The turmoil of Kiev's Maidan Square ended, our is drawn inevitably eastward. All eyes are now focused on the Crimea and the Russian show of military force we are witnessing there, a show of force, one might add, heartily welcomed by a plurality of the inhabitants who do not see themselves as Ukrainians, at all.
Long part of the Ottoman Empire, the Crimea was annexed by Russia in the 18th century. The strategic peninsula saw war and devastation, political upheaval, and Stalinist mass deportations in succeeding centuries. In 1954 then Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev ceded the region to the Ukraine, undoubtedly never imagining that the Ukraine might ever become independent of the USSR. Sevastopol, at the southwestern tip of the peninsula, has long been of strategic importance to the Russians as their only warm water port and the home of the Black Sea Fleet.
What happens now is anyone's guess. It is unimaginable that Russia ever would relinquish control of that territory, and recent actions substantiate that view. Will Russia annex the Crimea in contravention of the 1994 agreement under which the Ukraine, which then held the world's third largest nuclear arsenal, agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for guarantees of territorial sovereignty from Russia, Great Britain, and the United States? Will the Ukraine become a federation of the separate eastern (Russian) and western (Ukrainian) halves of the country? How much US and European "meddling" in Ukrainian affairs will Russian president Vladimir Putin put up with?
The answers will be revealed in time, but they will be dictated more by Moscow than Brussels or Washington. There is no possibility or desire in American or European capitals for military intervention. Therefore, a grand and conclusive confrontation will not take place. The hue and cry for blood from some of our more belligerent citizens will go unsatisfied. It's just not in the cards, folks, and nor should it be.
On the other hand, there are measures the Western nations could take to punish Putin's adventurism. As many have suggested, this could begin with a boycott of the Group of Eight conference now scheduled in Sochi. This could be followed by economic and financial sanctions against Russia, including blocking the fat private accounts held by certain powerful Russians in the West. Putin himself is said to have billions stashed in foreign accounts, making him one of the wealthiest men in the world.
An elderly protestor prepares to throw a stone, during clashes with police, in central Kiev, Ukraine, 2014. Protesters erected barricades from charred vehicles and other materials in central Kiev as the sound of stun grenades were heard in the freezing air as police tried to quell anti-government street protests. | Photo: Sergei Grits |
But, and there is always a "but," European dependence for energy on Russian natural gas is significant, and that gives Putin a trump card, and he has a demonstrated willingness to play it. Germany, especially, is deeply concerned with the Russian energy sector, and Angela Merkel has been in close consultation with Putin on this subject for some time. And whither goes Germany, there goes the EU.
And the United States? Despite complaints about President Obama's response thus far to the crisis, there is little we can do directly to influence events in the Ukraine, no more than we could in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, or Georgia in 2008.
Crimea is a sovereign parliamentary republic and is governed by the Constitution of Crimea in accordance with the laws of Ukraine. The capital and administrative seat of the republic's government is the city of Simferopol, located in the center of the peninsula. Crimea's area is 26,200 square kilometres (10,100 sq mi) and its population was 1,973,185 as of 2007. These figures do not include the area and population of the City of Sevastopol (2007 population: 379,200), which is administratively separate from the autonomous republic. The peninsula thus has 2,352,385 people (2007 estimate).
Crimean Tatars, an ethnic minority who in 2001 made up 12% of the population, formed in Crimea in the late Middle Ages, after the Crimean Khanate had come into existence. The Crimean Tatars were forcibly expelled to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin's government. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Crimean Tatars began to return to the region. According to the 2001 Ukrainian population census 58% of the population of Crimea are ethnic Russians and 24% are ethnic Ukrainians. The region has the highest proportion of Muslims in Ukraine.