FPI Fact Sheet: Timeline of Russian Aggression in Ukraine and the Western Response

September 18, 2014

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addressed a joint session of Congress today to appeal for U.S. support as his nation faces ongoing Russian aggression. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces in Europe, warned earlier this week that “little green men” — troops wearing uniforms without insignia, which Russia first used to seize the Crimea — now pose a threat to Moldova and its breakaway region, Transnistria.

These developments reflect a broader campaign of intimidation by Russia against its neighbors, including the Baltic States and former Soviet bloc countries. In early September, Russian agents reportedly crossed the Russo-Estonian border and abducted a senior Estonian intelligence officer just days after President Obama pledged to defend the Baltic allies during a visit to Tallinn.

The United States, Europe and Canada have attempted to deter Russia with sanctions, but these efforts have thus far failed to sway the Kremlin. This timeline outlines the trajectory of Russia’s ongoing provocations against Ukraine and the Western response — or lack thereof.

Russian Aggression

Western Action

February 27, 2014: The Crimean Parliament is seized by armed men. The Russian flag is raised over the region’s capital.

February 28, 2014: President Obama vows, “the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”

March 1, 2014: Russian President Vladimir Putin receives authorization from Russia’s upper house of parliament for the use of troops already stationed in the Crimea by previous agreement with Ukraine. Although Putin denies their activities, the troops then seize control of the peninsula and its mechanisms of government.

March 5, 2014: The United States and the European Union pledge $1 billion and $15.12 billion, respectively, in loans, grants, and assistance to Ukraine.

March 6, 2014: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says he has ordered the Department of Defense “to suspend all military-to-military engagements and exercises with Russia.”

March 8, 2014: “Warning shots are fired to prevent an unarmed observer mission sent by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from entering Crimea. Russian forces become increasingly aggressive towards Ukrainian troops trapped in bases.”

March 11, 2014: NATO begins reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania. The United States deploys “12 F-16 fighter jets to Poland and Lithuania for joint exercises,” and the USS George H. W. Bush is stationed just south of Turkey.

March 12, 2014: Russian troops are spotted massing along Ukraine’s eastern border.

March 16, 2014: In a fraudulent “referendum,” 95.5 percent of Crimeans vote to join Russia.

March 17, 2014: In an executive order, President Obama authorizes sanctions on Russian government officials and other supporters of the Russian government.

March 18, 2014: President Putin signs a bill to annex Crimea and incorporate it as part of the Russian Federation.

Putin receives a standing ovation from the Russian parliament, where he subsequently states that Crimea has “always been a part of Russia.”

March 20, 2014: Pursuant to the March 17 executive order, the U.S. Department of Treasury sanctions 16 Russian government officials, 4 individuals supporting the Russian government, and the Bank of Russia.

President Obama issues Executive Order 13662, which sanctions key sectors of the Russian economy, including energy, mining, defense and engineering.

March 21, 2014: President Putin signs a constitutional amendment to finalize the illegal annexation of Crimea.

March 21, 2014: The European Union identifies 12 Russian and Ukrainian officials who are “subject to EU visa bans and asset freezes.”

March 22, 2014: Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak calls on the United States to increase its military presence in Central and Eastern Europe, calling it “a clear expectation” from NATO allies in Eastern Europe.

April 6, 2014: Pro-Russian separatists storm government offices in three eastern Ukrainian cities — Donetsk, Luhansk, and Karkiv.

April 17, 2014: President Putin admits, “Russian servicemen backed the Crimean self-defense forces.” He calls this action “necessary” to keep order in Crimea.

April 18, 2014: During an interview, President Putin observes that parts of eastern and southern Ukraine were once part of “Novorossiya,” and that “Russia lost these territories for various reasons, but the people remained.” The czarist-era term refers to the period when the Russian empire controlled much of Ukraine.

April 17, 2014: Polish Defense Minister Siemoniak reiterates his interest in “the presence of American troops in Poland,” and calls for a U.S. Army base there in order to “be as close to the West as possible.”

April 23-24, 2014: The United States deploys 600 paratroopers to Eastern Europe. Troops are to be stationed in Latvia and Poland.

April 27, 2014: Ukrainian counterintelligence claims that 300 Russian special forces commandos are operating within Ukraine.

The head of Ukrainian counterintelligence states that the Russian commandos “are recruiting paramilitary fighters in exchange for cash handouts and waging a sophisticated propaganda war.”

April 28, 2014: The Department of Treasury sanctions “seven Russian government officials, including two key members of the Russian leadership’s inner circle, and 17 entities pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13661.”

The State Department announces, “Effective immediately, the Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) will deny pending applications for export or re-export of any high technology defense articles or services regulated under the U.S. Munitions List to Russia or occupied Crimea that contribute to Russia’s military capabilities.”

April 30, 2014: Pro-Russian separatists seize additional government buildings in eastern Ukraine. Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov says security forces are “helpless to stop them.”

May 2, 2014: Reuters reports an attempt by Russian armed saboteurs to cross the border into Ukraine.

May 2, 2014: Five warships from NATO states and four fighter jets from the RAF arrive in the Baltic region as a defensive measure to deter Russian aggression.

May 11, 2014: Hastily organized and illegal secession “referenda” are organized by Russian-backed rebels in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. 

May 19: Putin says he ordered Russian troops near Ukraine’s border to withdraw. NATO says there is no sign of any such troop movement.

May 12, 2014: Catherine Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the EU, declares, “The European Union will not recognise any illegitimate and illegal ‘referenda.’”

The European Union imposes sanctions on 13 Russian officials and 2 Russian companies.

Despite U.S. pressure, France says it will go forward with its controversial plans to sell the Mistral warship to Russia.

June 16, 2014: Russian state-owned oil and gas giant Gazprom cuts off natural gas supplies to Ukraine, citing unpaid debts.

June 16-20, 2014: The Department of Treasury threatens sector-wide sanctions against major Russian industries, sanctions individuals within the pro-Russian separatist movement.

Germany, France, Italy and other EU states continue to oppose sanctions on Russia.

June 19-24, 2014: Ukraine accuses Russia of arming pro-Russian separatists with tanks. The United States confirms that 10 tanks crossed into Russia from Ukraine.

Russian troops reinforce the Ukrainian border, and deploy additional heavy artillery.

June 27, 2014: Ukraine joins Moldova and Georgia in signing a partnership agreement with the European Union.

July 17, 2014: Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 is shot down over Ukraine. The advanced surface-to-air missile system that targeted the plane, believed to be supplied to pro-Russian separatists by the Kremlin, kills all 298 people on board.

July 17, 2014: The United States and other world leaders condemn the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 and demand an investigation.

July 28, 2014: The U.S. Department of State releases “photographic evidence that the Russian military has fired across its border with Ukraine.”

In addition, “Russian-backed rebels have used heavy artillery provided by Russia to attack the Ukrainian military from within the country.”

July 29, 2014: The Times reports, “Britain will send more than 1,300 troops to Poland armed with tanks to join a major NATO training exercise as part of efforts to reassure nervous Baltic allies following Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Crimea.”

In their strongest penalties to date, the United States and European Union announce new sanctions that target Russia’s banking, energy and defense sectors. The Kremlin’s policies remain unchanged.

France continues its refusal to halt the sale of the Mistral warship to Russia.

August 16, 2014: The Wall Street Journal reports, “the OSCE had observed groups of young men in military-style dress crossing back and forth across the [Ukraine-Russia] border in the past two weeks.”


In the second half of August 2014, Russia dramatically escalates its operations against Ukraine, launching an offensive in Novoazovsk, southeast Ukraine. This maneuver opens up a second front in the conflict and secures a Russian-controlled land bridge between the Russo-Ukrainian border and the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula.

August 28, 2014: NATO satellite images show a Russian military convoy, including self-propelled artillery, inside Ukrainian borders. In addition, NATO estimates 20,000 Russian troops are deployed in Russian territory near the Ukrainian border.

The Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers estimates that 7,000-8,000 Russian troops are in Ukraine.

August 28, 2014: President Obama declines to “label Russia’s military moves into Ukraine an invasion,” and rules out military action on the grounds that “Ukraine is not a member of the NATO military alliance.”

August 29, 2014: In the title of a letter to pro-Russian rebels posted on the Kremlin’s website, President Putin calls the separatists the militia of “Novorossiya,” or New Russia.

August 31, 2014: President Putin calls on Ukraine to participate in “substantive, meaningful negotiations, and not on technical issues, but on the political organization of society and statehood in the southeast of Ukraine.” A Kremlin spokesman adds Ukraine would have to discuss autonomy with “Novorossiya.”

September 1, 2014: Ukraine reports that its troops came under fire from a Russian tank column.

September 3, 2014: President Obama visits Estonia to reassure Baltic allies of U.S. support and criticizes Russia’s “brazen assault” on Ukraine. Two days later, Russia abducts a senior Estonian intelligence officer. A former Estonian defense minister says that the incident is an attempt by Russia to demonstrate “that we can do whatever we want in this corner of the world, and Obama's words have no collateral."

Bowing to pressure, France finally announces it will not deliver the Mistral warship to Russia.

September 5, 2014: The Guardian reports that Ukrainian forces come under artillery fire “hours before an expected ceasefire.” The ceasefire nominally goes into effect, but effectively preserves Russian control over Ukraine and leaves thousands of Russian soldiers along the Ukrainian border.

September 6, 2014: Just one day into the ceasefire, Ukrainian forces come under artillery fire in eastern Ukraine.

September 7-8, 2014: In further violations of the ceasefire, fighting breaks out in Luhansk, Donetsk, and Mariupol.

September 5, 2014: NATO announces a rapid-reaction force “able to deploy anywhere in the world in a matter of days.” Its estimated size is 4,000 troops, and it will be a combined arms force incorporating land, air, and sea elements. However, as of September 18, the force has yet to be established, and it remains unclear which countries will volunteer personnel for it.


September 10, 2014: Russia successfully tests an intercontinental nuclear missile.

September 13, 2014: Ukraine repels an attack by pro-Russian forces against the Donetsk airport, which is left in ruins. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says his country “This government is the wartime government. And let me put it bluntly — we are still in the state of war and the key aggressor is the Russian Federation.”

September 12, 2014: The United States and European Union impose new sanctions that limit major Russian energy companies and banks’ access to European and capital markets.

September 15, 2014: Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko accuses pro-Russian rebels of committing hundreds of ceasefire violations.

September 17, 2014: As the Kremlin announces that it will install a full-scale military unit in Crimea, NATO says 1,000 Russian troops remain in Ukraine.

The death toll in the Ukraine conflict exceeds 3,000 people.

September 18, 2014: After Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko addresses a joint session of Congress, “the White House announces it would provide a $53 million aid package to Ukraine: $46 million for Ukraine's military and border security, and $7 million for humanitarian aid.”


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