The Causes and Ramifications of the Crimean Crisis


By Atif Shamim Syed


The present crisis in Crimea is a direct consequence of the Ukrainian revolution which overthrew the government of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Crimea is a peninsula situated on the Coast of the Black sea. It is an autonomous republic within Ukraine and is governed by Ukrainian laws. The republic occupies the bulk of the Crimean peninsula while the rest of it constitutes the city of Sevastopol which is Ukraine’s second largest port. Sevastopol which enjoys a special status within Ukraine is home to the Russian Black sea fleet. The city is not considered an administrative part of the republic and is governed by a mayor appointed by the president of Ukraine. Russians are the biggest ethnic group in Crimea making up around 60 percent of the population. Ethnic Ukrainian constitutes 24 percent and Crimean Tatars around 12 percent.

The crisis began last year in November when the then president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych abruptly refused to sign a free trade agreement with the EU in order to appease the Russian president Vladimir Putin. Putin wants Ukraine to join his nascent Eurasian Union instead of the European Union.

Protests immediately started against president Yanukovych’es decision in the capital Kiev where the majority of ethnic Ukrainians seek closer ties with the West. The protests that started as peaceful demonstrations increasingly became violent by mid-February resulting in hundreds of casualties.

On the 22nd of February, pro-Western protestors managed to wrest control of Kiev from the security forces. On the same day, the parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of impeaching president Yanukovych who fled the capital towards the eastern part of the country where he still enjoys widespread support among ethnic Russians. A warrant for his arrest was issued.

In Crimea, protests were staged by Ethnic Russians against the ouster of president Yanukovych. There were also counter demonstrations by ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean tatars in favor of the revolution.

Towards the end of February, pro-Russian masked gunmen were in control of the Crimean parliament as well a several other important buildings and airports. All channels of communication between Crimea and Ukraine had been also been completely severed. The supreme council dismissed the government of autonomous Crimea and installed pro-Russian Sergev Aksyonov as chairman of the Council of ministers. The newly appointed chairman officially requested Russia for help in restoring calm in the peninsula. On 1st March, the Russian parliament granted permission to president Putin to use force in Crimea and beyond. This implied that the president has the carte blanche to act inside Crimea as well as the rest of Ukraine.

In the face of looming invasion of Crimea where Russian troops have already started threatening maneuvers, Ukraine appealed to the United Nations and Western powers to provide assistance in resolving the crisis.

Though the West has issued warnings to Russia against aggression on Ukraine, its threats are devoid of a concrete conviction to act on the latter’s behalf.  In fact, there is nothing much that the West can do in the current situation.

In a way, it is the ill conceived policies of the West and its complete ignorance and disregard of the region and its people that have brought about this disaster on Ukraine. The crisis that is manifest now in Crimea actually started with the Western efforts to pull Ukraine into its sphere of influence. This policy ignored the facts that Ukraine’s incorporation into the European Union and NATO will effectively end Russian aspirations for becoming a Eurasian Power, and that the EU itself is filled to the brim and expansion is not one of its preferred agendas anymore. It was also wrongly assumed that most Ukrainians want an end to Russian influence in their country. As we have seen in the past few days, this is not the case.

Russia, through its proxies and regular troops, now controls all the government buildings in Crimea. Its borders have been sealed and communications severed with Ukraine. All of this has been done under the pretense of protecting the ethnic Russians of the peninsula. America has warned Russia of dire consequences, however, it has no tools at its disposal that might lend credibility to these warnings. Presently, at best, these warnings can be compared the rhetoric of a helpless ex-super power.

Americans have no intention of seeking confrontation with Russia over Ukraine which is still not a member of NATO. This obliterates the EU and America from the obligation of coming to its rescue. The West can subject Russia to economic sanctions but they will have little impact on a determined Putin.  Moreover, the kind of international sanctions that tamed Iran may not work with the 9th biggest economy of the world.

Europe is heavily dependent on Russia for fulfilling its energy requirements. Germany, the economic giant of Europe is the biggest buyer of Russian gas. Besides, German companies have invested in Russia to the tune of billions of dollars. Sanctions on Russia will adversely affect not only Germany but all of Europe.

The only viable option left for the US is to engage Russians and Ukrainians in a comprehensive dialogue. This can be done by taking the Germans and the French on board. The objective of these discussions should be to obtain guarantees from Russia that it will reverse course in Ukraine and stop meddling in its affairs. Russia will, of course, need guarantees that Ukraine will not be pulled into the North Atlantic military alliance. Both Russia and the West must work together to fix Ukraine's dire economy. 

This is the only way this latest international crisis can be resolved without violence and bloodletting.

Atif Shamim Syed is an In
vestment Banker and has been writing articles for several newspapers and magazines, including Pakistan's Daily Times. He writes on current events in Urdu and has published several of his works. Apart from Urdu, Syed speaks English, French, Arabic and Gujraati. His e-mail address is syedatifshamim@hotmail.com. 


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