In November 2013 the Ukrainian government decided not to sign a planned Association Agreement with the EU and demonstrations ensued in the capital Kiev. The ‘Euromaidan’ demonstrations turned violent in early 2014 and in February, some European foreign ministers mediated a compromise, involving a unity government and early elections.

After the collapse of a power-sharing agreement on 22 February 2014, Viktor Yanukovych disappeared from Ukraine and a new government which included some controversial figures was installed by the Ukrainian parliament.

Later in February unidentified military figures, widely thought in the West to be Russian personnel, surrounded the airports in Crimea, a majority-Russian peninsula in Ukraine and the Crimean autonomous assembly was taken over by pro-Russian forces.

This paper looks at the historical and economic background to the crisis and examines claims that the actions by Crimea, which has declared independence from Ukraine, are compatible with international law.

It also considers the proposed reaction of Western countries, which include targeted sanctions against those in the Kremlin who are assessed to have been associated with the decisions regarding Crimea. It also briefly considers other countries from the former Soviet Union with ethnic Russian minorities.

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