reshape the power structure of central Europe.

“The emergence of a democratic independent Ukraine transforms the geo-strategic landscape in Central Europe,” Distinguished Chair in European Security at the RAND Institute F. Stephen Larrabee told Business Insider in January. “Without Ukraine Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire. However, if Russia were to regain control over Ukraine with its 46 million people, major resources and access to the Black Sea, Russia would automatically regain the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state.”

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