The scoop on Crimea

Ukraine Protests
People gather in Kiev’s Independence Square to protest Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. Protests started in Kiev last November and haven’t subsided since. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Tensions rise between Russia and Western powers as protests continue in Ukraine and Russia sets its eyes on the Crimea region.

Scott B. Cooper, associate professor of political science, gave a summary of the issue in a Kennedy Center Lecture on Thursday. Here is what he said:

The cause

  • November 2013: Russia’s president Viktor Yanukovych rejected an agreement with the European Union, sparking protests in Kiev. The protests were initially peaceful.
  • January 2014: The protests started to die down. But Yanukovych passed “draconian” anti-protest laws and used police force to try to clear the protests, inciting violence on both sides. This was the largest outbreak of violence in Ukraine’s 20 years of independence.
  • Yanukovych’s violent response and inability to control the protests with police force weakened his power, and he fled to Russia.
  • Yanukovych’s opposition took over the Ukrainian government, instigating a pro-Western and extremely nationalist government. They are aligned with a right-wing, “almost-Fascist” party, according to Cooper.
  • The new government issued a law that reduced the status of the Russian language in Ukraine.
  • Crimea, populated by a majority of ethnic Russians, felt threatened and voted to join Russia, though the vote was executed unconstitutionally.
A man walks by a billboard in Crimea, Ukraine that reads, “On March 16 We Vote Or.” On Tuesday, the people of Crimea will vote whether to leave Ukraine and become a part of Russia. (AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov)


Possible outcomes

  • Russia doesn’t officially annex Crimea but maintains de facto control indefinitely. This is the current situation in Moldova and Georgia. It would hinder any future relations between Ukraine and the EU.
  • Russia annexes Crimea. This is what happened in Kosovo and is popular in both Russia and Crimea. However, because Crimea’s vote to join Russia was unconstitutional, the United States and the EU wouldn’t officially recognize Crimea as a part of Russia.
  • Russia intervenes in East Ukraine. Russia could take things further and take over all of eastern Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers.


Possible responses

  • Western powers offer aid to Ukraine. The EU has agreed to provide billions of dollars in aid to the current Ukrainian government. The U.S. has committed money as well, but it is a little more hesitant.
  • Impose sanctions on Russia. The EU and the U.S. are considering freezing assets on Russian bank accounts in Europe and imposing trade and financial sanctions.

Long-term consequences

  • Ukraine (under the current, pro-Western government) will be more closely tied to the EU.
  • Russia-Western political relations won’t recover. The West will continue to see Russia as a rogue, “quasi-European state” and treat it as an outcast.
  • Russia-Western economic relations will recover, and sanctions will be withdrawn. Sanctions on Russia could end up hurting the EU and the U.S. Europe buys the majority of its gas and oil in Russia, and Western firms want to invest in Russia.
  • Russia tries to annex other post-Soviet states, such as Kazakhstan. If the EU and the U.S. don’t intervene in the annexation of Crimea, Russia could see this as an open door for all of Eastern Europe. This could also embolden other countries in this situation to annex surrounding states, such as China and Taiwan.

Why does Russia want Crimea?

Russia doesn’t want Crimea for economic reasons; Crimea is poor and would drain more of Russia’s resources than it would contribute. Russia’s interest comes from feelings of nostalgia, pride and cultural ties. Crimea has traditionally been a part of Russia. It is a site of religious and patriotic symbolism to Russia, similar to the way Americans feel about Gettysburg.

Could this lead to a second Cold War?

The difference between this situation and the Cold War is that back then, Russia was economically equal to the U.S. and posed a real threat to our superpower status. Now, although we see it as a “rogue state” with nuclear capabilities, it is no real threat.

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