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April 9, 2014

Cold War tensions flare over Russia’s influence in Ukraine

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Tensions over Ukraine and Russia continue to grow. The Ukrainian government is pushing back against pro-Russian demonstrators who seized government buildings and declared independence in eastern Ukraine this week.

Ukrainian security forces ousted scores of demonstrators from the regional government headquarters in Kharkiv, though protesters still hold control of government buildings in two key cities.

“Around 70 people were detained, weapons were taken, and fire was extinguished. Right now, the city administration building is under control,” said Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s interior minister.

But armed separatists remain entrenched at the regional government building in Donetsk, also in the east. Pro-Russian protesters have stormed the building, barricaded it with tires and barbed wire, and vowed to stay until a vote is held on separating from Ukraine to join Russia, just as Crimea did a month ago.

“We are here for the sake of our families, for our salaries, for our health, for all those people who have already shed their blood. We will not leave this place until we will make the referendum happen,” said one protester calling himself Alexei.

A similar scene played out at the state security building in Luhansk, where authorities said protesters wired the building with explosives and are holding some 60 hostages, a claim the demonstrators denied.

In Washington, D.C., Secretary of State John Kerry criticized the Russian government for stoking unrest, a claim Russia denies.

“Russia’s clear and unmistakable involvement in destabilizing and engaging in separatist activities in the east of Ukraine is more than deeply disturbing,” he said. “No one should be fooled — and believe me, no one is fooled — by what could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention, just as we saw in Crimea. It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalysts behind the chaos of the last 24 hours.”

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Russian troops remain massed just across Ukraine’s eastern border. There are plans under way for diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, the U.S., and the European Union to hold talks on the crisis, but no date has been set.


Warm up questions
  1. Where is Ukraine? Where is Russia located in relation to Ukraine?
  2. What does it mean to secede from a county? What problems can arise from these kinds of actions?
Discussion questions
  1. Predict what might happen in the two eastern Ukrainian cities and explain your answer. Will they be allowed to secede? Will Russian troops invade?
  2. Why do you think the protests are occurring now?
  3. If more areas of Ukraine do secede, how will that affect the Ukrainian’s government’s ability to lead their country?
Writing prompts

Imagine that you are Secretary of State John Kerry. President Obama is looking to you to explain the current situation happening between Ukraine and Russia to him. Prepare a brief summary of what is going on, and specifically define how the following groups see the situation: Ukrainian government, Russian government, the UN and the United States government. Finally, suggest what you think the United States should do regarding the situation.

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