Following pro-EU demonstrations in Kiev and recent events in Crimea, historic tensions between Russia and Ukraine are brought to the forefront
Ukraine has always been of keen interest to the Russians. The fate of the former Soviet Union was dependent on Ukraine twice in 1991, when Ukrainians first voted in a referendum to stay with the USSR, keeping the conglomeration of Communist states together; but, nine months later, they voted against the notion, seceding from the Soviet Union and bringing about the break-up of one of the largest empires in contemporary history.
Now, through a large-scale majority in a referendum held on 16 March, Crimeans have decided to break off from the Ukraine and join the Federation of Russia – their old imperial masters. Crimea was part of the USSR until it was made part of the ‘Republic of Ukraine’ in 1954. It remained part of the Ukraine until after the 1991 fragmentation of the Soviet Union.
The USSR may have seceded major parts of its territory in 1991, but after many years of lying in the shadows, modern day Russia looks to have re-ignited its imperial ambitions and seems set to flex its hegemonic tendency on its formerly insubordinate neighbour, which it hoped to have tamed in the times following the Cold War in order to gain access to the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Russia’s global influence
Between the period of 2009-2013, Russia contributed to 27 per cent of the recorded weapons trade to the world, which was a significant increase from 24 per cent between the period of 2004-2008. The Russian naval base of Sevastopol, on the Crimean south-western tip, has allegedly been used to extensively supply weapons to the Syrian military under Bashar Al-Assad. While globally condemned, Russia has continued to show support for the Syrian leadership and vetoed any proposed international intervention in Syria. A decade or so ago Russia may not have been so successful.
The Sevastopol naval base holds huge importance for the country. It currently holds one of the largest Naval Russian Naval fleets: ‘The Black Sea Fleet.’ In 2010, the then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a landmark treaty to extend the use of the Naval Base past the 2017 lease expiry date. Without the extension of the treaty, one of Russia’s largest naval fleets would have had to find a new base. The treaty was signed after various disputes and stand-offs between the Ukrainians and the Russians over issues such as inflated gas prices, and Ukrainians not purchasing as much gas as contracted for.
Russia’s gas supplied to the EU through gas pipelines meets 80 per cent of the EU’s gas demands. The 2010 treaty resulted in the 30 per cent reduction of gas prices and the use of the Sevastopol naval base by the Russians until possibly 2047. According to members of the Ukrainian parliament, president Yanukovych’s agreement is “a sell-out of Ukrainian national interests”.
The increasing pro-Russian stance by the Ukrainian leadership recently resulted in mass demonstrations in Ukraine’s capital of Kiev. The demonstrators in Kiev pushed for closer economic and cultural ties with Europe. The result of the demonstrations was the ousting of the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, whose government had recently sealed a $15 billion deal of Russian financial aid and a one-third discount on gas imports.
The demonstrations were portrayed by the western media as a suppressed nation’s effort for prosperity towards the progressive European Union (EU): a nation restrained by the Russian juggernaut. Counter demonstrations in the east of Ukraine and Crimea held a pro-Russian stance and have been viewed by many in the west as a regression towards its former imperial masters. A new proliferating and insidious Russian military presence has gradually taken hold of the Crimean peninsula, as well as in the east of the Ukraine, following the ousting of Ukrainian President Yanukovych.
The long-term effects of the Crimean secession are still to be felt by all parties involved, but surely there will be those left out of pocket. Some of those at potential loss may be the Crimean Muslim Tatars. The Crimean Deputy Prime Minister has recently said, “We have asked the Crimean Tatars to vacate part of their land, which is required for social needs.” With anti-Tatar sentiment brewing in Crimea and many pro-Russian militias mulling the exile of the Crimean Tatars, a repeat of what took place under Stalin in 1944 may be on the cards. This is due to alleged illegal land holdings, which were unlawfully developed after the Tatar diaspora’s return to the Crimean lands after 1991. The Crimean Tatars amount to the largest Muslim population in Ukraine, with up to 250,000 Muslims in Crimea and 300,000 in the Ukraine.
With the eastern-Ukrainian regions being majority Russian speaking and pro-Russian, are more referendums to follow?
Image from: http://theobamacrat.com/tag/president-viktor-yanukovych/
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