Major external actors and their tools that can influence the crisis 25
The United States of America 25
European Union 28
North Atlantic Treaty Organization 32
Russian Federation 33
Resolving the crisis: Kiev’s options and choices 37
Closing Remarks 42
The present research attempts to summarize the political events that resulted in the outbreak of the almost 7 month-long Ukrainian crisis and the events of the crisis itself until the current date. Additionally, it examines the three orientation choices of Ukraine: the Western, the Eurasian and the neutral; the tools of the major regional and global actors involved in the crisis and eventually attempts to analyze necessary steps for the end of the conflict.
Key words: Ukraine, Russia, EU, USA, NATO, Putin, Ukrainian crisis.
First of all, it is of absolute necessity to examine the most important components of the complicated Russo-Ukrainian relationship over the years and the geopolitical and strategic factors which emerged by it. This effort, though described in a brief manner, will be able to explain the reasons why the today’s Ukrainian crisis has not been averted and will confirm the arguments of the following analysis, concerning the strategies of the two opposing sides throughout the crisis and every possible outcome this crisis might have.
The first factor we must focus is the high importance of Ukraine for Russia and vice versa. To begin with we should mention geographically and strategically important Crimean peninsula. The peninsula is of the highest value concerning the control of the Black Sea, militarily and economically, whilst its control is crucial for the natural gas and energy policy of Eastern and Southeastern Europe.
Crimea has been throughout history a field of bilateral and multilateral conflict. The port of Sevastopol, founded at 1783 by Catherine the Great, has been all since the naval base of the Russian “Black Sea Fleet”. Regarding the Russian history, the presence of this fleet has been particularly important, offering moments of glory for the Russian army in Crimean War (1853-1856) and 2nd World War (1939-1945). Crimea had been a part of Russia since 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine, as an act of friendship between the two soviet states. 
The problematic relationship between the two countries during USSR era cannot be ignored. Despite all Stalin’s actions, during the so called “decade of terror”, denying the very existence of Ukraine and eliminating anyone who opposed, the borderlines became even more severe.
The referendum of the 1st December 1991 concerning Ukraine’s independence, conducted by Boris Yeltsin, was in fact the Soviet Union’s headstone. This way, the former Russian leader, founded the brand new Russian regime, relieved once and for all from any imperial ideation, as he then thought. It was the time when Russia and Ukraine should plainly transform into peaceful, western type, democracies. It was not though a long before problems started reoccurring.
Economically viewed, right after the USSR dissolution, the winner states of the Cold War, especially USA, offered their financial aid at most of the Eastern European countries with combined state and private capitals and foreign direct investments. Most notable examples have been the three Baltic States – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The economical and thus political stability occurred by those investments, was not something that also happened neither in Ukraine, nor in Russia. Both countries large size – especially Russia’s – could not allow their transforming economies to by based on donations, while their acute socialistic – state-centered economic and political past was keeping repelling most of the foreign investors, due to high risk. This western economic policy during the first years after the USSR dissolution in fact secluded the two countries, letting them preserve their high economic interdependence they had established during the soviet era. This interdependence, mostly preserved until now, made us clear that one side is weak without the other. Both sides seem to have fully understood this complex relationship, although Russia is the one that proved more diligent to the needs this egoistically realistic view of international relations demands. 
One more very important factor is the issue of people’s identity; factor that we too consider of utmost importance. Nowadays the reference to a highly divided Ukrainian society has become a cliché. While some external viewer could spot many similarities in both Ukrainians and Russians, we should take a glimpse view of the many existing contradicting borderlines.
About 17% percent of the Ukrainian people, before the crisis had occurred, were formally Russian nationals, part because of the Russia’s policy of providing citizenship to many Russian speaking citizens of Ukraine, along with financial aid, counting up to a lot million dollars.  This Russian policy of the last 20 years was the attempt of blocking or at least stalling the nation-building process in Ukraine and proved to be an extremely useful leverage during the ongoing crisis, especially in the Crimean case. Furthermore, in Ukraine there are at least 6 Christian doctrines, each one supporting in general an opposing side in Ukrainian political life, leading Ukraine’s social structure to further fragmentation. 
Cultural differences between Russians and Ukrainian can be rooted far back in history; excluding the Kievan Rus, Russians owned their fully independent state at least by 1480, while the first independent Ukrainian state happens only during the 20th century – no way the period of the limited autonomy of the Cossacks could be regarded as a period of Ukrainian independence. Also, while Ukraine’s territory was divided and conquered by many different states, the same period Russia was extending their dominion all the way from Baltic Sea to the North Sea and the Pacific Ocean. As a result national identities differed since then: Russians became and independent nation, while Ukrainians were trying to survive; Russians were rebelling, while Ukrainians were trying to implement accommodation strategies to some of their overlords. Even when they were allies, Russians had been always having the upper hand and when they were at war, Russians had been usually victorious.
This complex relationship and common historical origins could only lead the two people into two possible results; either in forming a closer collaboration-cooperation or in forming a conflictual relationship, providing the option of climaxing a crisis far an easier option than in other cases. Nationalistic readings in both countries had always been blaming either the imperialistic Russian policy or foreign propaganda that turns our brothers against us. Although not entirely unrealistic points of view, they lack objectivity and have been proved that they alone sometimes become an obstacle in improvement of bilateral relations.
Although many scholars and the most politicians were unable to predict the climaxing of the today’s Ukrainian crisis, mostly based on the fact that the first years of the USSR dissolution found both countries under great economic and political instability and later because of many idealistic and liberal theories that seem to have had a great impact in western political thought the years after the Cold War, the possibility of a Russo-Ukrainian conflict that could even lead to war between two countries was described by John J. Mearsheimer back in 1994.
Because of the impending implementation of the Ukrainian nuclear disarmament deal at the time, the known scholar thought that in order to preserve peace in Eastern Europe, or at least prevent a future Russian intervention in Ukraine, their nuclear weaponry should have not been dissoluted, according to the nuclear deterrence theorem, especially since the Ukrainian conventional military capability could never become able to oppose as a significant deterrent factor towards a by all means superior Russia. 
Despite internal Ukrainian factors and Russo-Ukrainian complexities that were constantly creating security dilemmas especially as far as concerning the Ukrainian side – Ukrainian politicians were never willing to abandon the hardly won independence of their country –, we should also focus on the western powers policy towards Russia and the former Warsaw Pact countries in general.
After the end of the Cold War, western powers were now called to fulfill the power gap created in Eastern Europe. Although the EU’s and USA’s decision to set in their sphere of influence many of the Eastern European countries was the most realistic decision, apparently western allies were not able to comprehend the size of Russia’s growth the past few years of V. Putin’s administration and their ability and willingness to react decisively against what the Russians think as attack on their vital national interests and security problem.
The EU’s policy concerning the former Warsaw Pact countries until today can be described as three interrelated stages. Although, those stages were surely not a progressive process or a carefully designed long-term plan on the Union’s behalf, it was more of a separated problem solving process, concerning specific subject matters coming up every time.
The first stage of the EU’s policy covers the time period directly after the USSR dissolution. At this very moment EU formed their future policy based on a technically formed borderline separating the countries that were only members of the Warsaw Pact and those countries that declared independence secluding from USSR. Respecting the first group of states the policy formed would be an approaching, aiding and integrating one while for the second group integration would not be the aim but only economic and political cooperation.
The second stage began at 1994. The newly formed power balance in Europe was covered with a “cooperative” rhetoric towards Russia. Europe’s raising energy dependence from Russia should be combined with stability in bilateral relationships. As a result two new policies were formally founded: “The Partnership and Co-operation Agreement” (1994) and “Joint Strategy” (1999), aiming to reinforce coordinated EU’s policy towards Russia.
Although, from 2000 to date, begins the thirds stage, somewhat contradictory towards the previous ones. The EU member-states went highly controversial; they separated into two groups, the “older” and the “younger” member-states. The second group, driven from their past experiences that caused hostility against Russia and being influenced in a higher level than other EU’s member-states from the USA, were highly concerned about more regulatory matters, such as human rights and democratization, while “older” member-states policy kept being about forming stronger economic and commercial relations with Russia.
The outcome of this internal EU’s conflict – mostly known as the phenomenon of “Two Europes” – although it was real, it was in fact controversial for European values and a setback for European federalism. In the meantime, as a result of the Ukrainian “Orange Revolution” (2004), Ukraine’s main strategic target from now on would be integration with EU, even if newly elected President Yushchenko was not willing or able to exclude Russo-Ukrainian relationships as a factor that determines decisively Ukraine’s future.
The situation in Europe since 2000 and the 2002 and 2003 decisions were the reasons of initiating the new “European Neighboring Policy”. This policy’s main purpose was, from now on, to approach every Eastern European country offering bilateral political and economic reformer agreements, without being in first place offered a full membership. Such an agreement has been the ”Ukrainian Action Plan”, signed at 2005 and planned to be in force since WTO acceptance of Ukraine as a member-state at 2008. The plan was aiming for a future implementation of a free trade zone between EU and Ukraine, a strengthening process of democratic institutions and further reforms.
Furthermore, the Russian military intervention in Georgia at 2008 and the Russo-Ukrainian natural gas crisis in 2009 provoked EU into upgrading their neighboring policy; the new agreement was to be called “Eastern Partnership” and had been specifically formed in order to stand against Russian aggressiveness. Its aim was the political approach with Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia and conditionally Belarus. First steps towards that approach would be the establishment of a visa-free regime and economic aid up to 600 million Euros. 
Additionally, another very important international actor implicated in Eastern Europe’s balance of power is NATO. At the end of the Cold War NATO faced their famous “identity” problem, since bipolarism was over and its main target – the USSR containment – was successful. NATO found new meaning in their very existence by expanding the alliance to the East. New members of the alliance were now becoming ex-Warsaw Pact states, in contrast to what the first post-Soviet Russian leadership believed that would happen. 
All those factors mentioned above, combined with the Russian pressuring policy towards Ukraine in times of crisis and its, in fact, aggressive policy while Russia’s strength was recovering, have caused today’s circumstances. Ukrainian security fears combined with EU and NATO policies have caused a high level threat sense also in Russia. Reaction against EU’s policies, especially “Eastern Partnership” was immense; Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov immediately condemned the action-plan by mentioning to every CIS state that this kind of agreements with EU would be from now on contradictory to their obligations, asking them to choose between EU and Russia.
NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe was also perceived from Russia as an immediate threat to its security. The inclusion in the alliance of every former Warsaw Pact country and even some ex-USSR countries, like the Baltic states was something Russia could not tolerate any longer, especially if this expansion was to be continued aiming Ukraine and Georgia. Thus the risky choice of Crimean annexation on behalf of Russia is not something that should surprise anyone; Russia felt that was running out of options.
Losing Ukraine was never an option for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Not only because of any security threat or because of the social and economic interrelation but also because of the fact that Russia’s Eurasia Union would be an exclusively Asian project, lowering subsequently any power projection the Union might have in due time towards Europe.