Over the last few days, pro-Russian irregulars have taken control of a Crimean airport and a number of government buildings. Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked for and received permission to move thousands of troops to Russia’s ports in Crimea, possibly as many as 6,000 naval and ground troops though some estimates were higher. This seems like it needs some explaining. Some quick facts.
- Crimea is a part of Ukraine.
- It’s also where Russia harbors their Black Sea fleet. Russia has been leasing Crimean ports from Ukraine. That lease expires in 2042.
- Ukraine also has their navy there. Crimea used to be a part of Russia. In fact it was a part of Russia for roughly 200 years, since Russian Queen Catherine the Great’s rule.
- In 1954, the Soviets made Crimea a part of Ukraine as a “symbolic” gesture celebrating 300 years of Ukraine being a part of the Russian Empire (they were conquered essentially, they didn’t simply join). But, previous to that, Crimea had been a part of Russia.
- Despite all of that, Crimea is also an autonomous region within Ukraine. It has its own Prime Minister and Parliament although it is subject to Ukrainian law.
- Russia claims to be building up troops in Crimea in order to protect ethnic Russians which are the majority in Eastern Ukraine including Crimea.
Now that the Ukrainian interim government is seeking to break from Russia’s sphere of influence Russia is staking it’s claim on Crimea which, again, is where both Russia and Ukraine house their war fleets. Let’s get an idea of where Crimea is. Here’s a map.
That’s Crimea in red, right on the Black Sea. So, Russia has moved thousands of troops to Crimea. Yes, this is an aggressive action but according to the terms of Russia’s lease on the ports there they have the right to station these troops there. Here’s what Russia’s UN Ambassador had to say about it.
“We have an agreement with Ukraine on the presence of the Russian Black Sea fleet with a base in Sevastopol, and we are acting within the framework of that agreement,” he told reporters after a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
He’s not wrong. They do have such an agreement and these troop movements are within the framework of the agreement though not within the spirit of it. That agreement likely did not foresee troops moving to Crimea immediately after a pro-Russia Ukrainian President was chased out of office by a vibrant Ukrainian opposition. And there lies the rub. Russia is clearly arming and outfitting pro-Russian Ukrainians in Crimea. They’re wearing Russian fatigues and carrying Russian weapons but bear no badges of allegiance or rank.
So, we have a situation where a pro-Russian region of Ukraine has seemingly aligned itself with an outside power, Russia, in a region that has been historically Russian but is legally part of Ukraine and part of Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Oh, and the Commander of the Ukrainian naval forces swore his allegiance to the Crimean people today, not Ukraine. That produced this response.
And now, as a response to perceived Russian aggression, CNN is reporting that Ukraine is calling up its military and NATO is trying to see what it wants to do. Both fear that if Russia is allowed to effectively take over Crimea then other parts of pro-Russian Eastern Ukraine will be next.
As Ukraine’s new leaders accused Russia of declaring war, Russia’s Prime Minister warned Sunday that blood could be spilled amid growing instability in the neighboring nation.
Kiev mobilized troops and called up military reservists in a rapidly escalating crisis that has raised fears of a conflict. And world leaders pushed for a diplomatic solution.
Russia taking over Ukraine could result in a Ukraine that looks like this:
Here’s what a couple of world leaders and diplomats had to say about it according to the Washington Post:
Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who helped negotiate a 1994 memorandum on Ukrainian territorial sovereignty, tweeted Saturday that there is “no doubt in my mind that Russia is violating its commitments.” He also called the Russian move a violation of a 1997 treaty between Ukraine and Russia that includes the lease on the Sevastopol base, which was extended by both parties in 2010.
Earlier, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted: “Russian military intervention in Ukraine is clearly against international law and principles of European security.”
And here’s what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday’s “Face the Nation” had to say:
“It’s an incredible act of aggression. It is really a stunning, willful choice by President Putin to invade another country,” Kerry said on “Face the Nation” Sunday, adding that Russia has violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and several of its obligations under international agreements. “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”
This is all changing very, very quickly and the history of the region is enormously complex but the above should generally situate you as to what’s going on and why.