Special Feature

Crimean crisis: what really happened?

19 Apr,2014

Sarker Nazmus Saqib

Earlier we covered the Ukrainian crisis for our readers. This feature is about the Crimean crisis. In many ways they are the same and the root causes are the same. But the Crimean crisis has developed to become a distinct and somewhat separate event for a number of reasons. We encourage the reader to supplement this with our feature on the Ukrainian crisis for a better understanding of the situation.

Crimea is located on the southern part of Ukraine. Crimea has been a part of Ukraine since the 1950s. However, it was autonomous and had its own parliament. Sevastopol is the Crimean port city that has naval bases for Ukraine and Russia. Russia acquired a lease from Ukraine to place Russian fleet at Sevastopol. 

 

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Ukraine became independent from the former Soviet Union, which is now Russia, in 1991. Under the independent declaration Ukraine allowed Crimea certain rights as an autonomous peninsula but Crimea did not have the right to secede or separate from Ukraine and become independent.

Pro-Russian Crimeans started to demonstrate to secede from Ukraine after the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February 2014. Not all Crimeans wanted to secede from Ukraine. They also demonstrated to show their support for remaining as a part of Ukraine. One of the main reasons why Crimeans want to separate from Ukraine is that more than half of the people in Crimea are ethnic Russians. 

 

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So, after Yanukovych was ousted Crimean militia men surrounded Ukraine military bases in Crimea. The armed troops were in full assault gear and they wore ski masks. It was thought that they were actually Russian soldiers from the Russian military. They went into action and took over the parliament building in Crimea. Then they detached all channels of contact with Ukraine and cut off Crimea from the rest of Ukraine.

After that the militia men rounded up the elected officials in Crimea and they were ordered step down at gunpoint. The militia put pro-Russia politicians in their places. Those leaders then announced a referendum to secede. Not surprisingly Russian President Valdimir Putin supported this vote publicly. As we covered earlier Putin does not want Ukraine to strengthen ties with Europe. Putin went as far as saying that Ukraine and other nations that had been part of the former Soviet Union should come back under Russia and accept its authority. Putin being a former official of the KGB (Soviet intelligence agency) his support for the former Soviet Union is no secret. He calls the dismantling of the Soviet Union the greatest disaster of the 20th century.

 

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Back to the referendum, the polling took place and on March 16 the election committee under the new leaders of Crimea declared that a 96% of voters voted in favour of a union between Crimea and neighboring Russia. As expected, the results of the referendum were not without controversy. The people of Crimea were given a choice of either joining Russia or voting for more autonomy from Ukraine under the 1992 constitution. Smaller ethnic groups such as the minority Crimean Tatar Muslim community boycotted the poll.

The West, i.e. the United States and the European Union, have serious problem with the referendum that took place. The reason is obvious. The US and the EU do not want Russia to gain control of the region. So, after the referendum the US and the EU calls the referendum illegitimate, even though every people has a right of self-determination under international law. 

 

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On 17 March, the Crimean parliament declared independence from Ukraine and made a formal request to Russia asking to join the Russian Federation. President Putin claimed Crimea as a part of Russia on moral and material grounds, citing the principle of self-determination and Crimea's strategic importance for Russia.

On March 27 the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution declared the referendum invalid. 100 voted in favor of the resolution, 11 against and 58 abstentions among 193-nation states that are members. The resolution is, of course, non-binding. As a result the peninsula is now a federal subject of the Russian Federation.

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