The protests and ultimate governmental overthrow in Ukraine has been in the headlines for a few weeks now. In the last few days the situation has been heating up and a good time is being had by all in politics and media. You see, as it’s being reported by the mainstream, Russian President Vladimir Putin is aggressively invading the destabilized Ukraine – particularly the Crimean Peninsula. Politicians and talking heads are making this sound like a global catastrophe in the making perpetrated by a belligerent leader in an attempt to establish the dominance of his country on the world stage. The United Nations is holding an emergency meeting of its Security Council in the coming days to assess the situation. The United States is threatening consequences for Russia if she doesn’t back down. Lots of dogs are barking and many sabers are rattling. At it’s face, it sounds like Putin is overstepping, and perhaps he is. As with every story, there is another side.
To get a better grip on the situation we need a little prospective from the history books. First of all, Crimea itself can be divided into two parts. The first being the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (as it’s now called), and the second being the City of Sevastopol. These two parts constituted a province called the Crimean Oblast under the Soviet Union. In 1954, the region was transferred from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. This transfer was symbolic, but set the stage for Crimea to become part of Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed. In 1991 the Crimean Oblast was upgraded to an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic by the Ukrainian SSR. The people of Crimea are largely of Russian (not Ukrainian) descent.
Until the recent turmoil in Ukraine, Crimea was content to function was a largely independent state within Ukraine. However, in the recent uprising Crimea found itself favoring the now ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and views the new Ukrainian regime as illegitimate. Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov (who the new Ukrainian government refuses to acknowledge as legitimate) has asserted that he has control over Crimean security forces and appealed to Russia ”for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness” to which it appears Russia has acquiesced. There is also widespread talk that due to the recent upheaval, Crimea will seek secession from Ukraine and may join with Russia.
What we really have here isn’t a power play by President Putin as the UN and West would have us all believe. Russia is not necessarily stirring up trouble for the sake of stirring up trouble. They appear to be acting at the behest of the current leader of Crimea. It just so happens that the United States and the UN have decided to align themselves with the new Ukrainian government and its interests – in this case retaining control of Crimea – than to simply butt out and let the region address its own problems. What happens if the US and UN stay out? Ukraine will lose control of Crimea. Crimea will do what it likes, possibly joining with Russia. The world will not explode, and the civilization as we know it will not end.
On the flip side of that, we already have a small taste of what is to come if the UN and US do get more involved. China has announced support for Russia. The UN and US are discussing sanctions against Russia if Russian activity in Crimea doesn’t stop. If the United States enforces sanctions against Russia, Russia would be within its right to view those sanctions as an act of war. This is how the United States got involved in World War II. We enforced sanctions against Japan, provoking Japanese retaliation. With China joining with Russia, and the United States joining with our usual allies its easy to see how this could escalate to something terrible. And for what? Because the United States has the hubris to believe it has any say in the fate of a 10,000 sq. mile peninsula jutting into the Black Sea.
The important point is this: the UN, US and Ukraine are refusing to recognized Crimea as it’s own entity. Instead, they are choosing to take the view that Crimea is just apart of Ukraine. Russia on the other hand is recognizing Crimea as a sovereign entity capable of requesting assistance on its own behalf.
Another issue at play here is the Budapest Memorandum – an agreement signed by the US, Russia and the United Kingdoms in 1994. In signing the memorandum these countries agreed to respect Ukrainian sovereignty and Ukraine’s geographical borders. If we take the view that Crimea is just a province of Ukraine it’s easy to call Russia’s actions an invasion, and further to construe that they are in violation of the Budapest Memorandum. However, if we view Crimea as it’s own entity – distinct from the Ukraine – who willfully requested Russian assistance, the argument against Russia and Vladimir Putin quickly losses its footing. At this time I have not read anything to indicate that Russia’s interest extends any further than Crimea.
I’m not trying to be “pro-Russia” or “anti-America” here. I’m a strong believer in individual liberty and freedom. If the people of Crimea, and their local Crimean government wish to secede from Ukraine, they have every right to do so. Perhaps the US views Crimea along the lines of the Confederacy from our own Civil War. In that case, as in this one, the United States government has no right to interfere with the free association of another nation.
Should the United States and UN allow Ukraine, Russia and Crimea to sort this all out on their own? Absolutely. Will they? Probably not. It seems that the lessons of history are lost on the arrogant fools who lead much of the world. Despite that fact, let us hope that we leave the situation alone. The long run costs could be far too great.
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Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.