Russia Annexes Crimea: A Turkish Perspective on the Way Ahead

2014-04-21 By Ardan Zentürk

The banner hung by the demonstrators who occupied the regional government building in the center of Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine, where the Russian population is dense, can be characterized as the symbol of the new era in Eurasia: “Russia! Save us from slavery!”

The period, which began with the demonstrations that were held by the pro-Europeans in the popular square of Kiev, the Maidan, and led the president Yanukovich, who was elected with votes cast from the regions where the Russians live predominantly in Ukraine, to run away, shows that we are now facing a different Russia.

Yanukovich was a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and therefore fled to Russia.

The Russian population was peaceful and at ease in Ukraine in times when Yakunovich objected to the will of the Ukrainian people to integrate with the European Union and followed the path paved on the course of the Eurasian Economic Community led by Russia…

However, now Yakunovich has gone and Kiev is under the control of the pro-Europeans, and maybe, the forced marriage that has been pushed along since 2004 has finally come to an end.

From a realistic perspective, Ukraine actually can be defined as a country de facto split into two along the Dnieper River.

On the west side of the river, there are Ukrainian people who long for Europe while on the east side there are Russian people and those who opt for Moscow.

Nevertheless, the grandchildren of the Russian population domiciled by Stalin since 1944 in place of the Tatars that were exiled to Crimea have adopted this preference without much difficulty. They represented 65 % of the Crimean population and as the majority, they took over the control and annexed this peninsula, which used to belong to Ukraine, to Russia by means of referendum and constitutional amendments.

This development caused tensions to arise all around the world and everybody reacted to this in some way or other; however, the reactions were softer than estimated and the reason was lying in the history of Crimea.

Crimea was annexed to the territory of the Russian Empire in the late 18th century and the early 19th century. Fending off first the Crimean Khanate and then the Ottoman Empire from the region, the Tsarist Russia had thus initiated the Russianization program in the region long before Stalin.

Crimea became a part of Russia during the period of the Soviet Union.

In 1954, Crimea was annexed to Kiev by Moscow as a gesture of two close neighbors in the Soviet Union. Of course in 1954, nobody could ever imagine that the Soviet Union would be dissolved one day.

In 1991, with the dissolution of the USSR, Crimea naturally remained as a part of the independent Ukraine.

Considering these historical facts, the world regarded the annexation of Crimea as taking back the Russian territory given by the Soviet authorities to Ukraine as a gesture. Nobody ever thought that the real owner of this territory was actually the Tatars who had suffered great pains and exiles…

Now, “New Russia…”

The statements of the Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the face of these developments indicate that we are now facing a new Russia.

Putin clearly stated that the Russian people had suffered great injustice during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and they had had to put up with this at that time, but that they didn’t have to put up with such injustice anymore.

This approach stressed that a Russian, no matter where he/she lives, was under the protection of his/her homeland.

The reaction of this state, which has turned into Russian Federation with its present borders following the dissolution the Soviet Union that was derived from the Tsarist Empire, tended to see the regions where the Russians live within its own borders.

Russia forcibly annexes Crimea and then holds a referendum for inclusion. Photo Credit: C4Defence

Russia forcibly annexes Crimea and then holds a referendum for inclusion. Photo Credit: C4Defence

Although this situation could not be tolerated easily by the world, it was somehow accepted in the case of Crimea.

However, it is a clear fact that things will be very different when the Ukraine’s east regions, where the Russian people live, come into the question…

The world did not ignore Crimea, only told Putin to stop there.

However, the incidents occurred in the eastern cities of Ukraine, especially in Donetsk and Kharkiv, show that Putin is not planning to stop.

Otherwise, how could it be explained that the fully armed Russian militia gained control in the streets of eastern cities while the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the Ukrainian administration sternly about not using weapons against the Russian population living within its borders?

The first policy of Russia was to keep the republics emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union under a single roof and to strengthen its own presence in the new order. Convincing Armenia to join the Eurasian Economic Community, which was formed by Russia along with Belarus and Kazakhstan, has been the biggest success achieved so far.

Turkmenistan tries to be the independent and non-aligned Switzerland of Eurasia. Azerbaijan and Georgia seem to have taken sides with Europe and NATO while Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan try to stay away from Moscow’s guardianship as much as possible, and all these happen in a period when a powerful country like Ukraine was on the brink of siding with Moscow.

Actually Putin sees that the Shanghai Five, established by Russia and People’s Republic of China, is no more the equilibrant in the world strategy and the peoples with whom they got along during the period of the Soviet Union are increasingly drawing away.

The solution is to secure the present borders of the Russian Confederation, take control of the new separatist tendencies that may arise such as Chechnya from the beginning and include, if possible, the Russian people living outside the borders…

A big problem would emerge…

Considering the world map that has come out after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, three big countries seem to be at the target of the Vladimir Putin’s cross-border nationalist movement. Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine…

Since Belarus and Kazakhstan are now close friends with Moscow, they may not see themselves as a target, but they will absolutely think that this tendency that has begun in Ukraine could threaten their own borders one day.

Also, Moldova has to think that it may be inevitable one day for Transnistria region to become Russia’s territory as in the example of Crimea, because Transnistria shares a similar destiny to Crimea that began in 1944. In 1944, the Red Army that repelled the Nazi armies and took the control in this region blamed people living there for being Nazi collaborators just like Tatars, and in 1949 exiled these people to Siberia and Central Asia and brought Russian people instead of them.

While Moldova moved towards its independence in 1990, the people of Transnistria entered into an independence war that would last until 1992 and then wanted to be annexed to Russia. Transnistria appears to be within the borders of Moldova, but its desire to be annexed to Russia still continues. Therefore, nobody can guarantee that Putin would not include this region like Crimea into its borders and surround Ukraine from the west.

In the territory of Kazakhstan that was exposed to a serious Russianization policy in the period of the Soviet Union, the Russian people constitute 40 % of the population. In the event that Putin annexes the territories where Russian people live in Ukraine to its borders, it would be a matter of time for the northern region where Russian population is dense in this country to be separated…

Russia gives a clear message to the whole Eurasian region by means of the annexation of Crimea: Now all borders can be questioned and if necessary all borders can be changed…

 How can it be stopped?

The fact that Ukraine is on the brink of a civil war and the possible emergence of a country with different borders after a blood bath would be a quite difficult development for Eurasia to handle…

Also, in the event that the powers in the Maidan of Kiev that have taken control of the country become captive of the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian activists, this scenario for Eurasia would become quite impossible to settle…

Although the world regards the fights in Maidan and the emerging political entity as pro-European and pro-democracy, one of the facts behind the scenes is that the ultra-nationalist elements have gained more power from their social base through this movement.

Now, we are faced with a movement that excludes the Russians and tries to drive the Ukrainian communists, socialists and liberals into a corner.

Perhaps the high risk posed by this movement towards Ukraine has been better understood today because the decision taken by the Ukrainian parliament after the Yakunovich’s escape with regard to the abolishment of the Russian from the official language has already left a mark in history as a big mistake.

If Ukraine turns into a country where ultra-nationalists are too powerful and rule over everything, the conflicts will occur inevitably.

However, if the Ukrainian people can control the ultra-nationalists and agree on a new federative constitution, Eurasia and thus the whole world will be able to overcome a major tension.

Allowing the Russian people living in the east of the country to regulate their daily lives more autonomously and use their mother tongue as the official language would be an important development for alleviating the tension.

Moreover, in order to prevent Putin from repressing the borders of countries where Russians live predominantly, federative structures should be encouraged in those countries.

“New Russia” is a concept as explained above…

We will stop it by means of present democratic mechanisms or everything will get out of control and we will witness great sufferings..

This article first appeared in our partner C4Defence in their March issue and is reprinted with their permission. 

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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