Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Ukrainian crisis becomes an international crisis

My blog post on Sunday about Ukraine disagreed with a New York Times analysis of the driving factors behind the crisis there, particularly the (US-centric) view that it was a hangover from the Cold War.  The writer and historian Anne Applebaum had an article in The Telegraph on Sunday that on the one hand supported my argument, and on the other disagreed with some of my other conclusions, her central argument being that it had nothing to do with ethnicity, geography or language.

With respect to Anne Applebaum, a distinguished historian and writer on Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, I disagree, and feel that her focus is too immediate term and ignores, as did the NYT piece, the larger structural factors.

What has happened in recent days in Crimea (an issue I touched upon in my original post) has shown that in that part of Ukraine at least, language and ethnicity are a factor, and a potentially explosive one at that.

Admittedly, what makes Crimea different is that the majority of the population is Russian, as opposed to Russian-speaking Ukrainians that dominate the west and south of the rest of Ukraine, and sovereignty over Crimea was transferred by the USSR from Russia to Ukraine only 60 or so years ago.  Nonetheless, it has the potential, even if not the likelihood, to ignite Ukraine into a full-blown ethnic or linguistic conflict, should Russia continue in its support for Yanukovich and, more dangerously, take military action from the naval base that it continues to operate in Crimea in support of the Russian separatists.

Adam Taylor's prescient article in Saturday's Washington Post, The battle for Kiev might be over, but is the battle for Crimea about to begin? raised the interesting idea that Ukraine lease the whole of Crimea back to Russia in return for Russia cancelling Ukraine's debt.  It is certainly an interesting idea, and could be one way out of the current crisis, but I worry that since Saturday the scales have tipped too far towards conflict for that to be an option, as fanciful as it was in the first place.

The reaction of Russian-speaking Ukrainians may be key to how the situation develops: will their support for Yanukovich wane, if he is seen as being propped up and supported by a Russia that is violating Ukrainian sovereignty.  There are already suggestions that the "armed separatists" are actually Russian soldiers.

Nonetheless, the developments there are deeply worrying.

Crimean parliament seized by unknown pro-Russian gunmen

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