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The country of forty-five million people has struggled with its identity since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Ukraine has failed to resolve its internal divisions and build strong political institutions, hampering its ability to implement economic reforms.

The decision provoked demonstrations in Kiev on what became known as the Euromaidan by protesters seeking to align their future with Europe’s and speaking out against corruption.

The Yanukovich government’s crackdown after three months of protests, in some cases spurring reprisals by radicalized demonstrators, caused the bloodiest conflict in the country’s post-Soviet period, with scores killed.

Russia denied the charges but has continuously deployed thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border.

Russia has strong fraternal ties with Ukraine dating back to the ninth century and the founding of Kievan Rus, the first eastern Slavic state, whose capital was Kiev.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has portrayed his country’s role in Ukraine as safeguarding ethnic Russians worried by lawlessness spreading east from the capital, charges that leaders in Kiev dismiss as provocations.

In the case of Crimea, Putin has stressed Moscow is not imposing its will, but rather, supporting the free choice of the local population, drawing parallels with the support Western states gave to Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.

By August, the fighting had killed more than 2,000 people and caused hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, according to UN officials.

Officials in Kiev and NATO states accused Russia of arming the separatists and said rebels in eastern Ukraine using Russia-supplied ground-to-air missiles were responsible for the downing of a civilian airliner in July 2014, in which 298 people were killed.

In the decade following independence, successive presidents allowed oligarchs to gain increasing control over the economy while repression against political opponents intensified.

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