Let’s Play Recap:
Ukraine- A region originally absorbed by Russia in 1738, but it became its own country on July 16th of 1990. Their first election took place December 1st of 1991 and 90% of the electorate voted in favor of the act of independence.
Crimea- A region that Moscow added to the Ukraine in 1954. It has 2.3 million people with the majority of them speaking Russian. Only 24% of the population there identify as ethnic Ukranian. Although it is legally part of the Ukraine, it is an autonomous republic that elects its own parliament. From 1990-1995 it elected its own president as well until a pro-Russian Crimean separatist was elected, since then Kiev has appointed the prime minister for the region while consulting with the local parliament.
Sevastopol- The Crimean city that plays host to a large Russian naval base. It is Russia’s only warm water base(accessible year round) and houses multiple warship divisions and a submarine division.
Viktor Yanukovych- Prime Minister of Ukraine from 2002-2004. He was elected president in 2004 but the country’s supreme court declared the election fraudulent and in the recount was found to have lost. The election, supreme court decision, protests, and recount that took the office away from Yanukovych are now known as the Orange Revolution. He ran again for president of Ukraine in 2010. There were more charges of financial fraud during the campaign, but Yanukovych was declared the winner and has been president since.
How we got here- Yanukovych had been steering the country towards a closer relationship with the EU, but days before a new trade agreement was set to be signed in November, Yanukovych rejected it in favor of closer ties to Russia. This went over…poorly. Over 20,000 protesters took to the street in February, this led to multiple clashes with the police including live ammo being authorized by Yanukovuch and fired at protesters, killing at least 88. Yanukovych was forced to flee the country in the aftermath. Over the last week Russia has added 150,000 troops to the naval base under the guise of military exercises and protection for the Russian population in Crimea. There are accusations that Russian troops have been patrolling the whole region, these troops aren’t wearing any official markings though, more on this later.
International Law- There are multiple international treaties that are being brought up right now. Primarily, there is the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. You can read the whole thing here. It’s less than a page. Shortening it even further, the deal is between the US, Great Britian, Russia, Ireland, and Ukraine. It states that Ukraine will give up all of their nuclear weapons and all of the nations that signed it agree to respect Ukraine’s borders and their sovereignty. Russia claims it hasn’t violated the treaty at all, but along with the unmarked troops I’ll discuss this in a couple paragraphs.
Poland has invoked article 4 of the NATO treaty. “The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” Article 4 only requires consultation, not action. It should be noted that Ukraine isn’t part of NATO which means no one can invoke article 5 and that is the part of the treaty that would require military involvement. Poland is claiming that Russia’s action in Ukraine represent a material threat to Poland.
Let’s Play Mindreader:
Remember when I said there are unmarked troops wandering around Crimea? They speak Russian, are using Russian weapons, and demanding Ukranians who are holding up in their military bases in Crimea surrender immediately. Putin claims that these aren’t Russian troops. He claims they are ‘local self defense forces’. Putin also claims that anything Russia is doing in Ukraine is part of a ‘humanitarian mission’ for ethnic Russians and because the help was requested by ousted President Yanukovych(who is hiding in Russia) then Putin is legally allowed to send in troops(not that he has). The question then is, why would Putin claim no troops are on the ground when reports from the ground state they are? What does Putin actually have to gain in all this? Do we have precedent we can look at to glean Putin’s motives?
The South Ossetia war in 2008 resulted from a former USSR country, in this case Georgia, trying to crack down on a region that was viewed as heavily pro Russia to the point of being separatist. Georgia sent in troops even though the land was legally Georgian. Russian responded by sending in troops of their own under the guise of protecting ethnic Russians. Many people viewed this is Russia invading Georgia. There were civilian casualties and war crime accusations thrown around. It took roughly two weeks for outside pressure to stabilize the region(kind of) and Russian forces withdrew. If you replace Georgia with Ukraine and Ossetia with Crimea does it look familiar? We are watching history repeat itself.
Putin wants to continue to project strength and be protective of the ethnic Russians living in former soviet block countries. Putin wants the rest of the world to respect Russians for being Russians no matter what country they live in. It explains why he’s claiming the troops aren’t Russian troops, just locals. This, just like the Olympics, is an attempt to make Russian people and culture look strong, not just the Russian armed forces.
Let’s Play Magic 8 Ball:
This won’t spark WWIII. The United States and the EU won’t invade Ukraine or Russia. Crimea will not be annexed by Russia although it may split from Ukraine and become independent. Russia will keep its naval base right where it is, but will withdraw all troops in the region back to that base before summer. Ukraine will host elections again and get a government up and running under the careful watch of the UN. Russia will sit back and be confident in the fact that they have reminded the whole world how strong they are while getting to use the shield that they were simply protecting ethnic Russians in another country.
Stay tuned for part two in which I talk about how all of this will play out in the political arena of the United States.
As always, questions, comments, and concerns are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.