Tag Archives: Crimea

A deal in Donetsk – too good to be true?

This week seemed to bring the first positive steps in the Ukraine crisis. On Thursday the news broke that Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU had reached an agreement on how to resolve the situation in Eastern Ukraine. However as soon I read the agreement I found it hard to believe that this was a real end to the crisis. So what was in the agreement? Why is it so surprising? And what might be going on behind the scenes?

The problem with this agreement is that it seems like Russia is backing down almost completely. Here are some of the statements from the agreement, and why they are so surprising.

“All illegally armed groups must be disarmed” This would require the separatists to disarm, which should allow the Ukrainian government to reassert authority over the East without having to use their army at all. The police could simply make sure things went back to normal.
“All illegally seized buildings must be returned” This would mean the end of all the occupations of public buildings in Donetsk and Eastern Ukraine. It seems like Russia would be stabbing the separatists in the back after supporting them so strongly. Russia agreeing to the word ‘illegal’ is also strange; previously they’ve said the separatists are only protesters.
“Amnesty will be granted to protestors” This isn’t a huge sacrifice on Ukraine’s part. It does mean a lot of angry separatists running around, but the police can always try and arrest them on other charges.
“The announced constitutional process…will include the immediate establishment of a broad national dialogue, with outreach to all of Ukraine’s regions” Firstly, there’s nothing concrete in here, and certainly no regional referendum on independence (which is what the separatists wanted). Secondly, the Ukrainian government had already agreed to consider more rights for the provinces and even a national referendum on how much freedom they should have. Again, Ukraine isn’t really giving up much here.

This is a deal which seems to be giving the advantage to Ukraine. The separatists would be disarmed, Ukraine would regain control over the East, and in exchange they would enter negotiations on giving the East more autonomy. But is this really that likely? Here are three scenarios on what might really be happening.

1. Russia is genuinely backing down after realising they don’t have enough support for a Crimea style annexation in the East. It’s possible that the events of the last weeks were just testing the waters, to see what might be possible. While there is much support for more autonomy, very few Eastern Ukrainians actually want to join Russia. This scenario would mean that Putin has decided he has achieved all he can in Eastern Ukraine, and it’s time to pull back.

However, this would not fit in with his statements on the same day the deal was announced. During an interview he mentioned ‘Novarossiya’, an old name for parts of Southern and Eastern Ukraine Russia conquered in the 18th century. He seemed to suggest that it was a mistake that these areas became part of modern Ukraine. Unless this was just a vague threat, it seems like Putin is not ready to let Ukraine go that easily.

2. Russia has agreed, but intends to allow the separatists to continue to hold buildings, and claim that the Ukrainian army is breaking the peace if it moves in. This seems the most likely option at the moment, seeing as the separatists have refused to leave their buildings until the government steps down. Russia can continue to say it has nothing to do with the separatists, and wait until the Ukrainian army tries to move back into Eastern Ukraine. When it does, they can then claim that peaceful protesters are under threat. As long as the pro-Russian protesters refuse to back down, it looks likely that this deal won’t mean much at all in the long term.

3. It is possible that there has been a deal behind the scenes that the Russian annexation of Crimea will eventually be accepted. It’s worth remembering that Crimea isn’t mentioned in the agreement. It remains illegally annexed territory. However a deal would mean that that the US and EU will begin to treat Crimea like part of Russia (after enough time has passed for it not to be obvious) if Russia allows the Ukrainian government to keep Eastern Ukraine.

It makes sense that such a deal would be kept secret. Ukraine wouldn’t want to let the world know that they gave away a piece of their territory. The US and EU wouldn’t want the world to see them accepting such an outrageous breach of international law by Russia. Russia wouldn’t want people to realise how they have cynically used the Ukrainian separatists. And Ukraine wouldn’t want to risk angering Russia again, as well as letting the world know their humiliation at having to accept the loss of Crimea. If the situation in Eastern Ukraine ends up actually improving, then I believe this theory might be correct.

The government has announced a truce over Easter, but say that the military will continue to move East after the holiday is over. Russia’s reaction, and the way things progress in Donetsk Oblast, will show which of the above scenarios is correct.


“Crimea is coming home” – Russia changes the game

This weekend, Putin took the Crimea crisis and put it beyond diplomacy. As far as he is concerned, after the referendum last Sunday Crimea is now part of the Russian Federation, making negotiation unnecessary. This also makes all the Ukrainian soldiers besieged in their bases across Crimea foreign occupiers on Russian soil, and last night saw the first casualty of the conflict – apparently a junior officer named Kakurin. Other Ukrainian military men across the peninsula have been kidnapped or attacked. In response the Ukrainian government has allowed its soldiers to fire in self-defence. Whether Ukraine backs down or starts further violence, in either case Russia has changed the game of international politics in a stunning way. So today it’s important to not only look at the immediate consequences for Crimea, but also at what this means for international politics.

A woman casts her vote in the Crimean referendum

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The Tatars – Crimea’s dark Soviet past

On the 6th of March the Crimean parliament declared that a referendum would be held on the 16th to decide whether Crimea would join Russia. This intensified the crisis, as the US declared that “there would be little to discuss” if Russia annexed the province. While many Crimean Russians have been celebrating this referendum, there is one group in Crimea to whom the idea of joining Russia is terrifying. These people are the Crimean Tatars.

Embed from Getty Images

Today the Tatars make up 12% of Crimea, but it has been their homeland since the early Middle Ages. For a time it was part of the Mongol Golden Horde, but in 1441 the independent Crimean Khanate was established. This was an ethnically Tatar state which was Islamic, and allied to the Ottoman Empire. The Tatars fought and raided the Ukrainians and the Russians for centuries, but by the 1700s the new Russian Empire was too strong, and Crimea was absorbed into Russia. Despite numerous uprisings, and a brief Tatar government during the Russian Civil War in 1917, Crimea became a part of the Soviet Union. This is where their destruction as a nation began.


During the Second World War some Tatars collaborated with the Germans. Just like the groups of Western Ukrainians who sided with the Germans, they saw the Nazi’s as little worse than  Soviet rule. Despite the many Tatars who fought for the Soviet Union, that was enough for Stalin.

On the 18th of May 1944 the doors of Tatar houses in Crimea were marked. Soldiers and police went to these houses door by door telling the Tatars that they were being deported as traitors. All were given less than a half hour to pack their belongings, before leaving their homes forever. Every single one of the 238,500 Tatars in Crimea were packed into cattle trains and taken to destinations in Central Asia and all across the Soviet Union. These trains weren’t intended for humans, and up to 6000 people died from disease on the journey.

Their fate did not improve when they reached their destinations. Some were set straight to hard labour, including Tatar soldiers who had fought for Stalin in the Red Army. Others arrived in Central Asia only to find that there had been no preparation for their arrival. Thousands starved to death, and in the following years disease claimed many more. Almost half of the Tatar population died in the years following their deportation.

In the 1960s the Soviet government declared that the Tatars weren’t traitors after all. However they were not allowed to return home until the 1980s. Today they are a minority in their own historical homeland, outnumbered by Russians and Ukrainians.

Tension after the takeover

This history is why the events of the last few days are so disturbing for the Tatars. Since Russia took control of Crimea, the Tatars have been feeling under threat. Not just because of their ethnicity, but because they supported the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv. Already there have been some signs of history repeating itself. The New Yorker’s Natalia Antelava describes what has happened in cities across Crimea:

At first, Rustem Kadyrov could barely make out the mark outside his house, in the Crimean town of Bakhchysarai, but it filled him with terror. It was an X, cut deep into the gray metal of the gate, and its significance cut even deeper, evoking a memory Kadyrov shares with all Crimean Tatars. Kadyrov, who is thirty-one, grew up hearing stories about marks on doors. (New Yorker)

This is clearly an effort to intimidate the Tatar population. Once more they are being marked out as strangers in their own land. The new parliament wants them to vote to join Russia, and to stop supporting Kyiv. While the Russian soldiers in Crimea have so far harmed no one, and been extremely professional, their very presence is a reminder of the painful Tatar history. But the local pro-Russian militias, such as the Cossacks, are much more of a threat. They have a historical enmity with the Tatars, and the situation is tense (video).

At the moment though, the pro-Russian government of Crimea is still playing nice. They are offering representation in government and protection for the Tatar language. But the markings on Tatar houses and the Cossack militias tell a different story, and for the Tatars they hint at a very uncertain future. The ethnic Ukrainian Crimeans have Ukraine after all. The Tatars have nowhere else to go.

Embed from Getty Images

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The Russian invasion of Crimea – Russian reasoning

After seeming on the verge of war in the weekend, the situation in Ukraine seems to have temporarily stabilised, after Putin said there was no need to send troops to Ukraine. The use of force however is still a last resort. While suggesting that an invasion of Eastern Ukraine isn’t going to happen soon, this does ignore the thousands of Russian troops currently occupying Crimea. Ukrainian soldiers remain barricaded in their bases, surrounded by Russian soldiers. Earlier on Tuesday Russian soldiers fired in the air when other Ukrainian soldiers attempted to enter their own base. So how has Putin justified the Russian actions? And how do these justifications stand up?

Source: www.kremlin.ru

“Events in Kiev amount to an anti-constitutional coup”

Putin makes a good point with this. The way Yanukovich was voted out of office by the parliament was possibly unconstitutional, and was at the least very unorthodox. However it is a vital point that Yanukovich left Kyiv for Kharkiv, and took away the security around government buildings. The opposition and protesters merely filled the power vacuum he left behind.

As for whether the protests leading up to the bloody events of February 20th were a coup, it depends on whether you side with the protesters or not. There were protesters, mainly Right Sector nationalists/fascists, who used violence against police. But the protests were peaceful until the police tried to clear the Maidan by force. The use of snipers by the police was also illegal, as protesters who posed no threat were shot. But Putin is certainly right to say that this was not the usual way to remove an elected President, no matter how corrupt.

Russian forces have not taken part in operations in Crimea

This is a lie. Russian troops are active in Crimea, they are blockading Ukrainian bases, and they are outside of their legal naval base in Sevastopol. The armed men who took over government buildings before the weekend were heavily armed and all equipped with the same weapons and uniform. A far cry from the protesters in Kyiv seen with air rifles. While there may be some “pro-Russian militia” as Putin calls them, Russian troops are definitely occupying Ukrainian territory. Every journalist in Crimea has confirmed this.

  • The BBC’s Mark Lowen was told by an armed man that he was “a Russian soldier, based usually in Sevastopol”.
  • Russian Armoured Personnel Carriers have been seen moving around Crimea, flying the Russian flag.
  • Russian vehicles have been seen with licence plates from other parts of Russia
  • Experts have said that the weapons and gear carried by the soldiers is only used by Russian elite soldiers such as the Spetznaz.
  • Personal friends of mine living in Crimea have told me that there are Russian special forces present in their town, a long way from the naval base in Sevastopol.

Stating that all the actions taken in Crimea were by local pro-Russian groups flies in the face of reality.

Russian actions in Ukraine are in accordance with international law

This is also untrue, though it is made more complicated by the fact that the US and France have also taken actions in the past that were similarly illegal. Russia had no permission from the UN to intervene, and there was no immediate threat to civilians to justify this intervention (see the next point below). Russia has produced a letter by ex-President Yanukovich asking Putin to use force. However this is invalid for two reasons, the first being that the constitution of Ukraine states that only the parliament can authorise foreign troops in Ukraine. It’s also invalid because the letter is dated to the 1st of March, three days after Russian soldiers first entered Ukrainian territory.

However, the West is on shaky ground in condemning Russia for an illegal invasion. The US invasions of Iraq in 2003 or Grenada in 1983 were not approved by the UN, and there was no immediate threat to civilians or to the US. Grenada was condemned by the UN as a violation of international law. Both France and the UK also have a history of intervening in African conflicts. However the statement all children hear growing up applies here too: “two wrongs don’t make a right”. The Russian intervention is still illegal.

Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine are in danger from nationalists and neo-Nazis

While some in Ukraine may feel this way, nothing has yet happened to make these fears real. They have a real cause for complaint in the fact that their interests are not represented in the revolutionary government. Taking away Russian’s status as an official language at regional level was also badly timed by the government. But there have been no attacks on Russians or anyone else since the revolution, despite Russian claims to the contrary. It is understandable that people in the East of Ukraine feel uncertain and afraid seeing images of protesters taking control in Kyiv. However there has been nothing that in any way would justify armed intervention.

Crimea would choose to join Russia anyway

While the majority of Crimeans are ethnically Russian, 24% are ethnically Ukrainian and 12% are Crimean Tatar. These last two groups are less enthusiastic about joining Russia. The current Prime Minister of Crimea, appointed in the last few weeks, is a member of a party that received only 4% of votes in the last election. While the majority of Crimeans certainly are against the new Ukrainian government, the actual numbers in favour of re-joining Russia are unclear, and there are plenty of people who want the situation to remain as it is.

Source: VOA

Soldiers in Crimea

Both sides of the East-West divide can be accused of hypocrisy. The West is now condemning an illegal invasion while having conducting plenty itself. However, the hypocrisy of the Russian leadership is stunning. Time and time again they have blocked even criticism by the UN of the Syrian government, which has committed huge violations of human rights. In a bizarre comment the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterdayAn intervention through force under a pretext of protecting civilians causes the opposite, multiplies the suffering of peaceful citizens, and strips them of their fundamental human right – the right to life”. Thus begging the question “what is Russia doing”.

Finally, in recent days I have heard online and in conversations people repeat the above points about the hypocrisy of the West. There have also been plenty of people saying the West pushed Russia into action. This may all be true, but we cannot forget the country at the centre of this. This crisis is about Ukraine, and it is not Ukraine’s fault that the West lost some of the moral high ground. Ukraine shouldn’t be a plaything of the East or West, it deserves to be able to determine its own future. The next few days will show whether or not it will be able to do so.

If you want to stay updated on the situation in Crimea and other big stories around the world, click the follow button to the right to get all updates right in your inbox. Or follow the blog through Twitter: @YW_Explained.

The Russian invasion of Crimea – What is going on?

In the last few days, Russian troops have invaded Ukraine. Putting it as a clear statement like that shows clearly how dangerous the situation has become. It hasn’t come as a dramatic crossing of the border, but as a steady trickle of uniformed men taking over government buildings and transport nodes in Crimea. On Friday the airports were taken over; yesterday there were soldiers with heavy machine gun outside the Crimean parliament. Today Russian soldiers have surrounded Ukrainian army bases. Events have been moving so fast that the media has had trouble keeping up, let alone Western politicians. So what’s going on in this ethnically Russian region of Crimea?  What is the endgame for the Russians? And why on earth are they taking such a risk?

Author: Napster14

Russian soldiers in the 2008 War with Georgia

If you’re wondering what’s so special about Crimea, here is a good explanation of why it was this region that is the focus of Russian attention.

It’s hard to say what exactly is going on in Crimea at the moment, are events are moving so fast and in such confusing ways. Focussing on actual events would be fairly useless, as within 24 hours this post would be outdated, so I’ll focus on the why’s and how’s of the situation. But the situation as of today is that either Russian soldiers or Russian controlled militias are in control of Crimea to a good extent. The Russian parliament has given Putin the green light to use the army on the territory of Ukraine “until the normalisation of the socio-political situation in that country”. In other words, until Russia has got what it wants. But what does it want?

The main factor behind this is that Putin is angry. What he would most like is to go back to the deal set up between Yanukovich and the opposition last month. That deal however fell through immediately, and the opposition took advantage of that to take over the country. This completely removed any Russian influence on the government. Putin’s also furious with the EU and US for consistently supporting the protesters and that is a fair thing to be frustrated about. If a Russian politician had gone to New York to give a speech at Occupy Wall Street the US would have thought that was outrageous. But his response to this anger has been to jump straight to almost the most violent response he can take.

This response though has been both subtle and extremely transparent. Everyone thought that it was a possibility that the Russians would intervene in Crimea, which is why no one expected them to do it. It was almost too obvious. Every step they took was such an obvious next step towards invasion that nobody believed they’d actually do it. But at the same time the method of invasion has been subtle. Instead of sending in uniformed Russian troops, they used militias and Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms. This meant they could claim that the Crimeans were doing it themselves, in the same way protesters in Kyiv took over government buildings. The Russian government then continued to say that they were not involved, while doing exactly the opposite, meaning the West had no clue how to react. Only now are Russian soldiers becoming openly involved.

So what will happen now? It’s impossible to say. This is the most dangerous situation in Europe since the end of the Cold War, and if Russian soldiers cross into Eastern Ukraine things could very quickly get out of hand. It seems most likely that Russia is trying to destabilise Ukraine, to keep them weak and prevent a strong EU allied state being set up on their doorstep. But this just as well could be the beginning of a full invasion of Eastern Ukraine. No one knows for sure, maybe not even Putin.

The problem is that the Russian government is not acting in the way you’d expect a rational government to do. The relationship with the West is at the lowest point since the end of the Cold War and Russia has lost the goodwill of the world built up (at the cost of 50 billion dollars!) at Sochi. The risks of these actions are tremendous, and it’s hard to see what the gains are. But Putin seems to be acting out of a nationalist mindset in which the outside world’s opinion is unimportant, and strength is the only thing that matters. The new Ukrainian government, made up of a mix of revolutionaries and politicians, is lacking in strength and will have to work hard for unity. This makes it almost impossible to say what will happen in the next few days. But it’s highly unlikely that it will be anything good for anyone involved.

On Wednesday I will post with an update on the situation, and a look at how the West has reacted and what else it can do.