Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Curious Question of Crimea and Her Big Neighbour

One year back how many of you heard about an area called Crimea? I guess, not much people. All of a sudden this area on northern coast of Black Sea; once controlled by Cimmerians, Scythians, Greeks, Romans, Goths, Huns, Byzantines, Golden Horde, Ottomans etc. became a political hot potato. If that Malaysian plane episode was not there, this place would have occupied 80% of international prime time.

A little bit of History

Crimea’s association with Russia officially starts with the conquest of Crimean Khanate by Russian Empire under ‘Catherine the Great’ in 1783. Russian Empire fought hard for this place. Later, from 1853-56 Russia fought with French, British, Ottoman, Sardinia and their allies for Crimea; which later came to known as Crimean war.

After Russian civil war, Crimea became a part of Soviet Union. The twist came in 1954, when Khrushchev transferred this region to Ukrainian SSR. He might not have imagined that, Soviet Union would break up. However, that too happened in 1991 and Crimea became a part of independent Ukraine.

Russian Navy

By the way let me tell you one more interesting fact here. Russian Navy has three Military districts,

1. Western (head quartered in Severomorsk, Kaliningrad),
2. Southern (head quartered in Sevastopol, Astrakhan) and
3. Eastern (head quartered in Vladivostock).

You can locate these places in maps and see where they are. Vladivostock is very far away from Moscow; Severomorsk opens to Barents Sea; Kaliningrad is not geographically connected to Russia. This increases the importance of Black Sea Fleet head quartered at Sevastopol (this place is in Crimea).

Containment after 1991?

US and western powers, might have thought about containing Russia by wooing former Warsaw Pact countries to EU. Russia made some noises when some of them eventually joined EU and later in NATO. Meanwhile EU expansion started touching the doors of former Soviet Union member states. For Russia, Poland or some former Warsaw pact countries joining EU is one thing, and Ukraine joining EU is altogether a different thing. Problems in Ukranian capital, between groups having support from Western Capitals and Russia’s own Victor Yanukovich only made the matters worse.

Washington Post reports that, “Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to leave Ukraine and join Russia, election officials said Sunday, capping a heavy-handed campaign that blocked most voters from hearing a vision for any alternative to unification with Moscow. Crimean election Spokesman Mikhail Malyshev said the final result was 96.77 percent to rejoin Russia and 2.51 percent against.”

Will Putin annex Cremia to Russia? May be yes, in any way there isn’t much scope for a truly independent Cremia.

What will happen next?

Will US and allies really impose crippling sanctions on Russia? Or all these hue and cry are just for the sake of making some noises? I think US have limited options here. They need Russian support in Syria, they need Russian support in pulling out rest of their troops from Afghanistan. At the same time, US needs to reassure their Eastern European allies on security. They also need to show to rest of the world that, they are in control.

However, it is difficult for European countries to impose sanctions on Russian. Many of them depends on Russian oil and gas for fuelling their economy. The main question here is, will Western European nations sacrifice Russian relationship for Ukraine, which anyway doesn’t occupy much higher place in European strategic calculations (if they have one)? I don’t think so.

US still holds some cards here. They can open their huge gas reserves to their allies on other side 
of the Atlantic (in case Russia reduced the oil and gas supply) to get their support. This will help US to get EU support for imposing tough sanctions on Russia. I think there will be some sanctions, and suspension on talks. Nothing further. This crisis may still go in the same way of Georgian question went. Situation may change if entire Ukraine became unstable.

China and Syria might be smiling… for time being South China Sea and Syrian crisis went further down in emergency list.


PS: It is believed that the famous Victoria Cross – Highest Military decoration of Britain introduced by Queen Victoria in 1856 - is believed to me made from the Russian cannons captured at the Siege of Sevastopol.

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