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Issue Guide: Crisis in Ukraine's Crimea

Author: Robert McMahon, Managing Editor
March 1, 2014


The deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine's Crimea region has escalated big power tensions and fed new instability in the country following the ascension to power of a new interim leadership. The following background, analysis, and opinion articles trace the issues at stake and the consequences regionally and wider.

Armed servicemen wait in Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava. (Photo: Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters)


Crimea in History

RFE/RL: In Crimea, a Simmering Cauldron
"The emerging crisis pitting ethnic Russians seeking integration with Moscow and Crimean Tatars who wish to remain in Ukraine is emblematic of the smoldering tensions that have been a fact of daily life on the sunny Black Sea peninsula for the last quarter-century," writes Robert Coalson.


New York Times: Ukraine in Maps
"Ukraine's political split reflects a deeper cultural divide in the country. In the 2010 presidential election, the opposition won in all of Ukraine's western provinces, where most people speak Ukrainian rather than Russian and many call for deeper economic and political ties with Europe."


Wall Street Journal: Crimea Historical Timeline
"Crimea has been fought over since the dawn of time. Goths and Huns, Bulgars and Byzantines, Tatars and Turks have all vied for control of a key chokepoint on the route by which the riches of the Russian steppes have made their way to European markets further south and west."


Foreign Policy: Different Chapter, Same Book
"It is a real possibility that a separatist rebellion in Crimea, on the heels of President Viktor Yanukovych being ousted in Kiev, could split Ukraine for good. If this happens, Moscow is unlikely to formally annex Crimea -- but even an independent Crimea would probably be dominated by Russia's long reach," write Peter Eltsov and Klaus Larres.

National Interest: Spotlight on Crimea
"The Crimean population (59% Russian, 24% Ukrainian, 12% Tatar) is not viscerally hostile toward Ukraine. As in the Ukrainian East, most people there want responsible government, an end to the spiraling corruption of the Yanukovich era, and constructive relations with both Europe and Russia. However, there is a deep-seated mistrust of the Ukrainian nationalists. The Crimean legislature has repeatedly voted overwhelmingly to denounce the Maidan," write Eric Lohr and Anya Schmemann.

Sovereignty and Intervention

RFE/RL: The Budapest Memorandum and Its Relevance for Crimea
"The "Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances" is a diplomatic memorandum that was signed in December 1994 by Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. It is not a formal treaty, but rather, a diplomatic document under which signatories made promises to each other as part of the denuclearization of former Soviet republics after the dissolution of the Soviet Union," writes Ron Synovitz.

Kyiv Post: Transcript of Viktor Yanukovich Feb. 28 Press Conference
"As you know, Ukraine was seized by pro-fascist activists.They violated what was agreed with participation of the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland and representatives of the Russian Federation.

Kremlin Press Office: Russian Readout of Putin-Obama Discussion
"In reply to Mr Obama's concern over the possibility of the use of Russian armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin drew his attention to the provocative and criminal actions on the part of ultranationalists who are in fact being supported by the current authorities in Kiev."

White House Press Office: U.S. Readout of Putin-Obama Discussion
"President Obama told President Putin that, if Russia has concerns about the treatment of ethnic Russian and minority populations in Ukraine, the appropriate way to address them is peacefully through direct engagement with the government of Ukraine and through the dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As a member of both organizations, Russia would be able to participate."

Russia and Its Motives

Q&A with Mark Galeotti: Russian Military in Ukraine
"[The Russian military] is not at the level of the American or British or German military, but it's better than in the 1990s. The [Russian] military is good at bullying small neighbors, but it would not be effective against NATO. It would not be able to defeat China."

Window on Eurasia: Putin's Plan for Crimea 'Perfectly Transparent'
"Despite discussions in Moscow, Kyiv and the West about what the Kremlin plans to do in Crimea, Vladimir Putin's plans for "separating Crimea from Ukraine" are "perfectly transparent" and are likely to go ahead if they are not blocked by some unexpected development, according to Leonid Radzikhovsky," writes Paul Goble.

New Yorker: Putin Goes to War
"Putin's reaction exceeded our worst expectations. These next days and weeks in Ukraine are bound to be frightening, and worse. There is not only the threat of widening Russian military force. The new Ukrainian leadership is worse than weak. It is unstable," writes David Remnick.

Foreign Affairs: Putin's Play: What Happens After Russia Intervenes in Ukraine?
"If Russian troops advance into Ukraine proper, Kiev's only course of action may be to state, unilaterally, that Crimea and the southeast are no longer parts of Ukraine and then deploy its army to the borders of those eastern provinces that are solidly pro-Ukrainian. In this kind of worst-case scenario, a desperate Ukraine might just succeed in holding the line or, if the road to Kiev is clear, the West might finally intervene forcefully to protect the international order," writes Alexander Motyl.

Policy Options

Bloomberg: U.S. Lawmakers See Sanctions Not Troops as Response
"U.S. lawmakers from both parties urged President Barack Obama to lead an international effort to impose diplomatic and economic sanctions on Russia if it attacks Ukraine, though they stopped short of calling for armed intervention," write Derek Wallbank and Silla Brush.

AP: Limited Options for U.S., Europe in Ukraine
"Because Ukraine does not have full member status in NATO, the U.S. and Europe have no obligation to come to its defense. Broader international action through the United Nations seems all but impossible, given Russia's veto power as a member of the Security Council," writes Julie Pace.

NYT: Making Russia Pay? It's Not So Simple
"Finding powerful levers to influence Mr. Putin's decision-making will be a challenge for Mr. Obama and the European allies. Mr. Obama has seen repeatedly that warnings often do not discourage autocratic rulers from taking violent action," writes Peter Baker.

Carnegie Endowment: Keep a Lid on Crimea
"The mounting conflict over the status of the autonomous republic of Crimea deserves an urgent, careful response. Of all the potential conflicts in postrevolutionary Ukraine, none is more important than a serious crisis in Crimea, which could lead to a hot war in Ukraine and dramatically increase tensions between Russia and the West," write Dmitri Trenin and Andrew Weiss.

The Atlantic: How Should the U.S. Deal With Vladimir Putin?
"Experts say Putin is still determined to include Ukraine in Russia's self-declared "sphere of influence." And he will continue to re-assert Moscow's place on the world stage by obstructing American diplomatic efforts in Syria, Iran, and other countries," writes David Rohde.

Financial Challenges


BBC: What Economic Help for Ukraine?
"The changing political situation has been followed by tentative signs that Europe, the United States and the International Monetary Fund may be willing to provide financial assistance. The country's finance ministry has said that $35bn (£21bn) will be needed over the next two years," writes Andrew Walker.

Der Spiegel: The Uncertain Future of Ukraine's Finances
"Russia's government has made clear that it rejects the current political changes in Ukraine. If the IMF and EU step in with aid, it remains to be seen the degree to which Russia might economically sabotage the country," writes David Boecking.

CNNMoney: Egypt's 2011 Uprising Is a Cautionary Tale for Ukraine
"As Egyptians have made clear on social media, their experience is a cautionary tale for Ukrainians. Egypt's present political uncertainty, its instability, and its spasms of violence might have been avoided had the country's leaders -- first military commanders and then the Muslim Brothers -- provided an opportunity for Egyptians to process their grievances through democratic institutions," writes CFR's Steven Cook.

Internal Divisions

CFR Video: Ukraine's Road Ahead: Three Things to Know
Ukraine's new government faces multiple challenges in the coming weeks. However, a successful and careful transition could usher in a new era for the country, bringing in political and economic reforms that afford it more autonomy away from Russia's sphere of influence, says CFR's Charles Kupchan.

Foreign Affairs: Ukraine in Context
"The gist of Ukraine's Euromaidan was aptly summed up in leaflets recently distributed around Kiev that featured a big X over former President Viktor Yanukovych's crown-bedecked head. Indeed, current events in Ukraine bear more in common with Europe's anti-monarchical grassroots uprisings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries than with more recent rebellions," writes Serhiy Kudelia.

Weekly Standard: Ukraine: The Day After
"Ukraine's opposition is not unified. The revolution is not over. And there will be nothing "velvet" about it. A new government will not find it easy to tear itself away from oligarch money and the corruption that is part and parcel of Ukrainian life at all levels," writes Jeffrey Gedmin.

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