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Empire State of Mind: Crimea is caught in the middle of conflict

Kremlin has always been seeking to economically integrate Ukraine with Russia. Being divided for centuries between the foreign powers, Ukraine has always been treated by Russia just as a small brother that should be better in Russia’s embracement than being an equal partner. Having been a part of the Russian Empire for several hundred years, Ukraine was proclaimed independent in 1991. However, even 23 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, neither Russia, nor the majority of Russians accept the fact that Ukraine is independent.

The recent protests in Ukraine resulted in sudden collapse of centralized criminal  power in Ukraine accompanied with the deaths of more than hundred people and thousands of people being injured. All these tragic events spoilt not only the triumph of Putin Games in Sochi purported to prove Russia’s resurrection to the whole world  but delivered a profound setback to Russia’s strategy to deepen economic and political ties with Ukraine.

It is not a secret that Russia cares much about Ukraine. There are not only cultural affinity, common history and geographic proximity connections between Russia and Ukraine. Kremlin has enormous leverage over Ukraine and close allies, particularly in the Eastern regions (Kharkiv, Donetsk, Lugansk) and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. For instance, a considerable part of the Crimean population is Russians (58,5% of Russians v. 24,4% of Ukrainians). Moreover, Sevastopil, almost pro-Russian city, is a home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet housing around 25,000 Russian troops. In addition, Russia supplies Ukraine with natural gas and oil. At the same time, Ukraine is economically and strategically important to Moscow as it is a transit hub for Russian energy exports and significant supplier of food.

Picture from The Telegraph
Picture from The Telegraph
Current events in Ukraine break the Russia’s image of great power. As it was recognized by the former U.S. national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, “without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.”

Having Ukraine as a real democratic neighbour State threatens oil-fuelled authoritarianism of Putin’s Russia where the power is supported by the administrative hierarchy, the riot police, security forces, corruption and  economy dependent on gas and oil export. Mr. Putin is afraid that the recent events in Ukraine could have a domino effect in Russia itself. The victory of the Orange Revolution also caused a lot of disturbance for him, but it did not last long. There are no doubts that he was too inspired when his hopes for gathering all the lands of the former Soviet republics together seemed to be real once a Russian-oriented Yanukovych won the presidential elections in Ukraine in 2010. Kremlin aim here was to support by any means status quo of Ukrainian society as post-Soviet and keeping it more similar to Russian one in which a civil society is shut down, there is no independent mass media (expect opposition TV channel “Dozhd”), independent pollsters are banned and any dissent views are stamped out.

Mr. Putin is afraid now when a short-term epoch of Yanukovych seems to be gone. Russian media has never been objective and fair regarding Ukraine. However, a way in which the latest Ukrainian events were covered in mass media is absolutely outrageous. Russian propaganda regarded all participants of the demonstrations as nationalists, extremists that are controlled, financed and equipped by Americans. Even today Kremlin is still challenging the legitimacy of the new power in Ukraine, even though it is recognized by the EU and the USA. Mr. Putin does not want to evidence its own Russian Maidan. His biggest fear is his people, and hence an example of Ukrainians that won a fight against corrupted and criminal system of state relations could have enormous effect on Russia’s state of mind. To suppress it, further crackdowns against Russian opposition should be effected in the nearest future. The release of Pussy Riot and Mikhail Khodorkovskiy, a former head of Yukos and, until recently, a political prisoner himself, should be regarded not more than an act of good will before the launch of the Olympic Games. On February 21, 2014, several days before the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, eight accused in Bolotnaya Square case, a politically motivated show trial, received prison sentences.

Action of solidarity with Euromaidan in Saint Petersburg. Picture from drugoi.livejournal.com
Action of solidarity with Euromaidan in Saint Petersburg. Picture from drugoi.livejournal.com
Will the Forbes most powerful person cry over Ukraine? Mr. Putin wants to have a revenge and he will probably have it. There are fears that Kremlin could use a Russian population of the CrimeanPeninsula as a reasonable ground for the intervention “to protect its citizens” against so-called “pro-Russian” genocide there. This possible scenario seems to be a repetition of the 2008 conflict between Georgia and Russia. In 2008, Georgia launched an attack on the separatist region of South Ossetia (the majority of population there are the citizens of Russia) which Kremlin troops invaded afterwards in violation of the UN Charter and other internationally recognized obligations. Russia justified the invasion by the fact that the people of South Ossetia were at risk of genocide.

Today, Crimea risks to be influenced by Russia more than any other regions of Ukraine. There is information that Moscow has already deployed marines to Sevastopol. Some Russian MPs suggest fast-tracking Russian citizenship in Crimea and other regions of Ukraine. In addition, it has been confirmed that Moscow put its armed forces on alert in the western parts of Russia just near the border of Ukraine. However, we should not forget about Crimean Tatars that currently make up around 12% of the peninsula’s population. Being forcibly relocated from Crimea, their native land,  by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1944, they will never tolerate attempts of neither Kremlin, nor ethnic Russians of Crimea to separate the peninsula from Ukraine. Moreover, any interference of Kremlin into internal affairs of Ukraine violates the principles of international law, of the UN Charter and international instruments, in particular, the Budapest agreements dated 1994 in which the UK, the USA together with Russia agreed to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine in accordance with principles of the 1975 CSCE Final Act and restrain from the use or threat of force regarding Ukraine in exchange for the decision of Ukraine to become a non-nuclear State.

In any case, all plans of Mr. Putin regarding Ukraine have been disrupted so far. Once called the dissolution of the Soviet Union to be the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, his primary goal always consisted in gathering all the lands of the former Soviet republics together through integration into the Customs Union and Eurasian Union. And this time it seems that his dreams would not be realized as simply as he supposed. Accordingly, Mr. Putin will try to do everything possible to reassure his influence in a region and show not only Russia but the whole world that he is still a great politician and that Forbes did not make a mistake by calling him the most powerful man.

Only time can show further developments. Currently, Russia is on the edge of recession. And it is high time to understand that modernization and complete change of the state system should not be neglected. A state restoring its past does not have a future.

  • David

    “Even today Kremlin is still challenging the legitimacy of the new power in Ukraine, even though it is recognized by the EU and the USA”.
    Why should this be an indication of whether the governing power is legitimate? Armed protestors took over the parliament in Kiev. If the same would have happened in the EU it would have been called a coup. Don’t you agree?

  • Anna Stepanowa

    I would like to refer to the official position of the UK answering your question.

    “Since President Yanukovych’s departure, the Ukrainian Parliament and interim government’s actions have been in keeping with the Ukrainian Constitution. Numerous groups, including the United Nations, OSCE and the Ukrainian rabbinical association, have not seen widespread human rights violations, or anti-Semitic pogroms anywhere in Ukraine. Former President Yanukovych’s own party, the Party of the Regions, supported measures implementing the interim Ukrainian government and calling for new elections. The single greatest destabilizing force in Ukraine right now is Russia.

    Euromaidan was composed of a cross-spectrum of ordinary Ukrainians with a common agenda to demonstrate their opposition to abuses of power and their desire to see change. It was remarkably disciplined and self-restrained. They acted only in self-defence in response to violence initiated by the authorities under the direction of former President Yanukovych”.

    Does any of the EU countries have a fugitive president? If any, what do we have to do in this case? Just sit and wait for the arrival of the fugitive president?