The protesters also launched a signature campaign to press for a local referendum for Berlin’s city hall to expropriate properties of real estate companies
Is there any way that Russia could withdraw from Crimea and save face at home?
Imagine I asked “Is there any way the US could withdraw from Texas and save face at home?” You’d probably think I’m insane, stupid or otherwise cognitively impaired. Everyone knows Texas is part of the United States and is predominantly inhabited by citizens of the United States. All its infrastructure and industry were built as part of the United States. And even historically speaking, Texas declared independence from Mexico and joined the US, even before it became the industrial, technological and demographic juggernaut it is today. Only someone insane would ask the US to “leave” Texas.*
Well, try to step out of your Exo-Russian shoes and get yourself into the valenki of your peers that live between Vladivostok and Kaliningrad and try to see things their way.
Crimea had been part of the Russian Empire for over 60 years by the time Texas joined the American Union. Russians had started populating the peninsula and building what what would become its main urban centers. By the time the Russian Empire crumbled, Crimea had spent 134 years in Russian hands. Its main population centers had been settled and were thriving and the Russian Empire’s most important port in the Black Sea would be born.
When the revolutions came and the subsequent civil wars raged, Russians did not leave Crimea. Tatar nationalists tried to take it. Ukrainian nationalists tried to take it. And it changed hands between Red Russians and white Russians intermitently. By the end of the Civil War, some of the main Russian White forces left Russia from Crimea and Red Russians took over after them. Russians had lost control of Crimea for less than 2 cumulative years between 1917 and 1920 in the midst of a chaotic Civil war. Russian military presence, be it White, Black, Green or Red stayed in Crimea just as did much of its Russian population.
After the Civil War ended and the Soviet Union was founded, Crimea was incorporated into the RSFSR. It was not outright incorporated into the nascent Ukrainian SSR but into the nascent Russian Federation (yes, the Russian federation as much as current Belarus and current Ukraine were born within the Soviet Union). From 1922 to 1942 Crimea was industrially developed, populated and guarded by Russians. Then came World War Two.
From 1942 to 1944 Crimean nationalists sided with Nazi Germany as the latter invaded and conquered the peninsula. Russians did not leave Crimea, though, and Russian partisans stood there making things harder for Nazi Germany. In 1944, the Soviet Union regains control of Crimea and it resumed its existence as part of the Soviet Russian Federation.
From 1944 to 1954, Crimea had its autonomy within the Union downgraded and Tatars that sided or were suspected of having sided with the Germans were deported, mostly to the Central Asian republics of the USSR.**
By 1954, save for a handful of war years, Crimea had been in Russian hands for 171 years. The US celebrated the 178th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence that year.And that year is when some Soviet Authorities decided to reconfigure the internal borders of the USSR and join Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR.
For them, it made sense: Kiev was closer than Moscow, Ukrainian industry was closer than Russian industry and Ukrainian logistics could serve Crimea more easily. It didn’t have to matter – Ukraine was part of the USSR, after all. For the Russians living there, now the majority, it didn’t matter – the capital of their country was still Moscow even if administratively things changed. This marked the first time ever Ukraine possessed Crimea as such. It wasn’t Russia ceding Crimea to Ukraine or Ukraine taking it over, it was the supra-national body known as USSR making a purely administrative decision.
Between 1954 and 1991, Crimea was part of the Ukrainian SSR. And then, the authority that had decided that, disappeared. By late 1991 Russia wanted out of the Union, Ukraine wanted out of the Union and so did many other republics and their subdivisions. The top-down dismantlement of the USSR would sow confusion and misery for over a decade to come and would result in more bloodshed and deaths than the Yugoslav wars even if often presented as being of a peaceful nature. With the Soviet state gone, many organised to locally replace it and Crimea was no exception.
Crimeans organised and sought independence from Ukraine and to reunite with Russia. In the confusion that followed the dismantlement of the USSR, the Russian state was in no position to back Crimean claims and ended up settling for leaving Crimea in Ukrainian hands. Active pursuits for independence and re-unification with Russia would last until 1994 after which they would be mostly passive. It would be until 1997 that things would be settled between Russia and Ukraine with the Treaty on the Partition of the Black Sea Fleet via which both countries agreed that Russia would pay over 500 million USD a year to rent the military base at Sevastopol and keep a 20k strong military presence in the peninsula.
Russians were still the majority of inhabitants and were still the main military force in the peninsula by 1997, as they had been for most of the preceding 214 years.
And then came the Euromaidan starting as pro-European protests in 2013, the movement quickly turned violent and by Feb 20th, killing dozens of its own members in a bid to frame Viktor Yanukovich’s government, Maidan leaders took over the Ukrainian state by ousting Yanukovich on false accusations and in violation of Ukraine’s constitution.
People that had been expressing anti-Russian views for decades, who were openly sympathetic to genocidal maniacs of the past and who took to the streets in military uniforms and branding weapons, were now the de facto rulers of Ukraine and against Ukrainian law.
It was a golden opportunity for Crimeans that wanted back into Russia’s fold. In short order, not only did Crimeans mobilise to oust their Ukrainian satraps with Russian support, the bulk of Ukraine’s security forces in the peninsula switched sides to Russia in matter of days. This, more than polls and what not, reflects the state on the ground there: Crimea had always been Russian, at least for the past 231 years. Crimea had been uninterruptedly Russian since Catherine II to even after Stalin’s death, and administratively part of Ukraine under Moscow for 37. Who expected 23 years of locally contested Ukrainian independent rule would change that?
Crimea’s quality as a Russian entity was re-formalised using international law precedents like Kosovo and figures like referenda.
But, why all the fuss why all the sanctions?
On one hand, one could speculate that much has to do with the fact that the Russian state had magisterially stood its ground vis-a-vis its western counterparts on Syria by sheer use of diplomacy. Western powers resented that the Violent, Brutal and Uncivilised Russia ruled by the ruthless former KGB colonel actually prevented their Libiaization of Syria without dispatching boots.
On the other, there’s the practical issue of wealth accumulation by Western entities in Ukraine.
And yet more, the fact that NATO could not gain supremacy over one of Russia’s key military assets – Sevastopol.
The sanctions on Russia by the World Community™ are essentially a temper tantrum after failing to lure Russia into a trap and sripping it of its military HQ in the Black Sea.
The economics of the issue are not minor: As we see, Ukraine now imports coal from the US effectively subsidising dying sectors of the US industry and Russia still has a colossally important say on the hydrocarbon infrastructure that goes through and/or from the Black Sea. And it controls the meager but real natural gas deposits off the coast of Crimea.
As oil recovers its price and Russia pivots East towards the prospective superpower of the 21st century, Russia is recovering from the 2014 fall and its taking Crimea upwards from the cesspit Ukraine has become after the tremendous “success” of the maidan. In a sense, one could argue it was Russia saving Russians from disaster.
Give Fort Hood back to Mexico!
*If you think comparing Texas and Crimea is ridiculous think for a second that, when asked by Sergei Lavrov (Russia’s Minister of Foreign affairs) why Mexico voted in favor of condemning Crimea’s accession to Russia, José Antonio Meade (then Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Relations and current presidential candidate), replied that Mexico knew what it was like to have territory stripped away like that. Other Mexican diplomats, some with experience as ambassadors to the USSR, drew exactly the same comparison both to justify Mexico’s position and draw support for the post-Maidan Ukrainian regime among the Mexican population. I.e. the
**If you find this appalling, consider that states such as California were effectively built on what we now call “genocide”. At least a sizable amount of Crimean tatars remained in Crimea to actually end up forming strong political organisations and those who didn’t were still within the same country and eventually many got back to Crimea after the Soviet Union collapsed.