More than two decades have passed since the end of the Cold War but, in 2014, it echoed across Europe and the rest of the Western world once again as Russia and Europe’s relationship soured over the Ukraine crisis.
Ukraine saw an uprising against former President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian government in Kiev in February.
After months of protests against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a deal that would have led to closer ties with European Union, the ousted pro-Russian president fled the country on February 22.
Kiev witnessed the worst violence on February 20 when uniformed snipers shot protesters from rooftops, killing at least 88 people within 48 hours.
Tension increased in Ukraine – long divided between the east and the west – when pro-Russian militants seized government buildings in the mostly Russian-populated peninsula of Crimea on the northern coast of the Black Sea between Feb.27-28.
An overwhelming majority in Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia on March 16.
The EU and Ukrainian government condemned the annexation of Crimea as "illegal" and "illegitimate".
After months of violence and tension between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukrainian cities including Donetsk and Luhansk, billionaire businessman and pro-EU Petro Poroshenko was sworn in as the new president of Ukraine on June 7.
The Ukrainian government further shifted towards the EU when Kiev signed an association agreement with the 28-nation-bloc on June 27, eight months after the previous pro-Russian Ukrainian government abandoned the agreement.
Violence in eastern Ukraine erupted when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was reportedly shot down in the region on July 27, killing all passengers onboard.
Representatives from Ukraine and Russia signed the Minsk protocol on Sept.5 to observe a cease fire in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces.
However, NATO not only accused Russia of engaging in military operations in eastern Ukraine but also of repeatedly violating the Minsk agreement – allegations which Russia denied.
The European Union responded with sanctions against Russia.
The bloc also imposed further sanctions on European investment in Crimea on Dec.18 in an attempt to prevent Russia from using Crimea to exploit Black Sea oil, according to officials.
While western sanctions on Russia did not end its support for pro-Russian separatists, they damaged its economy, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a NATO summit on Dec.3.
Jean-Claude Juncker took office on Nov.1 as President of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, presenting a widely criticized €315 billion "investment package" which he said would improve the 28-nation-bloc’s economy.
However, Juncker faced a blow to his new position on Nov.5 when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reported that hundreds of big-name corporations like Pepsi, IKEA and FedEx had secured secret deals with the authorities in Luxembourg when Juncker was Prime Minister and Finance Minister, saving them billions of dollars in global taxes at the expense of public services.
Violence broke out in the Belgian capital and EU’s headquarter Brussels on Nov.6 when police fired tear gas on about 100,000 demonstrators who marched in protest against the Belgian government’s policies to raise the pension age, restrict wages and cut public services.
Calls for independence
Popular discontent with austerity measures was not the only thing that rocked the 28-nation-bloc, with drives for independence and autonomy leading to polls in Scotland and Catalonia.
However, on Sept.18, a majority of people in Scotland rejected the country’s independence from the United Kingdom.
Catalans voted on Nov.9 in a symbolic independence referendum, which had no legal effect after the Spain’s constitutional court decided to suspend plans to hold a referendum on secession.
"We were able to use our votes despite the intimidation of the Spanish state and despite their big obstacles," Artur Mas, the Catalan president, said.
Euroscepticism and rise of the far right
2014 also saw the election of a new EU parliament on May 22-25.
While Juncker’s center-right European People’s Party (EPP) remained the largest faction in the Parliament, far-right parties and eurosceptics gained more influence.
On Jan.15 former Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said: “We are seeing, in fact, a rise of extremism from the extreme right and from the extreme left.”
France’s far-right National Front won 25 percent of the votes; Britain’s eurosceptic UKIP won 27 percent and the far-right Danish People’s Party won more than 26 percent.
Sweden’s newly elected center-left government officially recognized Palestine as a state on Oct.30, making it the first EU member to do so.
Countries such as France, the U.K. and Spain followed the move by calling for non-binding votes to recognize Palestine statehood.
The EU General Court also ruled on Dec.17 that the decision to list Hamas on the 2001 "terrorist list" was not based on "acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities, but on factual imputations derived from the press and the Internet."
The European Parliament voted for a non-binding resolution calling for recognition of Palestine as a state on the same day (Dec.17).