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FOREIGN REPORTFOREIGN REPORT
Moving into a New Epoch Along the Black Sea
Lee Eunkyung  |  eunklee94@korea.ac.kr
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승인 2014.05.01  15:58:51
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▲ President Putin has been a powerful yet controversial leader of Russia. Provided by i.huffingpost.com.

"In people's hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia. This firm conviction is based on truth and justice,” stated Russian President Vladimir Putin while welcoming back Crimea as a Russian territory. Ukraine and Russia have been involved in a dispute over Crimea. In fact, the dispute grew serious when, on February 24, an “unknown” army suddenly invaded Crimea, Ukrainian territory, at least at that time.

Although Russia denied that it was at fault, many suspect that Russia was the main culprit, and labeled the incident “The 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine.”

History of Ukraine and Russia

The armed invasion of Ukraine is not surprising if the complicated relationship between Russia and Ukraine is understood. The latter country used to be a part of Imperial Russia and then the Soviet Union. After several failed attempts for freedom, Ukraine eventually achieved independence in 1991. Since then, Russia and Ukraine have been neighboring countries to each other closely related in terms of economy, military and diplomacy. However, some bitter sentiments remain due to colonialism and some territorial conflicts are unresolved even today.

One of the problems is that Crimea is a peninsula on the Black Sea where various ethnicities and religions coexist. “Since the Imperial Russia period, Crimea peninsula has been a strategic location for Russia,” stated Professor Lee Dong Sun (Political Science and International Relations). There have seldom been ice-free ports within Russia, and Crimea provided these rare ice-free ports. Also, the ports being on the Black Sea, offered Russia a way to exert its influence to European countries.

After the demise of the Soviet Union, Crimea became “an autonomous republic” within Ukraine. About 60 percent of the population supported Crimea’s independence from the Soviet Union and Russia acknowledged the land Ukrainian territory in 1994. However, the approval was made under a condition that Ukraine had to allow the Russian Navy, the Black Sea Fleet to use Crimea for military bases because Russia still perceived Crimea ports and bases crucial.

Another assignment for Russia was to be in friendly terms with Ukraine since Ukraine is one of its nearby nations. They seemed to be reaching a peaceful phase. The tranquil state reached its climax when a Russophile politician, Viktor Yanukovych, was elected president in 2010. But, the serenity was short-lived. The 2014 Crimean Crisis was precipitated when a revolutionary wave, Euromaidan, began to rise in Ukraine in November 2013.

Movement participants wanted a close bond with the European Union (EU) than Russia. Before being ousted from power, Yanukovych intended to establish friendly relations with both EU and Russia. However, in the course, he had to decide which country to have economic ties with. Indeed, Ukraine lacked economic development in recent years. Ukrainian government chose Russia for acquiring a loan although EU also offered it. Then, the Euromaiden broke out in Kiev.

Consequently, Yanukovych was fiercely condemned and had to resign. Crimea, comprised largely of ethnic Russians, in response to the riot, wanted to part away from Ukraine and join Russia. “Although Ukraine is composed of diverse races, Ukrainians are the majority as a whole,” said Professor Lee. “Just within Crimea, however, ethnic Russians are the major consisting population.” In this sense, many Crimean citizens wanted a close relationship with Russia. Plus, they felt that they were the social minorities within Ukraine and longed for the separation to alleviate their weak social status.

The deputies of eastern province of Crimea announced, "We turn to the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich with the demand to take strict measures concerning those, who today virtually went to war against our country, and to introduce a state of emergency. The time of peaceful negotiations has ended – negotiations cannot be held with terrorists and extremists!”

   
▲ Complex relationship between Ukraine and Russia, with Crimea peninsula on the Black Sea. Provided by en.wikipedia.org.

Global Response and Crimea’s Future

Right after the Ukraine revolution, the peninsula was “invaded” on February 24 as an after-effect. Russia has been fiercely criticized since the 2014 Crimea Crisis because many nations suspected Russia of sending their armed forces onto the peninsula. Ukraine and the United States (U.S.) were the leaders in oppressing Putin. They generally thought that Putin was violating international law and provoking chaos.

Ukraine’s current president Oleksandr Turchnov, for instance, publicly noted that Russia was picking a fight by raiding Ukrainian territory. He requested that Putin withdraw the armies and even went so far as to say on March 1, as follows: “Military intervention would be the beginning of war and the end of any relations between Ukraine and Russia.” The U.S. president Barack Obama also regarded Russia’s actions as unjust, and Canada summoned its ambassador home from Russia.

But the Crimean parliament and the Sevastopol City Council declared their independence from Ukraine on March 11. This self-proclaimed separation opened a new phase for events. The situation became even more puzzling when Crimea’s fate was decided through a referendum on March 16. With about 80 percent of the Crimea population participating, 96.77 percent of the voters agreed on returning the region to Russia.

The event could be seen as a power battle between the U.S. and Russia along with its respective supporters. Many countries siding with the U.S. thought that the referendum was illegal. “The U.S. and EU are disagreeing with the results of the vote,” explained Professor Lee. Crimea and Russia are generally on the agreeing side.

One of the questions raised is whether the voters rationally decided or not. The referendum, carried out right after the revolution, may have decided Crimea’s future impulsively. Even within Russia, the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), a prestigious diplomatic school, rioted against the vote with former Professor Andrei Zubov in the lead. "We need to come to our senses and stop,” stated Zubov, “Our politicians are pushing the nation into a harrowing adventure. History shows that nothing will go without payment. We need not buy into this like Germans once bought into the promises of Goebbels and Hitler." For people like him, the annexation appears to be “insane” and “needless.”

Or else, the vote may have been unlawfully influenced with Russian military troops in Crimea at that time. Time will tell whether the role accurately reflected citizens’ desires and future.

   
▲ Ukrainians protesting against what has been going on so far. Provided by theblot.com.

Does Putin Have an Upper Hand?

Putin has been a powerful yet controversial political figure since the 1990s. During his early days in the office, the Russian economy prospered, and he was portrayed as a heroic figure. Since then, not only has he been president but he was also prime minister and the head of the most powerful political party. However, his authority is questionable in terms of a democratic-oriented international society. Many critics have pointed out Putin’s oppression of democratic values.

Conversely, others like Nigel Farage, a British politician and a leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), agree with some of Putin’s policies. On March 31, Farage publicly praised Putin’s diplomatic moves by stating, “As an operator, but not as a human being, I would say Putin. The way he played the whole Syria thing. Brilliant.” But the issue now is Putin’s and Russia’s intervention in Ukraine affairs.

From Farage’s point of view, the annexation of Crimea is a sign of Putin’s diplomatic prowess. Many others besides Farage have further complimented Putin’s strategies as he is often described as the successor of Stalin. British academic Norman Stone has stated that Putin and General Charles de Gaulle share many similarities. TIME magazine even selected Putin as its person of the year in 2007, depicting him as a “tsar.” The magazine wrote that “the notion of Western friendship with Russia is a dead letter.” Putin is undeniably a man in power.

As Putin’s power increases, many nations, especially the U.S., are keeping a close eye on Russia. On March 26, U.S. President Barack Obama publicly stated Russia was suspended from G8, now the G7. The action’s intention is to apply diplomatic pressure on Russia, isolating the country politically and economically. However, whether Putin and his nation will greatly be affected is questionable.

“Besides the points on who Putin personally is,” commented Lee, “if to view him regarding his diplomatic polices, his goal is not primarily economyoriented.” Instead, he focuses on maintaining Russia’s international status as one of the world powers. Contemporarily, Russia is on its turning point as a powerful nation with its economic and military means weakening. “Well, Putin believes that his obligations are not only to keep Russia’s influential international status but also to reinforce it.”

The best way to do so is to widen Russia’s sphere of influence. With regards, Putin wanted Ukraine, the former Soviet Unions, to be in Russia’s power. Ukraine had been intimate with Russia until the revolution struck. The country began to head for the West. If Ukraine succeeded, Russia would be in a losing situation as the nation might have lost not only a close bond with its adjoining country but also its rights for Crimea usages. Crimea being the strategic location for Russia and knowing that, Putin is expected keep Crimea despite possible economic loss.

   
▲ World powers in the process of leaving out Russia due to the Crimea annexation. Provided by www.nbcnews.com

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