‘RUSSIA ANNEXES CRIMEA!’
“RISE OF IMPERIALIST RUSSIA! ’
‘UKRAINE UNDER RUSSIAN INVASION! ’
These were few headlines shouted out by all prominent newspapers around the world. Europe had been shaken and threatened out of its comfort zone and Russia was bombarded with blames from all corners.
As all our opinions are shaped by what ‘Western media’ speaks to us, we subconsciously avoid reaching the roots of the issue. Most of us take no time in stating Russia to be a bully and Ukraine to be the ‘little boy’ being bullied.
In the light of the conflict in East Ukraine, let us see the unfathomed side – the story less heard of.
Crimea was an integral part of the Tsarist Russia since 1783. From the time USSR was formed as a union of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics (SSR), the Crimean peninsula had been an integral part of Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (SFSR) rather than the Ukraine SSR.
In 1953, a new President came to power in the USSR - Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev. A year under his leadership and a step towards appeasing the Ukrainian population was made. The 1654 Treaty of Pereyaslav reunified Ukraine with Russia and in 1954, celebrating 300 years of Ukraine’s reunification with Russia, Khrushchev ‘gifted’ the Crimean peninsula from Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR.
This transfer of territory saw no referendum or voting by the Crimean population. Well, some argue that if at all this was not approved to them, Crimea should have voiced its opinion and revolted at that time of transfer. However, one has to keep in mind that Ukraine SSR and Russian SFSR were part of the same state – USSR, and thus the transfer of territory did not invoke any trade, travel or other such restrictions. Thus the transfer at that point in history did not affect Crimea in any significant way.
However, with the collapse and disintegration of USSR in 1991 a new chapter in world history was written as all the 15 republics that were once a part of this giant union, came out as independent republics and now Ukraine SSR and Russian SFSR were cut apart into two separate countries, how we recognize them today as - Ukraine and Russian Federation respectively. Even after the split, why did Crimea now not raise its voice? This was because Russia and Ukraine continued to enjoy deep political and economic ties and this is a very well known fact that the Crimean did not feel separated from their ‘homeland’ – Russia.
THE BURNING PROTESTS
The Euromaidan protest bought a specter, which spread the demand for anti Russian government. This protest by some Ukrainian groups opposed a closer union with Russia. Soon an interim government headed by Arseniy Yatsenyuk came to power on February 2014 and this government was adamant to maintain its distance with Russia and further integrate to the European Union. And the arrival of this pro-EU government spread the fear among the Crimean population as it took them further away from Russia – thus now was the time for their voices to be heard. Hence the 2014 March referendum to decide the status of Crimea was one of the most crucial democratic act held in Europe indeed.
THE GALLOPING CIVILIAN SUPPORT
Out of the total 1,533,208 registered voters, 1,233,002 voters i.e. approximately 97.5% voters supported and voted to join the Russian federation whereas only 31,997 voters i.e approx. 2.5% voters voted to restore the 1992 constitution and remain as a part of Ukraine.
Crimea had invited OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) observers to oversee the referendum to join Russia. However, OSCE chose not to oversee the referendum owing to the fact that Crimea isn’t a ‘full fledged state’ and now term the referendum as farce. However, we must not be forget upto 135 international observers from various nations did oversee the referendum and termed it genuine.
On one hand- Yes, it cannot be denied that Russia in a way was involved in bringing down the Ukrainian government in Crimea but on the other hand no amount of denials can me made regarding the massive support by the Crimean population for the same cause. It must be kept in mind that for any mass rebellion to succeed, the support of the civilians is an ultimate necessity and the central underlying factor behind the massive success of the ‘reintegration’ of Crimea with Russia owes to the ginormous civilian support for the cause.
With all these events we can come to an easy conclusion that Crimea since centuries had been an integral part of Russia until 1954. Even after the historic change of 1954 Crimea continued to maintain close ties with its motherland, Russia.
With 60% of Crimea’s population of Russian ethnicity & 84% of Crimean inhabitants speaking Russian as their native language, and the 97.5% voters support towards reuniting with Russia very well justifies Crimea’s move to join Russia and the latter accepting it with open arms.
RUSSIAN ROLE IN EAST UKRAINE
Russia’s role in Eastern Ukraine remains to be controversial. But every coin has two sides and let us understand the other side through the lenses of a classical realist.
After the 1991 disintegration Russia inherited the international recognition of the USSR and tried to maintain close ties with ex-Soviet states. With the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and some ex-Soviet states and Soviet satellite states joining the rival alliance of NATO, Russia was left with a grave threat to its national security.
Soon, NATO expanded its borders unto Poland and Baltic Republics and the only massive nation that created buffer between NATO and its old rival Russia was Ukraine.
Russia due to security, historical and cultural reasons continued to maintain close ties with Ukraine and provided a big market for Eastern Ukrainian goods. It also provided Ukraine with several economic concessions like subsidized natural gas, favorable trade conditions etc.
However everything was going smooth until the Pro-Russian government was ousted in Ukraine following widespread anti-Russia protests.
The new Ukraine Government pledged to break ties with Russia disavowing the historical and cultural relations of the East Ukrainian people with Russia. On the other hand, the new Ukrainian government pledged to become a part of NATO. From Russia’s perspective, this was a major threat to its national secruirty as NATO would be in direct range of targeting Moscow.
Another point to consider is that Russia must have taken advantage of NATO’s clause stating that any country with any border disputes cannot join the NATO until resolving the disputes and hence supported the rebellion in East Ukraine, keeping in mind that the continued rebellion in East Ukraine shows that the people of east Ukraine are strongly pro-Russian.
Russia thus succeeded in preventing Ukraine from joining the NATO military alliance and thus protected its national interests. The big question is - How far should a country go to protect its national interest? Well, that’s a debatable issue! But for the realists who believe that state is the supreme entity and protection of national interests at any cost is prudent statecraft, Russia’s actions aren’t a big surprise.
Nevertheless, NATO’s response to further fortify borders against Russia and attempts to expand towards the ex-Soviet republics like Moldova, Ukraine etc might just be the beginning of a new cold war with a resurgent and confident Russia adamant on asserting its national security.
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