Editor's Pick

In Ukraine Part 2: Crimea

Glib Stronov '16

Recently, Russia celebrated the first anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, an act that the Russian government refers to as saving the Russian speaking people from conflict. The Russian government and most Russian citizens support and recognizes the annexation of Crimea. However, this territory is still not recognized as Russian on an international stage. Despite the argument over the status over Crimea, what cannot be disputed is that Russia has complete military and legislative control over the Crimean Peninsula, and this annexation was the result of a series of events during and after the Maidan protests, as Ukraine descended into turmoil.

As Maidan revolution progressed, Ukrainians concentrated on the internal problems of the country such as persecutions of the activists and the desirable coup d’état. However, the problem Ukrainians faced after the protest did not originate within the country.

During the winter, which was full of hardships for Ukrainians, Russian media (fully controlled by the Russian government) managed to persuade most Russians that protestors in Kiev were anti-Russian fascists, whose goal was to humiliate or even get rid of Russians in Ukraine. Therefore, by the end of Maidan protests most Russians believed in the myth about violent Ukrainians, threatening ethnic Russians and pro-Russian people living in Ukraine. Moreover, Russian media protected the Berkut (police institution loyal to Mr. Yanukovich), saying they were the last stand against fascism and comparing them to Soviet soldiers killing Nazi Germans. They even welcomed them to Russian police institutions after the protest in Ukraine was over. The stories depicted on Russian media were indeed to a certain extent distorted and biased, but for the common Russian citizens, it was enough. Perhaps it was the fact that Russian media is almost entirely State owned, or perhaps it’s a simple twist in the local mentalities, but no matter what the anti-protestor propaganda succeeded.

However, the propaganda itself wasn’t that important, the most interesting thing was its effect on the general public . The Russian citizens, many of whom at this point viewed Ukrainians with vile hostility, was begging for their leader Mr. Putin to cease the so called “anti-Russian rampage”. Mr. Putin’s plan worked perfectly: it was deployment of Russian troops, who began actions in Crimea (which was Ukranian territory at the time), On the 27th of February 2014, only 5 days after the end of Maidan.

Crimea has always been a desirable piece of land for Mr. Putin for two main reasons. First, the Black Sea, which washes Crimean peninsula, has significant amounts natural gas. Second, Crimea is Mr. Putin’s naval passage to Europe and the Russian fleet was already based in Ukrainian Crimea before the annexation.

Nonetheless, as we’ve mentioned in part 1 No one expected Crimea to be annexed. Ukrainians were still celebrating the end of Maidan in a mirthful atmosphere. The Ukrainian army was also not ready: weakened by years of corruption and cronyism, unprepared for any kind of military actions, and outnumbered by Russian troops (many of whom disguised as civilians), Ukrainian soldiers on the peninsula were not able to resist the well-equipped “polite people”(nickname for Russian troops) and soon the latter, at first claimed to be merely local citizens by Mr. Putin took over Crimea. In order for a swift takeover before Ukraine would be able to react, the Russian insurgents chose the most efficient, though not always humane, strategies. There were cases when soldiers of Russian army took children from kindergartens as hostages and in this way blackmailed the Ukrainian troops. However, the peninsula was still taken “without firing a single shot”, as Russians like to say.

Around the same time a referendum to determining whether people of Crimea do or do not want to join Russia was held on March 16th, showing some unbelievable results: about 97% of people wanted to join Russia. The polls held by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology in February 2014 had very different outcomes: only 35% residents of Crimea wanted the peninsula to become a part of Russian Federation. Though both polls may have been exaggerations with their own political purposes, they indeed show different sides to the story; after all, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars (the ethnic population of Crimea), who were strongly against Russian integration constituted approximately 36.5% of Crimean population.

Also, there’s no need to mention the legitimacy of the held Referendum: pro-Russian Crimean’s comments in social networks indicated that one didn’t even need to have a passport to vote and, moreover, one could vote for his or her relatives or neighbors. On the 18th of March, practically immediately after the referendum, Mr. Putin pompously admitted Crimea as a part of Russian Federation.

These actions, of course, caused international resentment. Not only due to the questionable referendum but also since by annexing Crimea, Russia openly violated the Budapest Memorandum. This Memorandum states that under the condition that Ukraine gave up its nuclear status (at the time when the Budapest Memorandum was signed Ukraine had the 3rd largest nuclear weapons stockpile in the world), the USA, Britain, and Russia are obliged to secure the territorial unity of Ukraine. However, instead of ensuring its unity, Russia annexed part of Ukraine as its own. Most people are hostile toward the Russian government, however a number of people still regard the Russians as their saviors because Russian troops sometimes brought relative stability to war zones.

The undeniable fact is that events in Crimea brought further political instability to the already ailing Ukraine. People needed a new leader, one who could hold the country together and counter Russian measures. The elections were held on the on the 25th of May. A relatively amateur politician, owner of the Roshen Confectionary Corporation (the biggest candy factory in Ukraine) was chosen to be a president. An activist of Maidan, Mr. Poroshenko is now 49 years old. His previous political activity is rather versatile: he had previously been a member of a number of Ukrainian parties (including the one which belonged to Mr. Yanukovich).

Now, however, he has his own political party, with a name “Petro Poroshenko Bloc”. Mr. Poroshenko’s ideology could be described as liberal conservatism and pro-Europeanism, the latter appealed to many Ukrainians, especially after the events in Crimea. Mr. Poroshenko is facing both domestic and international criticism (domestic criticism: many people don’t believe the president is going the right way, he wants to renovate the military force and spend much money on military renovation, because he thinks they will be safer, but many doubt that the money will be corrupted. People see increase in military spending as a continuation of war in Donbass (Donetsk and Luhansk)) and fighting the deep crisis the country is in, which marks the first year of his presidency.

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