We are all reading about the Ukraine Crisis since months and then on the recent issues in Crimea that are making global headlines for evident reasons. I’d be honest when I say I didn’t know what really was happening. Ah! I was ignorant. Then, I sat down for hours today at a coffee shop and read the tale that has entangled Ukraine and Russia in a mess embellished by Crimea. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know what I am talking about because in this post I’ll enlighten you on the conflict, its backdrop ,its impact and the existing state of affairs concerning the two nations.
The Crimean peninsula was conquered by Russia in the 18th century and was transferred to the Ukrainian part in 1954. Both Ukraine and Russia were a part of the Soviet Union which collapsed in 1991 and Crimea officially landed in Ukraine. Thus, the commonality between Russia and Ukraine is quite apparent. In November 2013, the then President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, rejected a trade deal with the European Union under Russian pressure. Yanukovich instead accepted a 15 billion $ bailout from Moscow. The move was condemned by a huge population of Ukraine which desired firmer ties with the EU and believed that the Ukrainian parliament was entirely pro-Russian. There were numerous protests, clashes, demonstrations and disputes, all aimed towards the ousted of the ruling government. The regime brought in tough laws to deal with it. They imposed hefty fines, declared brutal punishments and engaged in mass killings of the protestors who wanted the President to quit. A huge rally on December 1 drew roughly 3,00,000 people at Kiev’s Independence Square.
The street clashes and aggression continued and escalated as days passed by. On 20th February, several government snipers shot the protestors which turned out to be the worst day of violence in the crisis. Eventually, the very next day, the protest leader and Yanukovich agreed to form a new government and hold an early election. The President fled Kiev after the opponents took control of the capital. Doesn’t this look like an eventual victory for all those Ukrainians who wanted a government more aligned with the EU than with Russia? Alas! The story didn’t end here.
What came in picture next was Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine, whose natives are mostly ethnic Russians and refuse to acknowledge the newly formed Ukrainian government. Tensions rose between the pro-European and the pro-Russian sections of Ukraine, effectively fueled by the media depicting the new government as fascist and anti-Russian. Russia also denounced the events leading to the formation of the new-government as illegitimate and vowed to protect its citizens in Crimea where it has a major naval base. In late February, Viktor Yanukovich was accorded refuge in Russia and the Russian troops seized the Crimean peninsula in a bloodless military takeover claiming these to be local self-defense forces.
Escalating the situation, the MPs of Crimea have asked Russia to allow this southern Ukrainian nation to become a part of the Russian Federation. A referendum for the same has been set for March 16. Thus, if Russia consents to the appeal for ‘reunification’ of Crimea with itself, it would be presented to the Crimean electorate on 16 March, 2014.
On the international level, the US, UK, Germany and many other countries have been criticizing Putin for interfering in the politics and violating the sovereignty of Ukraine whereas Putin claims that his forces are only trying to maintain law and order in the neighboring nation on request of the ousted President. According to some Russian spokesmen, the country is determining measures so that people in Ukraine who do not want to split from the Russian World can obtain Russian citizenship.
Russia’s interest in this whole discord is palpable because the biggest weakness in its geography is its restricted access to the ocean. It can’t let Crimea join the pro-EU forces as this might breed troubles related to their naval base due to a transformation in certain policies in the favor of Europe. Moreover, 30% of Europe’s gas is imported from Russia, half of which flows through Ukrainian pipelines. The ongoing conflict might lead to a disruption of Russian gas exports to both Europe and Ukraine. On a global level, the crisis could impact the worldwide grain supplies as Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat and grain.
The world is waiting for a tactful and nonviolent resolution to the crisis. However, I wonder how straightforward that can be? The annexation of Crimea can be a pricey affair for Russia and can also demean the reputation of Putin which has constantly been in question. At the same time, independence of Crimea might obscure the political situation in the new formed nation. What we need to know at this point is that either independence or annexation could trigger potentially stern long-term political and economic consequences for Russia. For now, we can just sit back and witness as the entire drama unfurls with the optimism that it will all end well.
References: Wikipedia, BBC, Huffington Post, Washington Post, New York Times etc.