Crimea today — what comes next? Ukraine military allowed to use force in defence against Russian troops after secession took effect today.
While Crimeans were depositing their ballots on Sunday, London-based Ukrainians marched from Marble Arch to the Russian Embassy condemning the referendum and Russia’s military invasion. The peaceful demonstration saw according to the Metropolitan Police about 2,000 individuals from different ages and nationalities — Ukrainian flags waved along with Venezuelan, Polish, Lithuanian, Estonian and even Russian banners.
A Georgian national told us, while she was covering the Russo-Georgian war in 2008 as a journalist, “a great number of experts and analysts warned that Ukraine would be next”. As most protesters, she was concerned about Russia further expanding its borders. There are several nations or provinces that could follow Crimea. This is “the fight not only for Ukraine, but for all post-Soviet countries who are still suffering [under the] imperialistic politics of Putin”, she added.
“We don’t want to be under Russian rule again”, explains PhD student and expert in Crimean Tatars and national identity Melek Maksudoglun. “The Crimean Tatars were subject to deportation in 1944 already, that’s why they are now a minority in Crimea.” According to Tatar leader Refat Chubarov, they fear yet another deportation and ethnic cleansing. Indeed, Twitter was flooded some hours ago with reports of families leaving Crimea out of fright. “Our serious worry is that there shouldn’t be large scale provocations here. We try to prevent any type of ethnic violence here. The United Nations and European Council should search for a peaceful solution to this crisis”, Chubarov explains to the BBC.
Pro-Russians celebrated on Sunday evening that 97.5% of the voters refused to remain part of the Ukrainian territory. Yet the international community has voiced the illegality of the referendum and the annexation as well as their unwillingness to recognise either. There seem to have been no official international observers to report whether pressure was exercised on constituents. Only Moscow, with military presence in most of the voting stations, has validated the referendum and subsequently the annexation. Crimea and Sevastopol have earlier today (Tuesday, 18th March 2014) become part of the Russian Federation as predicted. Putin’s speech before signing the bilateral agreement had a populist tone: he reminded the world that “Kiev is the mother of all Russian cities” and that they “couldn’t leave Crimeans in urge” as that would turn them into “traitors”. He invoked the free will of self-determination that, according to him, should be respected in Crimea. Furthermore, he firmly answered Western criticism on by saying “better late than never to remember that international law exists” in a very ironic manner. An attempt to legitimise his invasion was made by remembering the West’s actions in several Arab countries — “you turned the Arab Spring into an Arab Winter”. Russia’s PM also attempted to draw a parallel between Kosovo and Crimea to justify that a state with no international recognition is still a state. However, the crude reality clashes with Mr Putin’s idealist view. If no other nation state recognises a new entity as such, it cannot enter into the international game — in other words, with no recognition, states have no rights, no obligations and no capacity to establish bonds with other nations, etc. Crimea’s case is very different to Kosovo’s, as it is being annexed to another existing and acknowledged state instead of pursuing independence. That is, it does not necessarily need recognition at all.
Turning to supporters and objectors, he thanked China for their assistance and asked the US and Europe, especially Germany, to “understand Russia” in its will to protect its nationals.
Although Vladimir Putin said earlier today that he has no interest in pursuing further regions that are still part of Ukraine, the city of Odessa might be next in his list. The Ukrainian Government had been planning to build the first liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals near Odessa to reduce its dependence on Russian oil, especially after Russia refused to reduce their crude prices. The first stage of the project was due 2016 and its finalisation around 2018.
As these lines are being written,Ukraine has authorised its military to use weapons in self-defence. It was a foreseeable move given that, first of all, no world leader has decided to go further than visa banns and economic sanctions. Also, there are over 25,000 Russian military in Crimea — more are now being deployed to other parts of the country. Is this the trigger that will start the next war in East Europe? If so, how will the Allied nations react to it? It is unlikely that any military act is launched, even though NATO’s relationship with Ukraine has been enhanced during Yanukovich’s regime.
We will have to wait for events to unfold and see whether, as 13-year old protester Nadia told us on Sunday, “peace will come to Ukraine, my generation will be able to live in a happy Ukraine and my family there will be safe as well”.
Marta García Aliaga (@Martha_Stern) from Act Local Think Global