I have written several articles on postings related to politics. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on these political events.
This is the second part of a three part series. In this part I will discuss the hopes and aspirations of Russia and the the Russia Federation.
Russia is the largest country in the world. To help run its vast lands it requires a complicated set of Federal Subjects that include Oblasts, Krais, Republics, Federal Cities, Autonomous Okrugs, and an Autonomous Oblast. These Federal Subjects of Russia are not all the same, and since Russia is an asymmetric federation, some of the subjects have more powers than others. The federal subjects of Russia explained: Oblasts, Krais, and Federal Cities are average Federal subjects, having the right to their own legislatures, while Republics, Autonomous Okrugs, and the Autonomous Oblast are meant to provide additional rights to Russia’s minorities. Republics get their own constitutions and official language status, while the Autonomous Okrugs and Oblast get some language rights. Additionally Autonomous Okrugs can, but not always, be divisions of other federal subjects. The difference between Oblasts and Krais is just a historic one where Krais were once the frontiers of Russia. The federal cities are like oblasts but they only have 1 city in them. The Jewish autonomous oblast is perhaps the weirdest federal subject of Russia, since less than 1% of its population is Jewish and its existence is a leftover from the soviet era. Kaliningrad Oblast is an exclave of Russia, completely detached from the rest.
The Russian Federation (Russia) is physically the largest country in the world, covering 6.6 million square miles and 11 time zones over its 6,000-mile length. Its population of about 141.7 million includes well over 100 ethnic groups, though the majority are ethnic Russians. Once an underdeveloped, peasant society, Russia underwent an intense centrally-directed program of rapid industrialization and education under the Soviet regime.
The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was the heart of the Soviet Union. It made up over 50% of the population, and produced 60% of the GDP (gross domestic product), of the Soviet Union. After dissolution of the empire, it was renamed the, “Russian Federation,” becoming the internationally acknowledged successor of the Soviet Union. With the Budapest Memorandum, Russia also retained possession of its nuclear arsenal. The Russian Federation inherited all the rights and obligations, under international treaties, of the old Soviet Union, as well as its debts.
As the successor to the Soviet Union, Russia traces its membership in the OSCE back to the organization’s roots in the Cold War and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was originally a Soviet bloc-led initiative. The collapse of communism and Soviet rule in 1991 forced Russia into a difficult transition toward a democratic state and market-based economy. That transition continues today, though democracy has suffered a series of setbacks under the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Vladimir Putin, who has been in power as either president or prime minister for two decades. As a result, Russia has eliminated much of the space for civil society and free media, reduced access to justice, and imposed severe restraints on political pluralism. Additionally, Russia under Putin’s direction has become increasingly involved in the creation and dissemination of disinformation in attempts to create chaos abroad and undermine Western democratic institutions.
Russia is failing repeatedly to live up to its commitments of the 1975 Helsinki Act, such as respecting territorial integrity, refraining from the threat or use of force, respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, and fulfilling obligations under international law.
The Helsinki Commission is particularly concerned about Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, including its illegal occupation of Crimea and its ongoing senseless war in eastern Ukraine, and is deeply disturbed by Russia’s culture of legal impunity that has resulted in unsolved murders of activists, whistleblowers, and opposition politicians such as Sergei Magnitsky and Boris Nemtsov. The Commission played a central role in drafting the 2012 Magnitsky Act to impose sanctions of Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky’s murder, as well as other human rights abuses and corruption.
When Boris Yeltsin first became president, he wanted to open Russia to free-market economy, but actually caused a major economic crisis with reforms that were too harsh. The tough times that resulted, lasted almost all through the 1990’s. Russia defaulted again during the 1998 ruble crisis. At the beginning of the new millennium, the economic situation improved greatly, helped by the fact that international oil and gas prices were rising. Vladimir Putin had the privilege of ruling over a growing economy with people witnessing their living standards improve every year. But it all changed with the recession in 2008, the 2014 War in Ukraine, and Western economic sanctions.
STATE AND SOCIETY
The Russian Federation is a presidential constitutional republic. The Constitution was adopted by national referendum in December 1993. It was preceded by a violent conflict between the parliament and the President over power.
The President of Russia is the head of state with very broad powers. He appoints the Prime Minister, who is the head of government, and all the other key ministers in the state. The Russian parliament (Duma) is called the Federal Assembly, and it consists of two houses: The Federation Council, and the State Duma.
The President’s term has been extended from four to six years. He cannot run for a third term. So, having ruled from 2000 to 2008, Vladimir Putin stepped down and gave way to Dmitry Medvedev, who then appointed him the Prime Minister. In 2012 they exchanged places.
The Yeltsin years were characterized by mostly unwilling cooperation with NATO and the United States. All that changed with Putin. He expressed his opposition to the expansion of NATO to its borders, and launched an offensive against Georgia and Ukraine, who had attempted to move away from Russia’s sphere of influence and leaned towards the West.
This placed Russia in relative political isolation, and skyrocketed Putin’s reputation at home as being a leader who stands up to the West.
AFTER THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET UNION, RUSSIA BECAME A CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC. YELTSIN’S REIGN AS THE FIRST PRESIDENT WAS, AT FIRST, CHARACTERIZED BY HIGH HOPES OF DEMOCRACY AND PROSPERITY. NEVERTHELESS, ALONG WITH CRIME, CORRUPTION, AND POVERTY ON THE RISE, IT TURNED OUT TO BE A DISAPPOINTMENT, AND A HARSH EXPERIENCE FOR MOST RUSSIANS.
During the final years of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin became one of its most popular statesmen. He gained nearly 60% of the votes at the Presidential election in 1991. Yeltsin expressed his support for freedom of speech and a free-market economy.
Under the supervision of experts from the United States and the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the first Prime Minister, Yegor Gaidar, launched a series of radical reforms that came to be known as, “… the shock therapy.” Markets were left to self-regulation, prices were freed, and state subsidies were ended. Orchestrated by Anatoly Chubais, an enormous campaign of privatization was launched.
The shock therapy further escalated the economic crisis, and caused an even more dramatic decline in living conditions. Over the next five years, there was a decline of up to 50% in GDP, and hyperinflation soared to 2000%. It made a small elite of oligarchs super-rich, while the majority of the people struggled. It fed the spread of corruption, and created favorable conditions for the numerous mafia groups around the country.
In 1993, the Russian Constitutional Crisis broke out between Yeltsin and parliament. The parliament, unsatisfied with president Yeltsin’s policies, attempted to impeach him, but was prevented by the army who supported Yeltsin. For two weeks, the deadliest street fighting since 1917 took place in Moscow, and around 200 people died. The new constitution gave the president broader powers.
FIRST CHECHEN WAR
After Chechnya declared independence, Russia sent troops in, and the First Chechen War (1994-96), had begun. Contrary to popular expectation, the conflict lasted over two years, Russia had to withdraw its troops and terminate the unpopular war effort.
RE-ELECTION, ECONOMIC COLLAPSE AND RESIGNATION
In 1996, Yeltsin’s declining reputation was successfully re-boosted for re-election with the help of the oligarchs, Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, Roman Abramovich, and others. Yeltsin ran for a second term, and won.
Because of Yeltsin’s severe health problems, much of the President’s power fell into the hands of his inner circle called, “The Family.” Besides Berezovsky, the Family consisted of his wife, Naina, and his daughter, Tatiana Yumasheva, with her husband Valentin. Cabinets came and went. The most important Prime Ministers were Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yevgeny Primakov, and Sergey Stepashin.
In 1998, the Russian financial crisis hit the economy hard, and the ruble was devalued. Exhausted by health problems, Boris Yeltsin resigned on the last day of 1999. He apologized, in his resignation speech, for not having achieved his goals, and named the relatively young, and unknown, Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, his successor.
AFTER YELTSIN’S DECADE OF ALMOST UNLIMITED FREEDOM, BUT ALSO CONFUSION, VLADIMIR PUTIN’S REIGN IS CHARACTERIZED BY RESTRICTED FREEDOM, STATE-CONTROLLED MEDIA, CORRUPTION, AND HIS OWN CULT OF PERSONALITY. PUTIN HAS REVIVED THE WAVE OF RUSSIAN NATIONALISM AND SOVIET NOSTALGIA. RELATIONS WITH THE WEST ARE GETTING EVEN MORE COMPLICATED.
At the end of the 1980’s, Vladimir Putin was a KGB officer in East Berlin where he witnessed the collapse of the Soviet system. Some time later he worked for the mayor of Leningrad (that had again been renamed Saint Petersburg), Anatoly Sobchak, and also in the Kremlin as the presidential property manager. Putin thereafter forged a career at the FSB, whose director he was from 1998 – 99. The Yeltsin family, who were looking for a successor to Boris Yeltsin, found Putin reliable, and he was chosen as Yeltsin’s successor.
In August 1999, Yeltsin introduced the new Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, to the public. The move took the world by surprise. Yeltsin himself resigned on 31 December 1999.
Less than four weeks later, Putin’s effective measures in dealing with the controversial apartment bombings in Moscow brought him fame. He immediately accused the Chechens, and effectively launched the Second Chechen War (1999–2009), that was victorious, and won the presidential election for him in 2000.
But he also had to deal with the aftermath of the war in the form of Chechen terrorist attacks. In 2002, the Moscow theatre hostage crisis, and then in 2004, the Beslan school siege, were poorly handled by the authorities, and caused hundreds of civilians to die.
The rule of Vladimir Putin saw the return of people from the security services and with military backgrounds (siloviki). Putin asserted Kremlin control over regions, increased military spending, suppressed political opposition, confiscated the wealth of the oligarchs, and exerted control over the media.
Numerous murders of journalists and opposition leaders have occurred, that allegedly can be traced back to the FSB and the mafia; the two, allegedly, having many ties.
After his second term ended in 2008, Putin had to step down. He appointed his loyal minister, Dmitry Medvedev, as President, and survived the Great Recession as Prime Minister, often also criticizing the new President. In 2012, they exchanged places again.
Since the beginning of his third term in 2012, Putin has increasingly exerted economic, political, and military pressure on Russia’s neighbors, especially in the post-Soviet space. Putin’s main goal, is to block the influence of NATO and the United States, and to restore and maintain buffer zones by exerting Russian influence.
THE NEW COLD WAR
Since the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, Putin has again used military intervention as a means to serve this purpose. It is becoming more and more complex with hybrid warfare tactics, combining elements of irregular warfare and cyber warfare.
In February 2014, Putin launched an extensive campaign against Ukraine. He annexed Crimea in March 2014. Thereafter, the lasting conflict in Ukraine has poisoned relations between Russia and the West. From 2015 Russia has also militarily participated in the Syrian Civil War.
Cities and towns in the Russian Federation:
Two Federal Cities:
Moscow and Saint Petersburg
Other major cities: Arkhangelsk, Chelyabinsk, Elista (capital of Kalmykia), Irkutsk, Izhevsk (capital of Udmurtia), Kazan (capital of Tatarstan), Khabarovsk, Kharkiv (Kharkov), Krasnodar (until 1920 Yekaterinodar), Krasnoyarsk, Makhachkala (capital of Dagestan), Nizhny Novgorod (Gorky), Novosibirsk, Omsk, Perm, Rostov-on-Don, Samara (Kuybyshev), Saratov, Smolensk, Sochi, Stavropol (Tolyatti), Tomsk, Tyumen, Ufa (capital of Bashkortostan), Ulan-Ude (capital of Buryat-Mongolian ASSR), Ulyanovsk (formerly Simbirsk), Vladivostok, Volgograd, Voronezh, Yakutsk (capital of Yakut ASSR), Yaroslavl, Yekaterinburg (Ekaterinburg)
Some of the countries that were once part of the USSR but are now sovereign states include Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Many citizens of these countries harbor ill will toward the Russian government because of the poor treatment they received during the communist years.
One of the reasons why the USSR was such a dominant force in the Olympics was because citizens of so many different countries competed under the USSR flag. Most countries separated from the USSR in the early 1990s when perestroika (rebuilding) and glasnost (openness) caused a revolution in Russia during which the communist system of government fell, and the different countries became their own sovereign states.
Though the Russian Federation is only one country, it is a vast country which takes up land on the Asian as well as the European continents. Because the country is so large, it has a lot of natural resources at its disposal. Some of these resources include petroleum, timber, natural gas, oil and fur.
Annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation
In February and March 2014, Russia invaded and subsequently annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. This event took place in the aftermath of the Revolution of Dignity and is part of the wider Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
On 22–23 February 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin convened an all-night meeting with security service chiefs to discuss the extrication of the deposed Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych. At the end of the meeting, Putin remarked that “we must start working on returning Crimea to Russia”. On 23 February, pro-Russian demonstrations were held in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. On 27 February, masked Russian troops without insignia took over the Supreme Council (parliament) of Crimea and captured strategic sites across Crimea, which led to the installation of the pro-Russian Sergey Aksyonov government in Crimea, the conducting of the Crimean status referendum and the declaration of Crimea’s independence on 16 March 2014. Russia formally incorporated Crimea as two Russian federal subjects—the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol on 18 March 2014. Following the annexation, Russia escalated military presence on the peninsula and leveraged nuclear threats to solidify the new status quo on the ground.
Ukraine and many other countries condemned the annexation and consider it to be a violation of international law and Russian-signed agreements safeguarding the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including the 1991 Belavezha Accords that established the Commonwealth of Independent States, the 1975 Helsinki Accords, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances and the 1997 Treaty on friendship, cooperation and partnership between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. It led to the other members of the then G8 suspending Russia from the group then introducing a first round of sanctions against the country. The United Nations General Assembly also rejected the referendum and annexation, adopting a resolution affirming the “territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders”. The UN resolution also “underscores that the referendum having no validity, cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of [Crimea]” and called upon all states and international organizations not to recognize or to imply the recognition of Russia’s annexation. In 2016, the UN General Assembly reaffirmed non-recognition of the annexation and condemned “the temporary occupation of part of the territory of Ukraine—the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol”.
The Russian government opposes the “annexation” label, with Putin defending the referendum as complying with the principle of self-determination of peoples.
Crimea became part of the Russian Empire in 1783, when the Crimean Khanate was annexed, then became part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic until 1954. During the first stages of the Russian Civil War there were a series of short-lived independent governments (Crimean People’s Republic, Crimean Regional Government, Crimean SSR) but they were followed by White Russian governments (General Command of the Armed Forces of South Russia and later South Russian Government). In October 1921, the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of the Russian SFSR was instituted. After the Second World War and the subsequent deportation of all of the indigenous Crimean Tatars, the Crimean ASSR was stripped of its autonomy in 1946 and was downgraded to the status of an oblast of the Russian SFSR.
In 1954, the Crimean Oblast was transferred from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR by decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s union with Russia. The action was attributed to Nikita Khrushchev, then-First Secretary of the Communist Party.
In 1989, under Gorbachev‘s perestroika, the Supreme Soviet declared that the deportation of the Crimean Tatars under Stalin had been illegal, and the mostly Muslim ethnic group was allowed to return to Crimea.
In 1990, the Soviet of the Crimean Oblast proposed the restoration of the Crimean ASSR. The oblast conducted a referendum in 1991, which asked whether Crimea should be elevated into a signatory of the New Union Treaty (that is, became a union republic on its own). By that time, though, the dissolution of the Soviet Union was well underway. The Crimean ASSR was restored for less than a year as part of Soviet Ukraine before Ukrainian independence. Newly independent Ukraine maintained Crimea’s autonomous status, while the Supreme Council of Crimea affirmed the peninsula’s “sovereignty” as a part of Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities limited Crimean autonomy in 1995.
In September 2008, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko accused Russia of giving out Russian passports to the population in Crimea and described it as a “real problem” given Russia’s declared policy of military intervention abroad to protect Russian citizens.
On 24 August 2009, anti-Ukrainian demonstrations were held in Crimea by ethnic Russian residents. Sergei Tsekov (of the Russian Bloc and then deputy speaker of the Crimean parliament) said then that he hoped that Russia would treat Crimea the same way as it had treated South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Crimea is populated by an ethnic Russian majority and a minority of both ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, and thus demographically possessed one of Ukraine’s largest ethnically Russian populations.
As early as in 2010, some analysts already speculated that the Russian government had irredentist plans:
…Russia has an even more impossible time recognizing Ukraine’s sovereignty over the Crimea and the port of Sevastopol – as seen by public opinion in Russia, statements by politicians, including members of the ruling United Russia party, experts and journalists.
— Taras Kuzio, 2010
…Russia wants to annex Crimea and is merely waiting for the right opportunity, most likely under the pretense of defending Russian brethren abroad.
— William Varettoni, 2011
Euromaidan and the Ukrainian revolution
The Euromaidan protest movement began in Kyiv in late November 2013 after President Viktor Yanukovych, of the Party of Regions, failed to sign the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement due to failure of Ukrainian Supreme Council (Rada) to pass promised required legislation. Yanukovych won the 2010 presidential election with strong support from voters in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and southern and eastern Ukraine. The Crimean autonomous government strongly supported Yanukovych and condemned the protests, saying they were “threatening political stability in the country”. The Crimean autonomous parliament said that it supported the government‘s decision to suspend negotiations on the pending association agreement and urged Crimeans to “strengthen friendly ties with Russian regions”.
On 4 February 2014, the Presidium of the Supreme Council considered holding a referendum on the peninsula’s status, and asked the Russian government to guarantee the vote. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) responded by opening a criminal case to investigate the possible “subversion” of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. On 20 February 2014, during a visit to Moscow, Chairman of the Supreme Council of Crimea Vladimir Konstantinov stated that the 1954 transfer of Crimea from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic had been a mistake.
The Euromaidan protests came to a head in late February 2014, and Yanukovych and many of his ministers fled the capital on 22 February. After his flight, opposition parties and defectors from the Party of Regions put together a parliamentary quorum in the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian parliament), and voted on 22 February to remove Yanukovych from his post on the grounds that he was unable to fulfill his duties, although this legislative removal lacked the required three-quarter vote of sitting Rada members according to the constitution in effect at the time, which the Rada also voted to suspend. Arseniy Yatsenyuk was appointed by the Rada to serve as the head of a caretaker government until new presidential and parliament elections could be held. This new government was recognized internationally, though the Russian government said that these events had been a “coup d’état“, and that the caretaker government was illegitimate.
Start of the crisis
The February 2014 revolution that ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych sparked a political crisis in Crimea, which initially manifested as demonstrations against the new interim Ukrainian government, but rapidly escalated. In January 2014 the Sevastopol city council had already called for formation of “people’s militia” units to “ensure firm defense” of the city from “extremism”.
The Verkhovna Rada of Crimea members called for an extraordinary meeting on 21 February. In response to pro-Russian separatist sentiment, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said that it would “use severe measures to prevent any action taken against diminishing the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine”. The party with the largest number of seats in the Crimean parliament (80 of 100), the Party of Regions of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, did not discuss Crimean secession, and were supportive of an agreement between President Yanukovych and Euromaidan activists to end the unrest that was struck on the same day in Kyiv.
On 22–23 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin convened an all-night meeting with security services chiefs to discuss extrication of the deposed Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and at the end of that meeting Putin had remarked that “we must start working on returning Crimea to Russia.” On 23 February pro-Russian demonstrations were held in the Crimean city of Sevastopol.
Crimean prime minister Anatolii Mohyliov said that his government recognized the new provisional government in Kyiv, and that the Crimean autonomous government would carry out all laws passed by the Ukrainian parliament. In Simferopol, a pro-Euromaidan rally of between 5,000 and 15,000 was held in support of the new government, and demanding the resignation of the Crimean parliament; attendees waved Ukrainian, Tatar, and European Union flags. Meanwhile, in Sevastopol, thousands protested against the new Ukrainian government, voted to establish a parallel administration, and created civil defense squads with the support of the Russian Night Wolves motorcycle club. Protesters waved Russian flags, chanted “Putin is our president!”, and said they would refuse to further pay taxes to the Ukrainian state. Russian military convoys were also alleged to be seen in the area. In Kerch, pro-Russian protesters attempted to remove the Ukrainian flag from atop city hall and replace it with the flag of Russia. Over 200 attended, waving Russian, orange-and-black St. George, and the Russian Unity party flags. Mayor Oleh Osadchy attempted to disperse the crowd and police eventually arrived to defend the flag. The mayor said “This is the territory of Ukraine, Crimea. Here’s a flag of Crimea”, but was accused of treason and a fight ensued over the flagpole. On 24 February, more rallied outside the Sevastopol city state administration. Pro-Russian demonstrators accompanied by neo-Cossacks demanded the election of a Russian citizen as mayor and hoisted Russian flags around the city administration; they also handed out leaflets to sign up for a self-defense militia, warning that the “Blue–Brown Europlague is knocking.” Volodymyr Yatsuba, head of Sevastopol administration, announced his resignation, citing the “decision of the city’s inhabitants” made at pro-Russian rally, and while caretaker city administration initially leaned towards recognition of new Ukrainian government, continued pressure from pro-Russian activists forced local authorities to concede. Consequently, Sevastopol City Council illegally elected Alexei Chaly, a Russian citizen, as mayor. Under the law of Ukraine, it was not possible for Sevastopol to elect a mayor, as the Chairman of the Sevastopol City State Administration, appointed by the President of Ukraine, functions as its mayor. A thousand protesters present chanted “A Russian mayor for a Russian city.”
On 25 February, several hundred pro-Russian protesters blocked the Crimean parliament demanding non-recognition of the central government of Ukraine and a referendum on Crimea’s status. On the same day, crowds gathered again outside Sevastopol’s city hall on Tuesday as rumours spread that security forces could arrest Chaly, but police chief Alexander Goncharov said that his officers would refuse to carry out “criminal orders” issued by Kyiv. Viktor Neganov, a Sevastopol-based adviser to the Internal Affairs Minister, condemned the events in the city as a coup. “Chaly represents the interests of the Kremlin which likely gave its tacit approval,” he said. Sevastopol City State Administration chairman Vladimir Yatsuba was booed and heckled on 23 February, when he told a pro-Russian rally that Crimea was part of Ukraine. He resigned the next day. In Simferopol, the Regional State Administration building was blockaded with hundreds of protesters, including neo-Cossacks, demanding a referendum of separation; the rally was organized by the Crimean Front.
On 26 February, near the Verkhovna Rada of Crimea building, 4,000–5,000 Crimean Tatars and supporters of the Euromaidan-Crimea movement faced 600–700 supporters of pro-Russian organizations and the Russian Unity Party. Supreme Council Chairman Vladimir Konstantinov said that the Crimean parliament would not consider separation from Ukraine, and that earlier reports that parliament would hold a debate on the matter were provocations. Tatars created self-defense groups, encouraged collaboration with Russians, Ukrainians, and people of other nationalities, and called for the protection of churches, mosques, synagogues, and other important sites. By nightfall the Crimean Tatars had left; several hundred Russian Unity supporters rallied on. The new Ukrainian government‘s acting Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov tasked Crimean law enforcement agencies not to provoke conflicts and to do whatever necessary to prevent clashes with pro-Russian forces; and he added “I think, that way – through a dialogue – we shall achieve much more than with standoffs”. New Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko requested that the United Nations provide around-the-clock monitoring of the security situation in Crimea. Russian troops took control of the main route to Sevastopol on orders from Russian president Vladimir Putin. A military checkpoint, with a Russian flag and Russian military vehicles, was set up on the main highway between the city and Simferopol.
On 27 February, Russian special force seized the building of the Supreme Council of Crimea and the building of the Council of Ministers in Simferopol. Russian flags were raised over these buildings, and barricades were erected outside them Whilst the “little green men” were occupying the Crimean parliament building, the parliament held an emergency session. It voted to terminate the Crimean government, and replace Prime Minister Anatolii Mohyliov with Sergey Aksyonov. Aksyonov belonged to the Russian Unity party, which received 4% of the vote in the last election. According to the Constitution of Ukraine, the Prime Minister of Crimea is appointed by the Supreme Council of Crimea in consultation with the President of Ukraine. Both Aksyonov and speaker Vladimir Konstantinov stated that they viewed Viktor Yanukovych as the de jure president of Ukraine, through whom they were able to ask Russia for assistance.
The parliament also voted No independent journalists were allowed inside the building while the votes were taking place. Some MPs said they were being threatened and that votes were cast for them and other MPs, even though they were not in the chamber. Interfax-Ukraine reported “it is impossible to find out whether all the 64 members of the 100-member legislature who were registered as present at when the two decisions were voted on or whether someone else used the plastic voting cards of some of them” because due to the armed occupation of parliament it was unclear how many MPs were present. The head of parliament’s information and analysis department, Olha Sulnikova, had phoned from inside the parliamentary building to journalists and had told them 61 of the registered 64 deputies had voted for the referendum resolution and 55 for the resolution to dismiss the government. Donetsk People’s Republic separatist Igor Girkin said in January 2015 that Crimean members of parliament were held at gunpoint, and were forced to support the annexation. These actions were immediately declared illegal by the Ukrainian interim government.
On the same day, more troops in unmarked uniforms, assisted this time by what appeared to be local Berkut riot police (as well as Russian troops from the 31st Separate Airborne Assault Brigade dressed in Berkut uniforms), established security checkpoints on the Isthmus of Perekop and the Chonhar Peninsula, which separate Crimea from the Ukrainian mainland. Within hours, Ukraine had effectively been cut off from Crimea. Shortly after Ukrainian TV channels were made unavailable for Crimean viewers, some of them were replaced with Russian stations.
On 1 March 2014, Aksyonov said that he would exercise control of all Ukrainian military and security installations on the peninsula. He also asked Putin for “assistance in ensuring peace and tranquility” in Crimea Putin promptly received authorization from the Federation Council of Russia for a Russian military intervention in Ukraine until the “political-social situation in the country is normalized”. Putin’s swift maneuver prompted protests of some Russian intelligentsia and demonstrations in Moscow against a Russian military campaign in Crimea. By 2 March, Russian troops moving from the country’s naval base in Sevastopol and reinforced by troops, armor, and helicopters from mainland Russia exercised complete control over the Crimean Peninsula. Russian troops operated in Crimea without insignia. On 3 March blockaded Southern Naval Base. On 4 March, Ukrainian General Staff claimed there were units of the 18th Motor Rifle Brigade, 31st Air Assault Brigade and 22nd Spetsnaz Brigade deployed and operating in Crimea, instead of Russian Black Sea Fleet personnel, which violated international agreements signed by Ukraine and Russia. Despite numerous media reports and statements by the Ukrainian and foreign governments describing the unmarked troops as Russian soldiers, government officials concealed the identity of their forces, claiming they were local “self-defense” units over whom they had no authority. As late as 17 April, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that there are no “excessive Russian troops” in Ukraine.
Russian officials eventually admitted to their troops’ presence. Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said the country’s military actions in Crimea were undertaken by forces of the Black Sea Fleet and were justified by “threat to lives of Crimean civilians” and danger of “takeover of Russian military infrastructure by extremists“. Ukraine complained that by increasing its troop presence in Crimea, Russia violated the agreement under which it headquartered its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol and violated the country’s sovereignty. The United States and United Kingdom also accused Russia of breaking the terms of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, by which Russia, the US, and the UK had reaffirmed their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine. The Russian government said the Budapest Memorandum did not apply due to “circumstances resulting from the action of internal political or socio-economic factors”. In March 2015, retired Russian Admiral Igor Kasatonov stated that according to his information the Russian troop deployment in Crimea included six helicopter landings and three landings of IL-76 with 500 people.
The obligations between Russia and Ukraine with regard to territorial integrity and the prohibition of the use of force are laid down in a number of multilateral or bilateral agreements to which Russia and Ukraine are signatories.
Vladimir Putin said that Russian troops in the Crimean peninsula were aimed “to ensure proper conditions for the people of Crimea to be able to freely express their will”, whilst Ukraine and other nations argue that such intervention is a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances Russia was among those who affirmed to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine (including Crimea) and to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine. The 1997 Russian–Ukrainian Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership again reaffirmed the inviolability of the borders between both states, and required Russian forces in Crimea to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine, honor its legislation and not interfere in the internal affairs of the country.
The Russian–Ukrainian Partition Treaty on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet signed in 1997 and prolonged in 2010, determined the status of Russian military presence in Crimea and restricted their operations, including requirement to show their “military identification cards” when crossing the international border and that operations beyond designated deployment sites was permitted only after coordination with Ukraine. According to Ukraine usage of navigation stations and troop movements were improperly covered by the treaty and were violated many times as well as related court decisions. February’s troop movements were in “complete disregard” of the treaty.
According to the Constitution of Russia, the admission of new federal subjects is governed by federal constitutional law. Such a law was adopted in 2001, and it postulates that admission of a foreign state or its part into Russia shall be based on a mutual accord between the Russian Federation and the relevant state and shall take place pursuant to an international treaty between the two countries; moreover, it must be initiated by the state in question, not by its subdivision or by Russia.
On 28 February 2014, Russian MP Sergey Mironov, along with other members of the Duma, introduced a bill to alter Russia’s procedure for adding federal subjects. According to the bill, accession could be initiated by a subdivision of a country, provided that there is “absence of efficient sovereign state government in foreign state”; the request could be made either by subdivision bodies on their own or on the basis of a referendum held in the subdivision in accordance with corresponding national legislation.
On 11 March 2014, both the Supreme Council of Crimea and the Sevastopol City Council adopted a declaration of independence, which stated their intent to declare independence and request full accession to Russia should the pro-Russian option receive the most votes during the scheduled status referendum. The declaration directly referred to the Kosovo independence precedent, by which the Albanian-populated Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija declared independence from Russia’s ally Serbia as the Republic of Kosovo in 2008—a unilateral action Russia staunchly opposed. Many analysts saw the Crimean declaration as an overt effort to pave the way for Crimea’s annexation by Russia. Crimean authorities’ stated plans to declare independence from Ukraine made the Mironov bill unnecessary. On 20 March 2014, two days after the treaty of accession was signed, the bill was withdrawn by its initiators.
At its meeting on 21–22 March, the Council of Europe‘s Venice Commission stated that the Mironov bill violated “in particular, the principles of territorial integrity, national sovereignty, non-intervention in the internal affairs of another state and pacta sunt servanda” and was therefore incompatible with international law.
Crimean status referendum
On 27 February 2014, following the takeover of its building by Russian special forces, the Supreme Council of Crimea voted to hold a referendum on 25 May, with the initial question as to whether Crimea should upgrade its autonomy within Ukraine. The referendum date was later moved from 25 May to 30 March. A Ukrainian court declared the referendum to be illegal.
On 4 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia was not considering annexing Crimea. He said of the peninsula that “only citizens themselves, in conditions of free expression of will and their security can determine their future”. Putin later acknowledged that he had ordered “work to bring Crimea back into Russia” as early as February. He also acknowledged that in early March there were “secret opinion polls” held in Crimea, which, according to him, reported overwhelming popular support for Crimea’s incorporation into Russia.
On 6 March, the Supreme Council moved the referendum date to 16 March and changed its scope to ask a new question: whether Crimea should accede to Russia or restore the 1992 constitution within Ukraine, which the Ukrainian government had previously invalidated. This referendum, unlike one announced earlier, contained no option to maintain the status quo of governance under the 1998 constitution. Ukraine’s erstwhile President, Oleksander Turchinov, stated that “The authorities in Crimea are totally illegitimate, both the parliament and the government. They are forced to work under the barrel of a gun and all their decisions are dictated by fear and are illegal.”
On 14 March, the Crimean status referendum was deemed unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, and a day later, the Verkhovna Rada formally dissolved the Crimean parliament. With a referendum looming, Russia massed troops near the Ukrainian eastern border, likely to threaten escalation and stymie Ukraine’s response.
The referendum was held despite the opposition from the Ukrainian government. Official results reported about 95.5% of participating voters in Crimea (turnout was 83%) were in favor of seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia. The results of referendum were questioned; another report by Evgeny Bobrov, a member of the Russian President’s Human Rights Council, suggested the official results were inflated and only 15% to 30% of Crimeans eligible to vote actually voted for the Russian option.
The means by which the referendum was conducted were widely criticized by foreign governments and in the Ukrainian and international press, with reports that anyone holding a Russian passport regardless of residency in Crimea was allowed to vote. OSCE refused to send observers to the referendum, stating that invitation should have come from an OSCE member state in question (i.e. Ukraine), rather than local authorities. Russia invited a group of observers from various European far-right political parties aligned with Putin, who stated the referendum was conducted in a free and fair manner.
“Republic of Crimea (country)” redirects here. For other uses, see Republic of Crimea (disambiguation).
On 17 March, following the official announcement of the referendum results, the Supreme Council of Crimea declared the formal independence of the Republic of Crimea, comprising the territories of both the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, which was granted special status within the breakaway republic. The Crimean parliament declared the “partial repeal” of Ukrainian laws and began nationalizing private and Ukrainian state property located on the Crimean Peninsula, including Ukrainian ports and property of Chornomornaftogaz. Parliament also formally requested that the Russian government admit the breakaway republic into Russia. On same day, the de facto Supreme Council renamed itself the State Council of Crimea, declared the Russian ruble an official currency alongside the hryvnia.
Putin officially recognized the Republic of Crimea ‘as a sovereign and independent state’ by decree.
Accession treaty and finalization of the annexation
The Treaty on Accession of the Republic of Crimea to Russia was signed between representatives of the Republic of Crimea (including Sevastopol, with which the rest of Crimea briefly unified) and the Russian Federation on 18 March 2014 to lay out terms for the immediate admission of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol as federal subjects of Russia and part of the Russian Federation. On 19 March, the Russian Constitutional Court decided that the treaty is in compliance with the Constitution of Russia. The treaty was ratified by the Federal Assembly and Federation Council by 21 March. A Just Russia‘s Ilya Ponomarev was the only State Duma member to vote against the treaty.
During a controversial incident in Simferopol on 18 March, some Ukrainian sources said that armed gunmen that were reported to be Russian special forces allegedly stormed the base. This was contested by Russian authorities, who subsequently announced the arrest of an alleged Ukrainian sniper in connection with the killings, but later denied the arrest had occurred.
The two casualties had a joint funeral attended by both the Crimean and Ukrainian authorities, and both the Ukrainian soldier and Russian paramilitary “self-defense volunteer” were mourned together. As of March 2014 the incident was under investigation by both the Crimean authorities and the Ukrainian military.
In response to shooting, Ukraine’s then acting defense minister Ihor Tenyukh authorized Ukrainian troops stationed in Crimea to use deadly force in life-threatening situations. This increased the risk of bloodshed during any takeover of Ukrainian military installations, yet the ensuing Russian operations to seize the remaining Ukrainian military bases and ships in Crimea did not bring new fatalities, although weapons were used and several people were injured. The Russian units involved in such operations were ordered to avoid usage of deadly force when possible. Morale among the Ukrainian troops, which for three weeks were blockaded inside their compounds without any assistance from the Ukrainian government, was very low, and the vast majority of them did not offer any real resistance.
On 24 March, the Ukrainian government ordered the full withdrawal of all of its armed forces from Crimea. Approximately 50% of the Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea had defected to the Russian military. On 26 March the last Ukrainian military bases and Ukrainian Navy ships were captured by Russian troops.
On 27 March, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution, which declared the Crimean referendum and subsequent status change invalid, by a vote of 100 to 11, with 58 abstentions and 24 absent.
Crimea and Sevastopol switched to Moscow Time at 10 p.m. on 29 March.
On 31 March, Russia unilaterally denounced the Kharkiv Pact and Partition Treaty on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet. Putin cited “the accession of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol into Russia” and resulting “practical end of renting relationships” as his reason for the denunciation. On the same day, he signed a decree formally rehabilitating the Crimean Tatars, who were ousted from their lands in 1944, and the Armenian, German, Greek, and Bulgarian minority communities in the region that Stalin also ordered removed in the 1940s.
On 11 April, the Constitution of the Republic of Crimea and City Charter of Sevastopol were adopted, in addition the new federal subjects were enumerated in a newly published revision of the Russian Constitution.
On 14 April, Vladimir Putin announced that he would open a ruble-only account with Bank Rossiya and would make it the primary bank in the newly annexed Crimea as well as giving the right to service payments on Russia’s $36 billion wholesale electricity market – which gave the bank $112 million annually from commission charges alone.
In July 2015, Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, declared that Crimea had been fully integrated into Russia. Until 2016 these new subjects were grouped in the Crimean Federal District.
On 8 August 2016, Ukraine reported that Russia had increased its military presence along the demarcation line. In response to this military buildup Ukraine also deployed more troops and resources closer to the border with Crimea. The Pentagon has downplayed a Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling Russian troops along the border a regular military exercise. On 10 August, Russia claimed two servicemen were killed in clashes with Ukrainian commandos, and that Ukrainian servicemen had been captured with a total of 40 kg of explosives in their possession. Ukraine denied that the incident took place. Russian accounts claimed that Russian FSB detained “Ukrainian saboteurs” and “terrorists” near Armiansk. The ensuing gunfight left one FSB officer and a suspect dead. A number of individuals were detained, including Yevhen Panov, who is described by Russian sources as a Ukrainian military intelligence officer and leader of the sabotage group. The group was allegedly planning terror attacks on important infrastructure in Armiansk, Crimea. Ukrainian media reported that Panov was a military volunteer fighting in the east of the country, however he has more recently been associated with a charitable organization. Russia also claimed that the alleged border infiltration was accompanied by “heavy fire” from Ukrainian territory, resulting in the death of a Russian sold Ukrainian government called the Russian accusations “cynical” and “senseless” and argued that since Crimea was Ukrainian territory, it was Russia which “has been generously financing and actively supporting terrorism on Ukrainian territory”.
In 2017, a survey performed by the Centre for East European and International Studies showed that 85% of the non-Crimean Tatar respondents believed that if the referendum would be held again it would lead to the same or “only marginally different” results. Crimea was fully integrated into the Russian media sphere, and links with the rest of Ukraine were hardly existent.
On 26 November 2018, lawmakers in the Ukraine Parliament overwhelmingly backed the imposition of martial law along Ukraine’s coastal regions and those bordering Russia in response to the firing upon and seizure of Ukrainian naval ships by Russia near the Crimean peninsula a day earlier. A total of 276 lawmakers in Kyiv backed the measure, which took effect on 28 November 2018 and was ended on 26 December.
On 28 December 2018, Russia completed a high-tech security fence marking the de facto border between Crimea and Ukraine.
In 2021, Ukraine launched the Crimea Platform, a diplomatic initiative aimed at protecting the rights of Crimean inhabitants and ultimately reversing the annexation of Crimea.
Transition and aftermath
Initially after the annexation, salaries rose, especially those of government workers. This was soon offset by the increase in prices caused by the depreciation of the ruble. Wages were cut back by 30% to 70% after Russian authority became established. Tourism, previously Crimea’s main industry, suffered in particular, down by 50% from 2014 in 2015. Crimean agricultural yields were also significantly impacted by the annexation. Ukraine cut off supplies of water through the North Crimean Canal, causing the 2014 rice crop to fail, and greatly damaging the maize and soybean crops. The annexation had a negative influence of Russians working in Ukraine and Ukrainians working in Russia.
The number of tourists visiting Crimea in the 2014 season was lower than in the previous years due to a combination of “Western sanctions”, ethical objections by Ukrainians, and the difficulty of getting there for Russians. The Russian government attempted to stimulate the flow of tourists by subsidizing holidays in the peninsula for children and state workers from all Russia which worked mostly for state-owned hotels. In 2015, overall 3 million tourists visited Crimea according to official data, while before annexation it was around 5.5 million on average. The shortage is attributed mostly to stopped flow of tourists from Ukraine. Hotels and restaurants are also experiencing problems with finding enough seasonal workers, who were most arriving from Ukraine in the preceding years. Tourists visiting state-owned hotels are complaining mostly about low standard of rooms and facilities, some of them unrepaired from Soviet times.
According to the German newspaper Die Welt, the annexation of Crimea is economically disadvantageous for the Russian Federation. Russia will have to spend billions of euros a year to pay salaries and pensions. Moreover, Russia will have to undertake costly projects to connect Crimea to the Russian water supply and power system because Crimea has no land connection to Russia and at present (2014) gets water, gas and electricity from mainland Ukraine. This required building a bridge and a pipeline across the Kerch Strait. Also, Novinite claims that a Ukrainian expert told Die Welt that Crimea “will not be able to attract tourists”.
The then first Deputy to Minister of Finance of Russian Federation Tatyana Nesterenko said that the decision to annex Crimea was made by Vladimir Putin exclusively, without consulting Russia’s Finance Ministry.
The Russian business newspaper Kommersant expresses an opinion that Russia will not acquire anything economically from “accessing” Crimea, which is not very developed industrially, having just a few big factories, and whose yearly gross product is only $4 billion. The newspaper also says that everything from Russia will have to be delivered by sea, higher costs of transportation will result in higher prices for everything, and to avoid a decline in living standards Russia will have to subsidize Crimean people for a few months. In total, Kommersant estimates the costs of integrating Crimea into Russia in $30 billion over the next decade, i.e. $3 billion per year.
Western oil experts estimate that Russia’s seizing of Crimea, and the associated control of an area of Black Sea more than three times its land area gives it access to oil and gas reserves potentially worth trillions of dollars. It also deprives Ukraine of its chances of energy independence. Moscow’s acquisition may alter the route along which the South Stream pipeline would be built, saving Russia money, time and engineering challenges. It would also allow Russia to avoid building in Turkish territorial waters, which was necessary in the original route to avoid Ukrainian territory. This pipeline was later canceled in favour of TurkStream, however.
The Russian Federal Service for Communications (Roskomnadzor) warned about a transition period as Russian operators have to change the numbering capacity and subscribers. Country code will be replaced from the Ukrainian +380 to Russian +7. Codes in Crimea start with 65, but in the area of “7” the 6 is given to Kazakhstan which shares former Soviet Union +7 with Russia, so city codes have to change. The regulator assigned 869 dialing code to Sevastopol and the rest of the peninsula received a 365 code. At the time of the unification with Russia, telephone operators and Internet service providers in Crimea and Sevastopol are connected to the outside world through the territory of Ukraine. Minister of Communications of Russia, Nikolai Nikiforov announced on his Twitter account that postal codes in Crimea will now have six-figures: to the existing five-digit number the number two will be added at the beginning. For example, the Simferopol postal code 95,000 will become 295,000.
In the area that now forms the border between Crimea and Ukraine mining the salt lake inlets from the sea that constitute the natural borders, and in the spit of land left over stretches of no-man’s-land with wire on either side was created. On early June that year Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a Government resolution No.961 dated 5 June 2014 establishing air, sea, road and railway checkpoints. The adopted decisions create a legal basis for the functioning of a checkpoint system at the Russian state border in the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol.
In the year following the annexation, armed men seized various Crimean businesses, including banks, hotels, shipyards, farms, gas stations, a bakery, a dairy, and Yalta Film Studio. Russian media have noted this trend as “returning to the 90’s”, which is perceived as a period of anarchy and rule of gangs in Russia.
In 2015, the Investigative Committee of Russia announced a number of theft and corruption cases in infrastructure projects in Crimea, for example; spending that exceeded the actual accounted costs three times. A number of Russian officials were also arrested for corruption, including head of federal tax inspection.
(According to February 2016 official Ukrainian figures) after Russia’s annexation 10% of Security Service of Ukraine personnel left Crimea; accompanied by 6,000 of the pre-annexation 20,300 people strong Ukrainian army.
As result of the disputed political status of Crimea, Russian mobile operators never expanded their operations into Crimea and all mobile services are offered on the basis of “internal roaming”, which caused significant controversy inside Russia. Telecoms however argued that expanding coverage to Crimea will put them at risk of Western sanctions and, as result, they will lose access to key equipment and software, none of which is produced locally.
The first five years of Crimean occupation cost Russia over $20 billion, roughly equal to two years of Russia’s entire education budget.
Human rights situation
According to the United Nations and multiple NGOs, Russia is responsible for multiple human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary detention, forced disappearances and instances of discrimination, including persecution of Crimean Tatars in Crimea since the illegal annexation. The UN Human Rights Office has documented multiple human rights violations in Crimea. Noting that minority Crimean Tatars have been disproportionately affected. In December 2016, the UN General Assembly voted on a resolution on human rights in occupied Crimea. It called on the Russian Federation “to take all measures necessary to bring an immediate end to all abuses against residents of Crimea, in particular reported discriminatory measures and practices, arbitrary detentions, torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, and to revoke all discriminatory legislation.” It also urged Russia to “immediately release Ukrainian citizens who were unlawfully detained and judged without regard for elementary standards of justice.”
In March 2014, Human Rights Watch reported that pro-Ukrainian activists and journalists had been attacked, abducted, and tortured by self-defense groups. Some Crimeans were simply “disappeared” with no explanation.
On 9 May 2014, the new “anti-extremist” amendment to the Criminal Code of Russia, passed in December 2013, came into force. Article 280.1 designated incitement of violation of territorial integrity of the Russian Federation (incl. calls for secession of Crimea from Russia) as a criminal offense in Russia, punishable by a fine of 300 thousand roubles or imprisonment up to 3 years. If such statements are made in public media or the internet, the punishment could be obligatory works up to 480 hours or imprisonment up to five years.
According to a report released on the Russian government-run President of Russia’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights website, Tatars who were opposed to Russian rule have been persecuted, Russian law restricting freedom of speech has been imposed, and the new pro-Russian authorities “liquidated” the Kyiv Patriarchate Orthodox church on the peninsula. The Crimean Tatar television station was also shut down by the Russian authorities.
On 16 May the new Russian authorities of Crimea issued a ban on the annual commemorations of the anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by Stalin in 1944, citing “possibility of provocation by extremists” as a reason. Previously, when Crimea was controlled by Ukraine, these commemorations had taken place every year. The pro-Russian Crimean authorities also banned Mustafa Dzhemilev, a human rights activist, Soviet dissident, member of the Ukrainian parliament, and former Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars from entering Crimea. Additionally, Mejlis reported, that officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) raided Tatar homes in the same week, on the pretense of “suspicion of terrorist activity”. The Tatar community eventually did hold commemorative rallies in defiance of the ban. In response Russian authorities flew helicopters over the rallies in an attempt to disrupt them.
In May 2015, a local activist, Alexander Kostenko, was sentenced to four years in a penal colony. His lawyer, Dmitry Sotnikov, said that the case was fabricated and that his client had been beaten and starved. Crimean prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya accused Kostenko of making Nazi gestures during the Maidan protests, and that that they were judging “not just [Kostenko], but the very idea of fascism and Nazism, which are trying to raise their head once again.” Sotnikov responded that “There are fabricated cases in Russia, but rarely such humiliation and physical harm. A living person is being tortured for a political idea, to be able to boast winning over fascism.” In June 2015, Razom released a report compiling human rights abuses in Crimea. In its 2016 annual report, the Council of Europe made no mention of human rights abuses in Crimea because Russia had not allowed its monitors to enter.
In February 2016 human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku from Crimea was arrested and accused of belonging to the Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir although he denies any involvement in this organization. Amnesty International has called for his immediate release.
On 24 May 2014 Ervin Ibragimov, a former member of the Bakhchysarai Town Council and a member of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars went missing. CCTV footage from a camera at a nearby shop documents that Ibragimov had been stopped by a group of men and that he is briefly speaking to the men before being forced in their van. According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group Russian authorities refuse to investigate the disappearance of Ibragimov.
In May 2018 Server Mustafayev, the founder and coordinator of the human rights movement Crimean Solidarity was imprisoned by Russian authorities and charged with “membership of a terrorist organization”. Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders demand his immediate release.
On 12 June 2018, Ukraine lodged a memorandum weighing about 90 kg, consisting of 17,500 pages of text in 29 volumes to the UN’s International Court of Justice about racial discrimination by Russian authorities in occupied Crimea and state financing of terrorism by Russian Federation in Donbas.
Between 2015 and 2019 over 134,000 people living in Crimea applied for and were issued Ukrainian passports.
Crimean public opinion
Prior to Russian occupation, support for joining Russia was 23% in a 2013 poll, down from 33% in 2011. A joint survey by American government agency Broadcasting Board of Governors and polling firm Gallup was taken during April 2014. It polled 500 residents of Crimea. The survey found that 82.8% of those polled believed that the results of the Crimean status referendum reflected the views of most residents of Crimea, whereas 6.7% said that it did not. 73.9% of those polled said that they thought that the annexation would have a positive impact on their lives, whereas 5.5% said that it would not. 13.6% said that they did not know.
A comprehensive poll released on 8 May 2014 by the Pew Research Centre surveyed local opinions on the annexation. Despite international criticism of 16 March referendum on Crimean status, 91% of those Crimeans polled thought that the vote was free and fair, and 88% said that the Ukrainian government should recognize the results.
In a survey completed in 2019 by a Russian company FOM 72% of surveyed Crimean residents said their lives have improved since annexation. At the same time only 39% Russians living in the mainland said the annexation was beneficial for the country as a whole which marks a significant drop from 67% in 2015.
Whilst the Russian government actively cited local opinion polls to argue that the annexation was legitimate (i.e. supported by the population of the territory in question), several authors have cautioned against using surveys concerning identities and support for the annexation conducted in “oppressive political environment” of Russian-held Crimea.
Immediately after the treaty of accession was signed in March, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Provisional Principal of Russia in Ukraine to present note verbale of protest against Russia’s recognition of the Republic of Crimea and its subsequent annexation. Two days later, the Verkhovna Rada condemned the treaty and called Russia’s actions “a gross violation of international law“. The Rada called on the international community to avoid recognition of the “so-called Republic of Crimea” or the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia as new federal subjects.
On 15 April 2014, the Verkhovna Rada declared the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol to be under “provisional occupation” by the Russian military and imposed travel restrictions on Ukrainians visiting Crimea. The territories were also deemed “inalienable parts of Ukraine” subject to Ukrainian law. Among other things, the special law approved by the Rada restricted foreign citizens’ movements to and from the Crimean Peninsula and forbade certain types of entrepreneurship. The law also forbade activity of government bodies formed in violation of Ukrainian law and designated their acts as null and void.
Ukrainian authorities greatly reduced the volume of water flowing into Crimea via the North Crimean Canal due to huge debt for water supplied in previous year, threatening the viability of the peninsula’s agricultural crops, which are heavily dependent on irrigation.
The Ukrainian National Council for TV and Radio Broadcasting has instructed all cable operators on 11 March to stop transmitting a number of Russian channels, including the international versions of the main state-controlled stations, Rossiya-1, Channel One and NTV, as well as news channel Rossiya-cable operators on.
In March 2014, activists began organizing flash mobs in supermarkets to urge customers not to buy Russian goods and to boycott Russian gas stations, banks, and concerts. In April 2014, some cinemas in Kyiv, Lviv, and Odessa began shunning Russian films.
In December 2014, Ukraine halted all train and bus services to Crimea.
On 16 September 2015 the Ukrainian parliament voted for the law that sets 20 February 2014 as the official date of the Russian temporary occupation of Crimean peninsula. On 7 October 2015 the President of Ukraine signed the law into force.
The Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs was established by Ukrainian government on 20 April 2016 to manage occupied parts of Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea regions affected by Russian military intervention of 2014.
At least 30,000 people at 15 March protests, named March of Peace, which took place in Moscow a day before the Crimean referendum.
In a poll published on 24 February 2014 by the state-owned Russian Public Opinion Research Center, only 15% of those Russians polled said ‘yes’ to the question: “Should Russia react to the overthrow of the legally elected authorities in Ukraine?”
The State Duma Committee on Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, headed by Leonid Slutsky, visited Simferopol on 25 February 2014 and said: “If the parliament of the Crimean autonomy or its residents express the wish to join the Russian Federation, Russia will be prepared to consider this sort of application. We will be examining the situation and doing so fast.” They also stated that in the event of a referendum for the Crimea region joining the Russian Federation, they would consider its results “very fast”. Later Slutsky announced that he was misunderstood by the Crimean press, and no decision regarding simplifying the process of acquiring Russian citizenship for people in Crimea had been made yet. He also added that if “fellow Russian citizens are in jeopardy, you understand that we do not stay away”. On 25 February, in a meeting with Crimean politicians, he stated that Viktor Yanukovych was still the legitimate president of Ukraine. That same day, the Russian Duma announced it was determining measures so that Russians in Ukraine who “did not want to break from the Russian World” could acquire Russian citizenship.
On 26 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian Armed Forces to be “put on alert in the Western Military District as well as units stationed with the 2nd Army Central Military District Command involved in aerospace defence, airborne troops and long-range military transport.” Despite media speculation that this was in reaction to the events in Ukraine, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said it was for reasons separate from the unrest in Ukraine. On 27 February 2014, the Russian government dismissed accusations that it was in violation of the basic agreements regarding the Black Sea Fleet: “All movements of armored vehicles are undertaken in full compliance with the basic agreements and did not require any approvals”.
On 27 February, the Russian governing agencies presented the new law project on granting citizenship.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the West and particularly NATO to “abandon the provocative statements and respect the neutral status of Ukraine”. In its statement, the ministry claims that the agreement on settlement of the crisis, which was signed on 21 February and was witnessed by foreign ministries from Germany, Poland and France had to this date, not been implemented (Vladimir Lukin from Russia had not signed it).
On 28 February, according to ITAR-TASS, the Russian Ministry of Transport discontinued further talks with Ukraine in regards to the Crimean Bridge project. However, on 3 March Dmitry Medvedev, then Prime Minister of Russia, signed a decree creating a subsidiary of Russian Highways (Avtodor) to build a bridge at an unspecified location along the Kerch Strait.
On Russian social networks, there was a movement to gather volunteers who served in the Russian army to go to Ukraine.
On 28 February, President Putin stated in telephone calls with key EU leaders that it was of “extreme importance of not allowing a further escalation of violence and the necessity of a rapid normalization of the situation in Ukraine”. Already on 19 February the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had referred to the Euromaidan revolution as the “Brown revolution“.
In Moscow, on 2 March, an estimated 27,000 rallied in support of the Russian government’s decision to intervene in Ukraine. The rallies received considerable attention on Russian state TV and were officially approved by the government.
Meanwhile, on 1 March, five people who were picketing next to the Federation Council building against the invasion of Ukraine were arrested. The next day about 200 people protested at the building of the Russian Ministry of Defence in Moscow against Russian military involvement. About 500 people also gathered to protest on the Manezhnaya Square in Moscow, and the same number of people on the Saint Isaac’s Square in Saint Petersburg. On 2 March, about eleven protesters demonstrated in Yekaterinburg against Russian involvement, with some wrapped in the Ukrainian flag. Protests were also held in Chelyabinsk on the same day. Opposition to the military intervention was also expressed by rock musician Andrey Makarevich, who wrote in particular: “You want war with Ukraine? It will not be the way it was with Abkhazia: the folks on the Maidan have been hardened and know what they are fighting for – for their country, their independence. … We have to live with them. Still neighborly. And preferably in friendship. But it’s up to them how they want to live”. The Professor of the Department of Philosophy at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations Andrey Zubov was fired for his article in Vedomosti, criticising Russian military intervention.
On 2 March, one Moscow resident protested against Russian intervention by holding a “Stop the war” banner, but he was immediately harassed by passers-by. Police then proceeded to arrest him. A woman came forward with a fabricated charge against him, of beating up a child; however, her claim, due to lack of a victim and obviously false, was ignored by the police. Andrei Zubov, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, who compared Russian actions in Crimea to the 1938 Annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, was threatened. Alexander Chuyev, the leader of the pro-Kremlin Spravedlivaya Rossiya party, also objected to Russian intervention in Ukraine. Boris Akunin, a popular Russian writer, predicted that Russia’s moves would lead to political and economic isolation.
President Putin’s approval rating among the Russian public increased by nearly 10% since the crisis began, up to 71.6%, the highest in three years, according to a poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Research, released on 19 March. Additionally, the same poll showed that more than 90% of Russians supported unification with the Crimean Republic. According to a 2021 study in the American Political Science Review, “three quarters of those who rallied to Putin after Russia annexed Crimea were engaging in at least some form of dissembling and that this rallying developed as a rapid cascade, with social media joining television in fueling perceptions this was socially desirable.”
On 4 March, at a press conference in Novo-Ogaryovo, President Putin expressed his view on the situation that if a revolution took place in Ukraine, it would be a new country with which Russia had not concluded any treaties. He offered an analogy with the events of 1917 in Russia, when as a result of the revolution the Russian Empire fell apart and a new state was created. However, he stated Ukraine would still have to honor its debts.
Around 100,000 people gathered in Crimean Sevastopol at Victory Day parade
Russian politicians speculated that there were already 143,000 Ukrainian refugees in Russia. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs refuted those claims of refugee increases in Russia. At a briefing on 4 March 2014, the director of the department of information policy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Yevhen Perebiynis said that Russia was misinforming its own citizens as well as the entire international community to justify its own actions in the Crimea.
On 5 March, an anchor of the Russian-controlled TV channel RT America, Abby Martin, criticized her employer’s biased coverage of the military intervention. Also on 5 March 2014, another RT America anchor, Liz Wahl, of the network’s Washington, DC bureau, resigned on air, explaining that she could not be “part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin” and citing her Hungarian ancestry and the memory of the Soviet repression of the Hungarian Uprising as a factor in her decision.
In early March, Igor Andreyev, a 75-year-old survivor of the Siege of Leningrad, attended an anti-war rally against the Russian intervention in Crimea and was holding a sign that read “Peace to the World”. The riot police arrested him, and a local pro-government lawyer then accused him of being a supporter of “fascism”. The retiree, who lived on a 6,500-ruble monthly pension, was fined 10,000 rubles.
Prominent dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky said that Crimea should stay within Ukraine with broader autonomy.
Tatarstan, a republic within Russia populated by Volga Tatars, has sought to alleviate concerns about the treatment of Tatars by Russia, as Tatarstan is a gas-rich and economically successful republic in Russia. On 5 March, President of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov signed an agreement on co-operation between Tatarstan and the Aksyonov government in Crimea that implied collaboration between ten government institutions as well as significant financial aid to Crimea from Tatarstan businesses. On 11 March, Minnikhanov was in Crimea on his second visit and attended as a guest in the Crimean parliament chamber during the vote on the declaration of sovereignty pending 16 March referendum. The Tatarstan’s Mufti Kamil Samigullin invited Crimean Tatars to study in madrasas in Kazan, and declared support for their “brothers in faith and blood”. Mustafa Dzhemilev, a former leader of the Crimean Tatar Majlis, believed that forces that were suspected to be Russian forces should leave the Crimean peninsula, and asked the UN Security Council to send peacekeepers into the region.
On 13 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a comparison between Crimea and Kosovo in a phone call with US President Barack Obama.
On 15 March, thousands of protesters (estimates varying from 3,000 by official sources up to 50,000 claimed by the opposition) in Moscow marched against Russian involvement in Ukraine, many waving Ukrainian flags. At the same time, a pro-government (and pro-referendum) rally occurred across the street, counting in the thousands as well (officials claiming 27,000 with the opposition claiming about 10,000).
In February 2015, the leading independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta obtained documents, allegedly written by oligarch Konstantin Malofeev and others, which provided the Russian government with a strategy in the event of Viktor Yanukovych’s removal from power and the break-up of Ukraine, which were considered likely. The documents outline plans for annexation of Crimea and the eastern portions of the country, closely describing the events that actually followed after Yanukovych’s fall. The documents also describe plans for a public relations campaign that would seek to justify Russian actions.
In June 2015 Mikhail Kasyanov stated that all Russian Duma decisions on Crimea annexation were illegal from the international point of view and the annexation was provoked by false accusations of discrimination of Russian nationals in Ukraine.
As of January 2019, Arkady Rotenberg through his Stroygazmontazh LLC and his companies building the Crimean Bridge along with Nikolai Shamalov and Yuri Kovalchuk through their Rossiya Bank have become the most important investors in Russia’s development of the annexed Crimea.
There have been a range of international reactions to the annexation. In March 2014, the UN General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution 100 in favor, 11 against and 58 abstentions in the 193-nation assembly that declared Crimea’s Moscow-backed referendum invalid. In a move supported by the Lithuanian President, the United States government imposed sanctions against persons they deem to have violated or assisted in the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. The European Union suspended talks with Russia on economic and visa-related matters, and is considering more stringent sanctions against Russia in the near future, including asset freezes. while Japan announced sanctions which include suspension of talks relating to military, space, investment, and visa requirements. The United Kingdom qualified the referendum vote in Crimea of being “farcical”, “illegal” and “illegitimate”.
The European Commission decided on 11 March 2014 to enter into a full free-trade agreement with Ukraine within the year. On 12 March, the European Parliament rejected the upcoming referendum on independence in Crimea, which they saw as manipulated and contrary to international and Ukrainian law. The G7 bloc of developed nations (the G8 minus Russia) made a joint statement condemning Russia and announced that they would suspend preparations for the planned G8 summit in Sochi in June. NATO condemned Russia’s military escalation in Crimea and stated that it was a breach of international law while the Council of Europe expressed its full support for the territorial integrity and national unity of Ukraine. The Visegrád Group has issued a joint statement urging Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and for Ukraine to take into account its minority groups to not further break fragile relations. It has urged for Russia to respect Ukrainian and international law and in line with the provisions of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.
China said “We respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. A spokesman restated China’s belief of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations and urged dialogue.
The Indian government called for a peaceful resolution of the situation. Both Syria and Venezuela openly support Russian military action. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that he supports Putin’s efforts to “restore security and stability in the friendly country of Ukraine”, while Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro condemned Ukraine’s “ultra-nationalist” coup. Sri Lanka described Yanukovych’s removal as unconstitutional and considered Russia’s concerns in Crimea as justified.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk called for a change in EU energy policy as Germany’s dependence on Russian gas poses risks for Europe.
On 13 March 2014, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned the Russian government it risks massive damage to Russia, economically and politically, if it refuses to change course on Ukraine, though close economic links between Germany and Russia significantly reduce the scope for any sanctions.
After Russia moved to formally incorporate Crimea, some worried whether it may do the same in other regions. US deputy national security advisor Tony Blinken said that the Russian troops massed on the eastern Ukrainian border may be preparing to enter the country’s eastern regions. Russian officials stated that Russian troops would not enter other areas. US Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, warned that the same troops were in a position to take over the separatist Russian-speaking Moldovan province of Transnistria. President of Moldova Nicolae Timofti warned Russia with not attempting to do this to avoid damaging its international status further.
On 9 April, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe deprived Russia of voting rights.
On 14 August, while visiting Crimea, Vladimir Putin ruled out pushing beyond Crimea. He undertook to do everything he could to end the conflict in Ukraine, saying Russia needed to build calmly and with dignity, not by confrontation and war which isolated it from the rest of the world.
United Nations resolutions
On 15 March 2014, a US-sponsored resolution that went to a vote in the UN Security Council to reaffirm that council’s commitment to Ukraine’s “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity” was not approved. Though a total of 13 council members voted in favor of the resolution and China abstained, Russia vetoed the resolution.
On 27 March 2014, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution describing the referendum leading to annexation of Crimea by Russia as illegal. The draft resolution, which was titled “Territorial integrity of Ukraine”, was co-sponsored by Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and the US. It affirmed the council’s commitment to the “sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.” The resolution tried to underscore that 16 March referendum held in Crimea and the city of Sevastopol has no validity and cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea or of the city of Sevastopol. The resolution got 100 votes in its favor, while 11 nations voted against and 58 countries abstained from the vote. The resolution was non-binding and the vote was largely symbolic.
Afghanistan, Cuba, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, and Zimbabwe have recognized the result of the 2014 referendum in Crimea.
Three non-UN member states recognized the results of the referendum: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Artsakh. A fourth, Transnistria, sent a request on 18 March 2014 to join the Russian Federation following the Crimean example and in compliance with the Admission Law provisions. The regional councils of Italy’s northern regions Lombardy and Veneto have adopted a non-binding resolution on recognizing Crimea as part of Russia.
Sanctions were imposed to prevent Russian and Crimean officials and politicians from travelling to Canada, the United States, and the European Union. They were the most wide-ranging applied to Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Japan announced milder sanctions than the US and EU. These include suspension of talks relating to military, space, investment, and visa requirements.
In response to the sanctions introduced by the US and EU, the Russian Duma unanimously passed a resolution asking for all members of the Duma to be included on the sanctions list. Head of the Just Russia party Sergei Mironov said he was proud of being included on the sanctions list: “It is with pride that I have found myself on the black list, this means they have noticed my stance on Crimea.” Russian companies started pulling billions of dollars out of Western banks to avoid any asset freeze.
Three days after the lists were published, the Russian Foreign Ministry published a reciprocal sanctions list of US citizens, which consisted of 10 names, including House Speaker John Boehner, Senator John McCain, and two advisers to President Obama. The ministry said in a statement: “We have repeatedly warned that sanctions are a double-edged instrument and would hit the United States like a boomerang”. Several of those sanctioned responded with pride at their inclusion on the list, including John Boehner, John McCain, Bob Menendez, Dan Coats, Mary Landrieu, and Harry Reid.
On 24 March, Russia imposed retaliatory sanctions on 13 Canadian officials including members of the Parliament of Canada, banning them from entering Russia. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, said the sanctions were “a badge of honor.” Former Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler also said that he considered the sanctions a badge of honor, not a mark of exclusion.
In March 2014, The Christian Science Monitor reported, “The good news is that so far, Russia has shown no inclination to use the Northern Distribution Network as leverage in the wake of US retaliation for its troop movements in Crimea.”
Expanded Western sanctions in mid-March coursed through financial markets, hitting the business interests of some of Russia’s richest people. The Americans centered on the heart of Moscow’s leadership, though the EU’s initial list shied from targeting Putin’s inner circle. As ratings agencies Fitch and Standard & Poor’s downgraded Russia’s credit outlook, Russian banks warned of a sanctions-induced recession, the country braced for capital outflows for the first three months of 2014 to reach $70 billion, more than the entirety of outflows for 2013, and Russian government-bond issues plummeted by three-quarters compared with the same period the previous year. Novatek, Russia’s second-largest gas producer, saw $2.5bn in market value wiped out when its shares sank by nearly 10%, rendering Putin’s close friend Gennady Timchenko, who has a 23% stake in the company, $575m poorer. “I do hope that there is some serious diplomatic activity going on behind the scenes,” said one Russian banker, though others were more sanguine on the question of whether the sanctions would have any enduring effect, and Russians, top and bottom, seemed defiant. The official Russian response was mixed.
The then Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation Alexey Ulyukaev said that introduction of sectoral sanctions will lead to a serious decline of the Russian economy: economic growth of Russia will become seriously negative, the growth of volumes of investment will be even more negative, inflation will rise, and government revenues and reserves will go down.
As well as differences between the United States and Europe as a whole as to how to respond to the Russian-backed incursion, those same differences have played out among Eastern European countries.
A number of Russian citizens reported that they have been denied European visas after they visited Crimea after annexation. A Russian consumer protection watchdog OZPP published a warning for Russian tourists about this risk, explaining that from the international law point of view, Crimea is an occupied territory, after which Roskomnadzor blocked the OZPP website “for threatening territorial integrity of Russian Federation”.
In response to having its voting rights revoked, Russia in June 2017 suspended its budget payments to the Council of Europe, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stating payments would not resume until all rights of Russia’s delegation were fully restored. Council Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland has suggested lifting the sanctions to avoid the impact of mounting budgetary restraints. However, Council members such as Ukraine and its supporters have argued that readmitting Russia without demanding concessions in return would amount to “caving to Russian ‘blackmail'”.
Percentage of people that indicated Russian as their native language in the 2001 Ukraine census. Sevastopol identifies itself as the highest at 90.6% followed immediately by Crimea at 77.0%.
Blockade of military units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine during the capture of Crimea by Russia in February–March 2014
Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukraine blocked the North Crimean Canal, which provided 85% of Crimea’s drinking water.
International reaction to the 2014 Crimean crisis according to official governmental statements.
5 things to know about why Russia might invade Ukraine – and why the US is involved
U.S. officials ordered most of the U.S. embassy personnel in Kyiv to evacuate on Feb. 12, as they warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could come any day. President Joe Biden cautioned Russian President Vladimir Putin of “swift and severe” costs of any such invasion.
Russia has amassed an estimated 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine over the past several months. The U.S. has responded by sending several thousand troops to two of Ukraine’s neighboring countries: Poland and Romania.
In mid-January, Russia began moving troops into Belarus, a country bordering both Russia and Ukraine, in preparation for joint military exercises in February.
Putin has issued various security demands to the U.S. before he draws his military forces back. Putin’s list includes a ban on Ukraine from entering NATO, and agreement that NATO will remove troops and weapons across much of Eastern Europe.
There’s precedent for taking the threat seriously: Putin already annexed the Crimea portion of Ukraine in 2014.
Ukraine’s layered history offers a window into the complex nation it is today — and why it is continuously under threat. As an Eastern Europe expert, I highlight five key points to keep in mind.
What should we know about Ukrainians’ relationship with Russia?
Ukraine gained independence 30 years ago, after the fall of the Soviet Union. It has since struggled to combat corruption and bridge deep internal divisions.
Ukraine’s western region generally supported integration with Western Europe. The country’s eastern side, meanwhile, favored closer ties with Russia.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine peaked in February 2014, when violent protesters ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, in what is now known as the Revolution of Dignity.
Around the same time, Russia forcibly annexed Crimea. Ukraine was in a vulnerable position for self-defense, with a temporary government and unprepared military.
Putin immediately moved to strike in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The armed conflict between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed over 14,000 people.
Unlike its response to Crimea, Russia continues to officially deny its involvement in the Donbas conflict.
What do Ukrainians want?
Russia’s military aggression in Donbas and the annexation of Crimea have galvanized public support for Ukraine’s Western leanings.
Ukraine’s government has said it will apply for European Union membership in 2024, and also has ambitions to join NATO.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who came to power in 2019, campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption, economic renewal and peace in the Donbas region.
In September 2021, 81% of Ukrainians said they have a negative attitude about Putin, according to the Ukrainian news site RBC-Ukraine. Just 15% of surveyed Ukrainians reported a positive attitude towards the Russian leader.
Why is Putin threatening to invade Ukraine?
Putin’s decision to engage in a military buildup along Ukraine is connected to a sense of impunity. Putin also has experience dealing with Western politicians who champion Russian interests and become engaged with Russian companies once they leave office.
Western countries have imposed mostly symbolic sanctions against Russia over interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential elections and a huge cyberattack against about 18,000 people who work for companies and the U.S. government, among other transgressions.
Without repercussions, Putin has backed Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown on mass protests in the capital city, Minsk.
In several instances, Putin has seen that some leading Western politicians align with Russia. These alliances can prevent Western countries from forging a unified front to Putin.
Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, for example, advocated for strategic cooperation between Europe and Russia while he was in office. He later joined Russian oil company Rosneft as chairman in 2017.
Other senior European politicians promoting a soft position toward Russia while in office include former French Prime Minister François Fillon and former Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl. Both joined the boards of Russian state-owned companies after leaving office.
What is Putin’s end game?
Putin views Ukraine as part of Russia’s “sphere of influence” – a territory, rather than an independent state. This sense of ownership has driven the Kremlin to try to block Ukraine from joining the EU and NATO.
In January 2021, Russia experienced one of its largest anti-government demonstrations in years. Tens of thousands of Russians protested in support of political opposition leader Alexei Navalny, following his detention in Russia. Navalny had recently returned from Germany, where he was treated for being poisoned by the Russian government.
Putin is also using Ukraine as leverage for Western powers lifting their sanctions. Currently, the U.S. has various political and financial sanctions in place against Russia, as well as potential allies and business partners to Russia.
A Russian attack on Ukraine could prompt more diplomatic conversations that could lead to concessions on these sanctions.
The costs to Russia of attacking Ukraine would significantly outweigh the benefits.
While a full scale invasion of Ukraine is unlikely, Putin might renew fighting between the Ukrainian army and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Why would the US want to get involved in this conflict?
With its annexation of Crimea and support for the Donbas conflict, Russia has violated the Budapest Memorandum Security Assurances for Ukraine, a 1994 agreement between the U.S., United Kingdom and Russia that aims to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty in exchange for its commitment to give up its nuclear arsenal.
Putin’s threats against Ukraine occur as he is moving Russian forces into Belarus, which also raises questions about the Kremlin’s plans for invading other neighboring countries.
Military support for Ukraine and political and economic sanctions are ways the U.S. can make clear to Moscow that there will be consequences for its encroachment on an independent country. The risk, otherwise, is that the Kremlin might undertake other military and political actions that would further threaten European security and stability.
Putin can sense weakness, indecisiveness and lack of experience. He annexed Crimea under the Obama administration and now he his trying to take back the Ukraine under Obama II, the Biden years. Russia is already the largest country in the world, so what does Putin want? He may have a lot of land mass, but most of it is undeveloped and explored as far as resources go. He has the largest forests in the world, he has vast reserves of fossil fuels, so what does he want? The problem is the his GDP in very anemic compared to the size of his country. While Russia is 15 x the size of Germany their GDP is the same. They just don’t have the resources left after keeping their military and nuclear arsenal going to develop their resources. While the Ukraine is rich in resources. Resources which are already developed and are much closer to population areas. Besides Russia has not recovered from the embarrassment of losing the cold war to the US. So there you have it, pride and poor decision making and maybe even paranoia are some of the driving forces behind Putin decisions. The final part in this three part series is a discussion in how Russia and China are working together to vanquish the US.
youtube.com, “Russian Federation Explained.” By VanDeGraph; csce.gov, “Russian Federation.” By Rachel Bauman; smarthistories.com, “Russian Federation 1991-“; en.wikipedia.com, “Annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation.” By Wikipedia Editors;
news.yahoo.com, “5 things to know about why Russia might invade Ukraine – and why the US is involved”;
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