The Current State of Crimea
Every hour brings new developments in Ukraine’s 2014 Crimean crisis, and both sides are digging in. Despite all the press, posts, promises and propaganda; perhaps a focus on basic facts will offer some much-needed perspective. As of Thursday, March 7th, 2014:
- Russia controls the entire Crimean Peninsula. They aren’t going to give it back, and neither the EU, Ukraine, nor the U.S. is going to take it back. [BBC News – Crimea As It Happens]
- Crimea was already the only “autonomous republic” within Ukraine’s 25 administrative areas (“oblasts“), and as such, has their own parliament and Crimean Constitution subject to the laws of Ukraine.[Annexation of Crimea by Russian Federation]
- The majority of Crimeans overwhelmingly align with Russia. [Do Crimeans Actually Want to Join Russia? (Washington Post)]
- The Crimean city of Sevastopol hosts the Russian Black Sea Fleet, as it has for well over a hundred years, and the base is now leased by the Russian Federation through 2042. [The Guardian – Russian Black Sea Fleet]
- Ukraine has a very long and complex history of subordination, and only became an independent state in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. [BBC – Ukraine]
- Ukraine is strategically and economically valuable. They are the world’s 5th largest grain exporter and have prosperous industrial sectors. [IBT – Why Should Egyptians Worry About Ukraine?]
- With approximately 45 million people, Ukraine is a little less than 1/3 the population of Russia, or 1/2 the population of Germany, and approximately 78% of the population is ethnic Ukrainian. [CIA Fact Book – Ukraine]
Soviet Dissolution & Inconsistencies Thereafter
Is it unreasonable to view the current developments in Ukraine simply as a natural progression of the Soviet Union dissolution? Of course we can declare outrage, violations of International Law, and disrespect for sovereignty; but after ignoring these bedrock principles in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere; are we simply reaping what we have sown?
There are so many inconsistencies on both sides of this Crimean situation. To begin, Russia now supports a Crimean declaration of self-determination—to become a part of Russia—but they do not support Chechnya’s wish to become independent from Russia. The United States supported the 2008 Kosovo Declaration of Independence from Serbia—despite wobbly legal legs—yet we reject Crimea’s wish to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia. Russia opposed Kosovo’s independence from Serbia and claimed it could set a dangerous precedent—an ironic convenience for Crimea or what?
Sovereignty – The Legal Foundation For Self-Determination
So what is the legal foundation that supports a people’s right to self-determination? The absolute supremacy of a country’s Constitution? Or does a higher consensus of what’s right or best for all prevail? We can’t cry about the Rule of Law when we so easily ignore it when it suits our needs—a “pre-emptive” war and invasion of Iraq anyone? So neither Russia nor the U.S. can in good faith ignore our past inconsistencies and meddling in other’s affairs. The entire concept of sovereignty remains as loose as it has been throughout history.
Is Russia’s Vladimir Putin acting irrationally? Unreasonably perhaps, but irrationally no. He has seen an opportunity and taken it, the question that remains is at what cost? Putin is living partly in the past and clearly desires a Russian Federation that is the equal of the United States in every way. The reality he must face is that Russia is no longer a superpower on equal footing with the U.S., in any way. And as much as it hurts Mr. Putin—the ever loyal KGB Lieutenant—it is not likely to become so anytime soon.
While strategically important to Russia, the Black Sea Fleet (Washington Post) in Sevastopol is not particularly formidable. First, and most obvious, the entire fleet is bottled in the Black Sea, and NATO members Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, and Hungary can easily keep it there. Furthermore, as noted in the Washington Post article, “Russian forces in Ukraine: What does the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea look like?”
No one knows how this will end, but I predict that Crimea will very soon be a part of the Russian Federation, and aside from squawking and limited personal financial sanctions, we are going to have to take this and like it. Putin does not wish a military conflict, but he is willing to stir the pot to the highest level, and create as much agitation and tension as possible to obtain Crimea. He is a crafty devil, however he will not attempt to expand his ambitions beyond Crimea; if he does, he understands that such action would be an entirely different story.
We do all now live in an interdependent world, and the EU can no more afford to economically isolate Russia than we can. Most of the EU trades heavily with Russia across all industries, as do many U.S. companies.
What The West Should Do
We are all in this together and it is time to start looking forward to a more collaborative future. My recommendation for the U.S. is to search for a win-win exit for Mr. Putin—as he provided for us with an alternative method of eliminating the chemical weapons in Syria. So despite the Ukrainian Constitution, perhaps there is a better solution and consensus for what is best for everyone.
Lets give Russia what they already have—because they aren’t going to give it back and we aren’t going to take it back—a Russian Crimea, and in return we receive peace and a primarily intact Ukraine that is free to move closer to the EU. As it was best for all for Kosovo to secede from Serbia, it is likely best for all that Crimea peacefully secedes from Ukraine.
Mark G Capolupo