Can Russia swallow Ukraine, or will EU save it?....
A titanic struggle is unfolding in the heart of Europe, while the world's--and America's--attention is occupied elsewhere. It centers on Ukraine, a country few Americans care about. The CIA World Factbook Ukraine page offers telling details. Ukraine is located betwixt Russia to its east, Poland, Romania & Moldova to its west. In the 10th & 11th century its capital, Kiev, was the heart of Kievan Rus, from where the Russian state sprang in the late 10th century. In the mid-17th century the Cossacks rebelled against Polish rule and created a Hetmanate state ("hetman" means "headman"--the chieftain of the Cossacks) that lasted a century. Then Russia moved in. From 1917 until 1920 Ukraine enjoyed independence, but then the Bolsheviks forcibly annexed and brutally ruled Ukraine, including forcing famine upon the recalcitrant region twice (1921-22 & 1932-33). Though formally part of the Soviet Union, Moscow got Ukraine and neighboring satellite Belarus separate votes in the UN General Assembly). Upon dissolution of the former Soviet Union at end-1991 Ukraine recovered its independence (part of the price: turning its nuclear arsenal over to Russia).
In December 2004 the "Orange Revolution" brought a democratic president, Viktor Yuschenko, to power. But his administration faltered, and in 2007 a pro-democracy rival, Yulia Timoshenko, became prime minister. The result split and thus weakened the Yuschenko administration. In 2010 she narrowly lost a presidential election to Viktor Yanukovych, pro-Russian and loser in the 2004 Orange election--an election held after Yanukovych got caught rigging the first one (with covert help from Putin, whose minions poisoned Yushchenko, nearly killing him).
Ukraine is the 46th largest country in the world, and is the second largest country in Europe, nearly the size of France. At 46 million people (updated pop. fig. from WaPo) it ranks 31st, and is nearly as populous as Spain. Its ethnic composition is 78 percent Ukrainian, 17 percent Russian; its people follow various Eastern Orthodox religious orders. Long known for its rich agricultural harvests, it also has bountiful mineral deposits. Its 2012 GDP was $340 billion, ranking 39th. Of Ukraine's immense value to Russia--in Russian, the word "ukraine" means "border country"--Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said:
"Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire."