By Priyanka Das:
The Crimean world is known to most of us because of the 1853 war that Russia fought against an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia, which the Russians lost and Crimea had to bear the brunt of the same while still being a part of it. Crimea is a peninsula situated on the eastern side of Ukraine near the Black sea; it is connected to the mainland via a strip of land. About 60% of the population identify themselves as Russians. The Crimean region was part of Russia until 1954 and most of its residents are ethnic Russians, hence they would rather be with Moscow than Kiev.
Crimea was annexed by Russia in 1783. For a short period of time in 1917 it was a sovereign state, the peninsula was known as the “Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic” as it became a part of the Soviet Union in 1921. The Nazi Germany took over the land in 1942. Joseph Stalin in 1944 deported the Muslim Tatars due to their alleged cooperation with Germany during the World War II. Many of them returned in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The autonomous status was dissolved after the World War II and it became a province of the Soviet Union. Nikita Khrushchev, the Premier of Russia in 1954, handed over Crimea as a gesture of goodwill to Ukraine to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s inclusion in the Russian Empire, he had Ukrainian roots. On the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, during the negotiations with Ukraine it was expected that President Boris Yeltsin would bring up ‘Crimea for Russia’ issue but it did not happen.
The current crisis began on 21st November, 2013 when Ukraine’s Pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned an EU deal. In the following month, Pro-EU protesters occupied Kiev (capital of Ukraine) city hall and Independence Square. Many people were killed in the protests that ensued, Yanukovych fled on 22nd February and the parliament voted to remove him and called for elections. Several pro- Russian gunmen have held buildings and people under hostage like conditions. On the 6th of March, Crimea’s parliament asks to join Russia and sets referendum for 16 March. After the much disputed and debated referendum, the Crimean people (almost 97%) have chosen to join Russia and have declared independence from Ukraine. Crimea depends on Ukraine for about 25% of its gas, 70% of its water, and 90% of its electricity, all of which it imports. The peninsula however satisfies about three quarters of its natural-gas demands from its own sources, thanks to booming offshore production. Several reports suggested that Ukraine may cut of these supplies, however it is unlikely as it would create havoc in the region.
The Euromaidan protests can be perceived as a battle between the pro-European West and the pro-Russian East, a legacy of Ukraine’s own history of Russian domination. The whole crisis situation arose when Ukraine decided to become a part of the European Union and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), this caused much distress to Russia as it was seen as being anti- Russian and Pro – Western. Most of the Western powers, the United States and European Union are red towards Russia, as they believe that what is happening is nothing short of land grabbing and depicts an annexation laden mindset. Even though Russia has signed agreements promising to uphold Ukraine’s territorial integrity, 13 members of the Security Council at the United Nation backed a resolution that called for all nations to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and condemned the referendum as illegal. “The referendum was organized in such a way as to guarantee Crimea’s population the possibility to freely express their will and exercise their right to self-determination,” the Kremlin’s statement issued. Vladimir Putin told Obama that “the current authorities in Kiev have so far failed to demonstrate the ability and desire to rein in the ultranationalist and radical groups that are destabilizing the situation in the country and terrorizing ordinary people, including the Russian-speaking population and Russia’s compatriots.” The hostility between the two nations brings about Cold War like sentiments into effect. China and Russia are often viewed as being allies, even then China chose to abstain so as to not trigger off similar outbursts in regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.
The results of the referendum are more than favorable towards the Russian state, in fact they are pushing for making Russian the official language of Ukraine. Being limited by geography has not stopped it from having a naval base at Sevastopol, south western Ukraine. The treaty of friendship and cooperation with Ukraine in1997 allowed Russia to keep its Black Sea Fleet and lease the base which is to expire in 2042. In 2008, the Ukrainians refused to extend the lease which was to expire in 2017; however, they had to budge when they were pressurized with a hike in the gas prices. Several strategic analysts opine that the naval base is not all that beneficial as a London based analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Christian Le Miere stated: “Russia’s fleet on the Black Sea is the second-smallest of the country’s five fleets. It consists of about 25 ships, including 10 corvettes, two cruisers, two frigates, a destroyer and a diesel submarine. The rest are support vessels”. As of now, the US and EU have frozen all assets and stopped business and discouraged travel of any kind to the region.
On the 18th of March, Vladimir Putin spoke to Manmohan Singh about the issue. It was widely speculated that India would support Russia, as the latter had helped in 1971 through a treaty to win the war against Pakistan. However, as of now, India has chosen to take a neutral stand on the issue, even though some strategists believe that a bond between Russia, India and China could be mutually beneficial. It is rather risky as most of the countries are against Russia and have allied with the US and EU. The decisions that would take place in the coming days would realign the nations and polarization is bound to occur. Thus, the neutral and non committal stance as of now is the best one that India can take.
Although the US tries to act like a mediator, one cannot ignore its own pro-war stances whether it was Vietnam or Afghanistan. Instead of solving the issue as per the UN guidelines, more often than not it pursues its own policies which have killed many innocent civilians in the past. As for Russia, the world has seen how it helped in the creation of the Taliban in the peaceful Afghan region. A similar pattern can be traced with the Taters (minority Muslims) of the region who harbor Anti- Russian sentiments and are said to have organized into groups which could be dangerous in the near future. We are all definitely living in a very dynamic international world, where boundaries are being redrawn and annexations have resumed. However, the unfortunate part is that suppression of the minority and those who lack power continues, and lives are being lost every day for different belief systems.
Current Status: Another Cold war seems to be on the verge of recurring, it is an exciting time for those interested in geopolitics.