Putin’s dream of unifying ex-Soviet states to create a Eurasian Economic Union (Belarus and Kazakhstan have already joined) has been a primary driver for Russia’s intervention thus far. Putin recently pushed for a revitalization of Russian identity by promoting legislation that would allow anyone fluent in Russian who lives, or family once lived, in the area of the Soviet Union to apply for Russian citizenship.
Crimea plays a central role in Putin’s ambition to create a Eurasian Economic Union given its access to warm water ports and strong Russian identity. The population in Crimea is 58 percent Russian, 24 percent Ukrainian, and 12 percent Crimean Tatar. However, 97 percent of the population uses Russian as their primary or only language.
Crimea is wedged between Russian and Ukrainian identity. Although it falls under Ukraine’s sovereignty, according to international law, Crimea has had periods of autonomous rule in the past, and it recently announced its desire to ally with Russia by declaring a referendum (to be voted on March 16) which would allow Crimea to join the Russian Federation under autonomous rule.The
However, President Obama recently stated that the "proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law.”
The U.S. giving credence to international law is interesting given its general lack of respect for international law. It’s more likely that the U.S. is rehashing Cold War power politics and trying to prevent Putin from reorganizing a new Soviet Union under the guise of international law.
Nonetheless, the U.S. and most of their European allies imposed sanctions on Russia, and Russia’s response will likely solidify whether this conflict will deflate or escalate. The U.S. and Russia’s opposing stances on Crimea and the future of the Ukrainian economy, combined with the failed negotiations that led up to these sanctions, paints a negative future for those hoping to resolve the situation quickly.
Russia and the West are both claiming ownership over the rights and interests of Ukraine and Crimea, but this conflict has clearly escalated outside of Ukrainian hands. The upcoming political plays between Russia and the U.S. will decide whether the world’s largest powers will rise above the age of uncompromising power politics or if this will mark the beginning of a new Cold War era.
Photo Source: patdollard.com