Ukraine is once again the focus of a tense standoff between the west and Russia. The conflicts that are gripping this unfortunate country have existed in more or less their present form since the dissolution of the USSR left Ukraine as a supposedly independent and sovereign nation. They are rooted in historical antecedents that go much further back in time before that.
Since 1991 there has been a repeating pattern of governments caught in crises that were inflamed by accusations of political and financial corruption. Chronic economic problems have done much to fuel popular discontent. There has been a pattern of presidents falling out with prime ministers and both setting out to do each other in.
In 1991 Leonid Kravchuk who was the head of state of the Ukrainian SSR jumped ship from the Communist Party and became the first president of Ukraine. He took an essentially pro western stand and resisted pressure from the Yelsin government of Russia. However, under his administration the privatization of state assets followed a similar pattern of corruption as it did in Russia. The scandals involved led to a falling out between Kracchuk and his prime minister Leonid Kuchma Kuchma ran for the presidency against Kracchuk and won with the support of Russian facing Eastern Ukraine. The new government did a volte face and oriented its policies toward Russia.
When alliance with Russia didn't solve the countries serious economic problems he began to pursue closer relations with the European Union. However, his government became mired in a variety of corruption scandals. He began to impose an authoritarian regime and turned back to Russia for support. By this time Putin was president of Russia.
The presidential election of 2004 turned into such a horrendous mess that it triggered what became known as The Orange Revolution. The two leading candidates were Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych. They wound up in a run off election.
The election was held in a highly charged atmosphere, with the Yanukovych team and the outgoing president's administration using their control of the government and state apparatus for intimidation of Yushchenko and his supporters. In September 2004, Yushchenko suffered dioxin poisoning under mysterious circumstances. While he survived and returned to the campaign trail, the poisoning undermined his health and altered his appearance dramatically (his face remains disfigured by the consequences to this day)Yanukovych who was Kuchma's protege was declared the winner. There was a wide spread perception that the government had worked to rig the outcome of the election. This observation was supported by foreign election monitors. This set off mass protest in Independence Square. The protesters adopted orange as their color symbol. For a period this revolution became the focus of international attention. Both Putin and western actors were making active efforts to influence the situation. The Bush administration actively supported the protesters in the name of promoting democracy.
Eventually the government was forced to conduct a second runoff election. This time Yushchenko was declared the winner. Western interests appeared to have scored a victory over Putin. President Yushchenko named his close political ally Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister.
It didn't take long for the two of them to have a falling out. Both of them became caught up in corruption scandals. In 2010 Yanukovych and Tymoshenko ran against each other for the presidency with Yanukovych playing to the the eastern part of Ukrain and Tymoshenko playing to the west. Yanukovych won and put Tymoshenko in jail. He in turn became caught up in corruption scandals and the recurring struggle between eastern and western orientations. He turned to Putin for support. There was another wave of mass demonstrations with both Russia and the west trying to influence the outcome.
Clearly the Orange Revolution failed to solve Ukraine's chronic problems as it was supposed to have done. At that time Putin more or less backed off, but continued to keep his hand in Ukrainian politics. Western governments including the US made their attempts to influence events. There is much controversy about who, what and how much money was spent, but some amount of effort in that direction seems to have happened. This time Putin has not backed off. He is presently engaged in a military occupation of Crimea. He seems inclined to intransigence in the face of western pressure.
There doesn't seem to be much convincing support for making firm predictions of what is going to happen next. However, in looking at the history of the past 23 years it does seem clear that Ukraine has serious problems that aren't going to be resolved by yet another regime change. There are major and strongly persistent divisions of interest within the populace. Even a competent and honest government would find it difficult to bridge those divides. Competent and honest governments are something that have yet to make an appearance on the Ukrainian political landscape.