Why is Ukraine so important to Russia?
The two neighboring countries have been intertwined for over 1,000 years of tumultuous history. Today, Ukraine is one of Russia's biggest markets for natural gas exports, a crucial transit route to the rest of Europe, and home to an estimated 7.5 million ethnic Russians — who mostly live in eastern Ukraine and the southern region of Crimea. (All told, about 25 percent of Ukraine's 46 million people claim Russian as their mother tongue.) Russia lacks natural borders like rivers and mountains along its western frontier, so "its leaders have traditionally seen the maintenance of a sphere of influence over the countries around it as source of security," said David Clark, chairman of the Russia Foundation, a think tank. That's especially true of Ukraine, which Russia regards as its little brother. "Everybody knows that Ukrainians are Russians," said Kremlin adviser Sergei Markov. "Except for the Galicians" — a reference to the Ukrainian-speaking residents of western Ukraine…
…When did Ukraine become truly independent?
In 1991, more than 90 percent of Ukrainians voted to declare independence from the crumbling Soviet Union. But Russia continued to meddle in the country's affairs. In Ukraine's 2004 presidential election, the Kremlin backed pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych. Massive fraud in that election sparked the Orange Revolution, which kept Yanukovych from power. The failure of subsequent leaders led to Yanukovych's making a comeback in 2010. But after he canceled a trade deal with the European Union, he was driven from office again last month by pro-Western demonstrators. Despite the world's outrage, Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to let Ukraine leave his country's orbit. "Russia without Ukraine is a country," explains Daniel Drezner, an international politics professor at [The Fletcher School,] Tufts University. "Russia with Ukraine is an empire."
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