Thinking Aloud: Crimea, Remember Crimea?

Mar. 19, 2015 by Darius

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Russia’s formal annexation of Crimea.  Crimea?  Yes, everyone forgot about Crimea.  The subsequent insurgency in eastern Ukraine caused Crimea to largely drop off the world’s radar screen.

When all the world turned to watch Russia host the Sochi Winter Olympics in February 2014, Crimea was still an uncontested part of Ukraine.  By the eve of the Olympics’ closing ceremony, though, Russian president Vladimir Putin was reportedly holding an all-night meeting that discussed, among other things, using the cover of Ukraine’s Euro-Maidan protests to “return” Crimea to Russia.  Within a month, Crimea had held a “referendum” on its future (a referendum rather reminiscent of the wedding in The Princess Bride, “Man and wife.  Say ‘man and wife.’”) and had been annexed by Russia.

At the time, Crimea’s annexation prompted widespread international condemnation and sanctions against Russia by the EU and US.  But then Russia upped the ante, supporting an armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine.  Suddenly, people were dying and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were displaced.  Crimea seemed like small potatoes.  Since then, diplomacy has focused on stopping the fighting in eastern Ukraine, not on regaining Crimea for Ukraine.  

Going forward, it is likely that most of the world will continue to refuse to recognize Crimea as part of Russia but will do little about it.  One can only wonder how many Ukrainians would tacitly agree to abandon Crimea in return for peace in eastern Ukraine.

Arguably, that was Mr. Putin’s goal all along: by giving Ukraine and the West something more pressing to concern themselves with, Russia’s interference in eastern Ukraine drew attention away from Crimea, demonstrated Russia’s ability to cause trouble for Ukraine indefinitely if it so chooses, and provided a bargaining chip for the world’s eventual acquiescence to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Sometimes bullies do get what they want.  Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t read much history.

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