Tensions flare amid Crimean crisis

The U.N. Security Council convened on Feb. 28 and again on March 1, 2014, to hold urgent talks amid the growing political crisis in Ukraine’s Crimea ...

The U.N. Security Council convened on Feb. 28 and again on March 1, 2014, to hold urgent talks amid the growing political crisis in Ukraine’s Crimea region at the request of the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the UN, which said in a letter that the “deteriorating situation … threatens the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
Russian troops were called to the borders of the Crimean peninsula on Feb. 26 for military exercises. On March 1, Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted plans for military intervention into the region. The strategies were approved unanimously by the Federal Council of the Russian parliament that same day. Putin said the plans would ensure the security of ethnic Russians in Ukraine and the Russian military bases in Crimea.
The tension stems from the nationwide protests that began in Kiev in November. These demonstrations grew to the eventual impeachment of President Viktor Yanukovych in a unanimous vote by the Ukrainian parliament on Feb. 22.
The protests were initially a response to Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union in November. Many hoped that this agreement would push the country toward eventual EU member state status.
As images of protesters injured in violent clashes with the police grew increasingly graphic, sympathy for the anti-government protesters swelled. The protesters began calling for the resignation of Yanukovych himself, citing the corruption of his government and ties to Putin.
Protests intensified with as many as 100 people killed over the course of the violence, including as many as 70 deaths in clashes on Feb. 20 when government forces used live ammunition against protesters. The bloodshed of this day cost Yanukovych at least a dozen political allies, according to a report published the next day by the New York Times.
While an interim government was formed in Kiev, the ousted Yanukovych fled to southwestern Russia, from where he gave a press conference on Feb. 27. Calling himself the current president of Ukraine, he appealed to his host nation for assistance.
"I consider that Russia must and has to act," he said.
Although the epicenter of the Ukranian protests was Kiev’s Maidan square, the current crisis is developing in Crimea, an autonomous peninsula in southern Ukraine that juts out into the Black Sea. This is partially the result of the region’s ethnic, linguistic and cultural ties with Russia: According to the 2001 national census, 58.5 percent of Crimea’s population is ethnically Russian, with ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars making up the next two largest groups at 24.4 and 12.1 percent, respectively.
The region was not always a part of Ukraine. The Crimean peninsula was transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 in a move sometimes referred to as Khrushchev’s gift. Crimea had been an autonomous state from the early 1920s until the mid-1940s, when it was adopted as a province of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.
“There is more difference between Crimea and Ukraine than Crimea and Russia,” said NYU Abu Dhabi freshman Serhii Rokachov, a self-described ethnic Russian from the Crimean town of Yevpatoria.
Russian NYUAD senior Ayaz Kamalov said, “The position Russian media highlights [is that of the] protection of Russian citizens in Ukraine.”
Interventionist media point to anxiety over linguistic and ethnic intolerance among Ukrainians, particularly referencing Svoboda, an ultra-nationalist political party that was involved in the protests and whose political platform has been compared to Nazi fascism.
However, NYUAD sophomore Anastasiya Oleksiyenko, from northern Ukraine, said, “The Constitution of Ukraine and the newly formed government of Ukraine clearly say that the rights of all residents in Ukraine, regardless of their language and ethnicity, are protected.”
“There is no abuse of human rights of ethnic Russians or Russian-speaking people,” Oleksiyenko said. “It is very sad to say that many Russians, through the Russian media lens, see the protests in Ukraine as the movement of anarchists and extremists.”
Historical, demographic and cultural ties aside, it could be that Russia’s naval base in Crimea, the Black Sea Fleet naval base in Sevastopol, is Putin’s main strategic goal.
“The big announcement is that [the Russian government is] trying to protect the Russian people. I don’t think that’s the primary concern, but it is a big concern,” said Russian NYUAD senior Daria Karaulova.
“For Russia right now, the main thing to keep is the naval base in Sevastopol,” said Karaulova. “It’s one of the biggest naval bases for Russia. Of course, Russia will never let it go. Right now, the new government in Kiev does not want to cooperate with Russia, and [intends to] take over Crimea.”
The New York Times reported on Saturday that large numbers of heavily armed soldiers, Russian-speaking but without identifying insignia, entered Crimea’s major thoroughfares and important government buildings. The Ukranian ambassador to the United Nations has said there are currently 15,000 Russian troops in Crimea.
NYUAD Associate Professor of Sociology Georgi Derlugian, whose research includes studies of nationalism and revolutions, said he was doubtful of a major conflict.
“Things are looking more depressing than immediately dangerous,” he said. “War is unlikely because, for this, at least one side must be able to commit enough fighters and set the goal of defeating the other side.”
He added, “The West has neither resources nor the will to take any meaningful stance on the events in Ukraine, if anyone hopes that salvation would be coming from Europe.”
But regardless of the outcome, for Rokachov and his family, the future of their home in Crimea is uncertain.
“A lot of people have already left. It’s really unpredictable,” he said.
His parents are considering moving to Siberia, where they have family, to wait out the conflict. Rokachov said that he might apply for Russian citizenship.
“I’m trying to be realistic. I don’t think the Crimean issue is going to be resolved anytime soon.”
Alistair Blacklock is editor-in-chief. Email him at
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