When the Soviet Union came to an end, so did a vast cooperative network of military bases. Ukraine, along with its autonomously ruled Crimea region, provided vast ring of key sea and air bases. Russia assumed the crown of world recognition (and more importantly, the permanent seat on the UN Security Council), but a separate Ukraine presented reach problems, much as regime changes have wrought problems for US bases found throughout the world. Russia and Ukraine entered into a treaty to solve just that problem, which included paid for leases and rents.As previous Soviet states have moved to join the EU or, improve relations with the West (collectively, Western Europe and the United States), Russia’s counter move was to establish the Customs Union, with the goal being a larger Eurasian Union. Russia and Putin have greatly desired that Ukraine, with its long shared borders with Russia, to be a member. Call the Eurasian Union notion a new Soviet dream, empire, economic union – whatever. You can paint that as a picture however you would like it.
As Russia appears to be locking in its hold of Crimea without a shot fired, interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk holds onto hope that if a war is not declared, this matter could yet be resolved. It could yet be resolved between Ukraine and Russia.
Mr Putin could resolve this, declaring that the seizure was merely to secure sensitive bases during the political upheavals in Ukraine that appear to be openly hostile against Russia – then step back to the leased bases. History is replete with aggression, and later formation of empires in the name of protecting people of similar cultures. The fact that so many people speak Russian has as much to do with sovereignty as the number of English speakers in Canada being a claim for annexing Canada. Mr Putin needs to accept that Crimea isn’t a consolation prize, and, make an attempt to set diplomacy back.
I believe Mr Putin though, likely ordered the seizure of Crimea because he views the success of the EuroMaidan as an anti-Russia coup that can never be set right – without threat of force. After now ousted Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych agreed to numerous concessions, you will recall that the EuroMaidan protests continued and resulted in Yanukovych fleeing and the opposition party gaining control of the government. The opposition leader now trying to restore order, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is viewed by many as being in the pocket of European interests.
One characteristic of the people of Ukraine that is very familiar to both US citizens and also citizens of Russia is the desire to be in control of their own destiny and be in nobody’s pocket. I believe that’s why many people in Russia are actively protesting against the seizure of Crimea – more so than what appears to be happening in the United States. Even those who have strong ties to Russia do not necessarily want to suddenly become citizens of Russia – by force.
Yatsenyuk is taking the best course available in trying to negotiate with Mr Putin, but this is not acceptance on Ukraine’s part.