Ukraine is fighting to save its young democracy—militarily against Russian-backed forces in the East, and politically, economically and socially against corruption and power struggles everywhere. Ukraine’s democratic development depends in part on its ability to maintain unity. That means healing the divides between East and West, especially in the face of the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and the subsequent incursion into the Donbass region. The U.S. Institute of Peace raises awareness of the issues in U.S. policy circles and supports Ukrainians in strengthening the bonds between citizens forced to flee the fighting in the East and their host communities in the West.
Five years ago, Russia rolled into Crimea, orchestrated a swift and one-sided referendum, and annexed the Ukrainian territory. The West was blindsided by the attack and slow to provide any response. As a result, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a second invasion of Ukrainian soil—this one in the country’s east. This attack met stronger resistance, and eventually the West swung into gear to push for a cease-fire and to impose sanctions on Russia. Yet the conflict rumbles on and has killed over 10,300 Ukrainians so far.
Ukraine is facing a busy election season in 2019, with presidential elections on March 31 and parliamentary elections scheduled for October, amid a challenging security context. Many Ukrainians expect turbulent and “dirty” elections with increased tension during the campaign periods, and between Election Day and the likely presidential run-off.
Russia failed to anticipate that its invasion of Ukraine in 2014 would cost it one of its most powerful levers of influence over its neighbor: the formal authority of the Russian Orthodox Church over its Ukrainian counterpart. But it has done so, and that unintended consequence could lead to others: a decline in Russian influence within the Eastern Orthodox world, a deeper division in the Orthodox community—and even perhaps the largest schism in Christianity since 1054. The international community has a key role in determining how this unfolds and must act to ensure the worst scenarios don’t come to pass.