Skip to main content

As violence escalates in Ukraine, so do fears of civil war

By Michael Pearson, CNN
updated 12:08 PM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
Pro-Russian militants take away a man outside the regional state building they seized in Donetsk on May 5, 2014.
Pro-Russian militants take away a man outside the regional state building they seized in Donetsk on May 5, 2014.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Analysts say civil war in Ukraine is a real possibility
  • Violence also heightens concerns over Russia's intentions
  • Ukraine's military is dwarfed by Russia's

(CNN) -- Unrest intensified over the weekend in Ukraine, further raising fears of a civil war or invasion by Russia. On Friday, 46 people died in clashes in the port city of Odessa. On Sunday, pro-Russian forces stormed the city's police station and secured the freedom of protesters who had been arrested as part of Friday's unrest. Here's a look at the situation on the ground in Ukraine and what might happen should the violence continue to escalate:

Is Ukraine sliding toward civil war?

It's a very real possibility, analysts say. Russia appears to be guiding the country in that direction by inciting unrest between pro-Russian interests and Ukrainian forces, said former U.S. diplomat Christopher Hill. By sowing the seeds of unrest, Russia can make it appear that the government in Kiev is incapable of governing. "So I think the Russians have a real interest in keeping this type of crisis going, hoping it can even go to a kind of civil war and basically justify whatever it is that they want to do," Hill said Sunday on CNN.

Will Russia send in troops to support its interests in eastern Ukraine?

Protesters storm police headquarters
Fragile truce in eastern city of Luhansk

Russian officials have said all along that they reserve the right to send troops into Ukraine to protect Russian citizens and Russian speakers against violence and discrimination by what they've termed the fascist, neo-Nazi government in Kiev. The risk of such an intervention will increase if Ukraine's military operation against pro-Russian forces results in significant casualties, IHS Jane's concluded last week. The latest U.S. intelligence shows no signs of an imminent invasion, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

Would it take advantage of the opportunity to annex a pro-Russian part of Moldova?

Although there's no sign of any such move, NATO's commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove, said in late March that he feared Russia had amassed enough troops to roll across Ukraine and take Transnistria, a separatist, pro-Russian region of Moldova. "We know that capability absolutely exists to do that and cause that problem," he said March 23. "We don't know about the intent. What we do see is some of the same rhetoric that was used when they went into Crimea. So if that is the first intention of -- indication of intent, then that's very worrisome."

What do we know about the capabilities of the Ukrainian military?

Ukraine has about 139,000 troops, 735 tanks and 25 ships. It spent about $1.6 billion on its military in 2012. Compare that to Russia, which spent $78 billion on its military in 2012 and has 774,500 troops. Analysts say Ukraine's military is built more to guard against internal unrest and is not geared toward preventing an invasion.

Wasn't Ukraine once part of Russia?

It has spent more time as part of Russia or the Soviet Union than it has as an independent country since the late 1700s, when the Russian empire conquered it. It was briefly independent shortly after World War I but then became part of the Soviet Union, where it remained until that regime ended in 1991.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:51 AM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Reza Sayah looks into why thousands of Ukrainians have left their old lives to volunteer to fight.
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
CNN's Ralitsa Vassileva speaks to The New Republic's Linda Kinstler about Putin's motives with Ukraine and China.
updated 10:36 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
President Barack Obama speaks at the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
updated 8:58 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 broke apart in the air after it was hit by a burst of "high-energy objects" from outside, a preliminary report by Dutch aviation investigators said Tuesday.
updated 7:34 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
"There were many scenes that defied logic," writes OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw, who was one of the first international observers to arrive at the site.
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Wed September 3, 2014
On a country road in eastern Ukraine, a scene of bucolic tranquility was suddenly interrupted by the aftermath of carnage.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
In the city of Donetsk, the devastation wrought by weeks of fighting between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces is all too apparent.
updated 8:00 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
CNN's Diana Magnay reports from the front lines in the Ukrainian conflict.
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
A few miles south of the town of Starobeshevo in eastern Ukraine, a group of men in uniform is slumped under a tree.
updated 9:43 AM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
A shopkeeper's mutilated body, relatives' anguish, homes destroyed ... this is Donetsk.
updated 7:12 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
A 20-minute drive from Kiev takes you to a neighborhood that feels more like Beverly Hills than central Ukraine.
updated 9:12 AM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Photos illustrate the ongoing crisis in Ukraine as fighting continues to flare in the region.
updated 12:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Future imports, exports between the EU and Russia are now banned -- but existing contracts continue.
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
Learn more about the victims, ongoing investigation and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
updated 5:25 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 put the pro-Russia rebels operating in Ukraine's eastern region center stage.
ADVERTISEMENT