Monday, March 03, 2014

Crimean war

The Crimean peninsula juts out from continental Asia into the Black Sea. Its main significance has been that it is the only outlet to warm water ports of the Russian navy. It had its moment in English history when in the Crimean War of 1853-6 an alliance of Britain, France and Turkey defeated the forces of the Russian Empire. This war was famous for two reasons, first, the introduction of nursing for the wounded by Florence Nightingale and second the charge of the light brigade that was one of the greatest blunders in military history.

The Crimea is again in the news because it is the mainly Russian-speaking province of Ukraine that was claimed by and became part of the Ukraine on the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. But, it has always been predominantly Russian (ca. 70%) and its population opposed the recent removal of the elected pro-Russian President Yanukovich of Ukraine by the opposition protesters in Kiev. Pres. Yanukovich escaped from Kiev and is now in Russia. The Crimea has its own local parliament, that was taken over by pro-Russian activists and the Russian parliament in Moscow passed a resolution supporting Russian intervention in the Ukraine. Accordingly Pres. Putin ordered his troops to take over the Crimea which they are doing.

The interim Ukrainian President has warned Russia not to go any further or there will be war. If the Russian forces now invade Ukraine there will be a war between western Ukraine and Russia. This will lead to untold suffering and a spilt in Ukraine, that could lead to the eastern part of Ukraine becoming part of Russia. Pres. Obama has spoken directly to Pres. Putin and warned him to stop and withdraw Russian forces. Although the Pres. of Ukraine has appealed to the EU for assistance, it is unlikely to be forthcoming. Obama has taken the case of Ukraine to the UN Security Council, but there Russia has a veto, so not much support can come from there. The G8 has postponed its next meeting scheduled for Russia in view of this crisis.

Why is Russia eager to take over the Crimea, apart from the obvious relationship of the people there? Sevastopol has always been the homeport of the Russian Black Sea fleet, that is Russia's only outlet to the Mediterranean Sea and other southern ports. When Ukraine seceded from the Soviet Union and claimed the Crimea, Russia in effect lost that strategic advantage. There were long drawn out acrimonious negotiations between Ukraine and Russia over the fate of the Russian fleet sitting rusting in Sevastopol. Finally, in the agreement signed in 2010, Russia got two thirds of the fleet and Ukraine a third and Ukraine allowed Russia to operate its fleet autonomously from Odessa. Now Russia's grab of Crimea puts them in charge of not only the port of Sevastopol, but also the Ukrainian Black Sea fleet as well as their own. Putin is unlikely to give up such a prize and the situation seems ripe for a war between Ukraine and Russia, with unforeseen consequences.


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