By Trisha Roy
Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation in early 2014 and the peninsula, which was a Ukrainian territory since 1954, was then administered as two Russian federal subjects, the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. Until 2016 these new subjects were grouped in the Crimean Federal District. The annexation was accompanied by a military intervention by Russia in Crimea that took place in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and was part of wider unrest across southern and eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine and many world leaders condemned the annexation and considered it to be a violation of international law and of the Russian-signed agreements safeguarding the territorial integrity of Ukraine. These include the Agreement on Establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1991, Helsinki Accords, Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of 1994 and Treaty on friendship, cooperation and partnership between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. a violation of all these led the other members of the then G8 to suspend Russia from the group and introduce the first round of sanctions against the country.
Putin’s statement on the matter
In the backdrop of the upcoming Russian elections, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia had no intention to return Crimea back to Ukraine under any circumstances. This is not the first time Putin has made such a statement. Back in 2017 too, in response to the backlashes by US President, Donald Trump, Putin had put across the message to the world community that there was absolutely no chance of Russia returning Crimea back to Ukraine. The new American tone is a departure from opinions Trump expressed last year on the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. In an interview with ABC in July, Trump did not back away from a suggestion he had made earlier to recognize Russia’s claim on Crimea.
The situation in Ukraine and Crimea
Adherents of the Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic churches, LGBT people, those who want to maintain a Ukrainian identity, and anyone else who opposes the occupation is being forced out or forced underground. The Crimean Tatars—a minority in their homeland after facing brutal repression and deportation during Soviet rule—have been especially hit hard. Tens of thousands of people have left the peninsula since its occupation, including many entrepreneurs, civil society activists, and educational and religious leaders.
This all presents an enormous challenge to the cash-strapped Ukrainian government, which remains resolute, along with most of the rest of the world, that Crimea’s annexation was illegitimate, that it remains occupied in the Ukrainian territory, and that it must return to Ukraine.
However, if Ukraine really wants to hold onto the hope that Crimea may one day return to its fold, it must change its approach. The government has failed to enable freer reporting on Russia’s abuses, or develop ties between Crimeans and the mainland. Instead, Kiev seems to have washed its hands off the responsibility for a peninsula it no longer controls while allowing proposed reforms to bog down in bureaucracy. Not only does this hurt Crimeans, it also gives them little choice but to reorient their lives toward the Russian reality which is weakening their connections with Ukraine and making the idea of Crimea ever returning even more remote.
Failure of US and EU in punishing Russia
The West needs to recognise that Moscow remains a part of the problem in Ukraine. However, it fails to become a part of the solution. The United States and European Union should apply robust sanctions, which are already more than justified by Russia’s actions. These sanctions could include expanding the list of individual Russians—inside and outside of government—targeted for visa and financial sanctions. This could include family members as well. Another form of restriction could be applying targeted sanctions on the Russian financial sector, beginning with the sanctioning of at least one major Russian financial institution (as opposed to smaller pocket banks). Another drastic step could be to block Western energy companies from making new investments to develop oil and gas fields in Russia, just as the United States and European Union have moved to block their companies from investing in the development of oil and gas resources on the Black Sea shelf around Crimea.
In considering and applying sanctions, the U.S. government should be smart. Where possible, it makes sense to use a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer while dealing with sanctions. It also makes sense to avoid policies that would not help Ukraine and would damage other interests of the US such as halting implementation of the New START treaty or accelerating the deployment of SM-3 missile interceptors that may not be technically ready for deployment in Poland.
Putin to stay: What it means to Crimea
Putin’s approval ratings top 80 percent, making his first-round victory a certain one. Forming the base of his supporters are the blue-collar workers and state employees. He is lauded by allies as the father of the nation, a figure who has restored national pride and expanded Moscow’s global clout with interventions in Syria and Ukraine. There is no obvious successor, and many investors say the lack of a clear succession plan, and the jockeying for position among Russian elites for dominance in the post-Putin era, is becoming the biggest political risk. If Putin wins, it would help him to further extend his dominance in Russia’s political landscape into the third decade. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin is absolutely right when he says that Ukraine should show Crimeans by their own example that “their future is in a European and democratic Ukraine, and not in a Crimea under Russia’s temporary occupation.” According to most observers, however, the government has yet to establish a concrete policy on either getting Crimea back or addressing the security, cultural, and humanitarian aspects of the occupation. Unless this is resolved, Ukraine risks further alienating Crimeans and forcing them to integrate with Russia.
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