President Vladimir Putin has been given the nod of approval by Russia's parliament to use military force in Ukraine, according to the Associated Press.
Crimea is geographically, and culturally, at the crossroads of East and West. Here are five things to know about the peninsula.
1. Formerly ruled by Moscow
In the midst of World War II, the Red Army took Crimea from the Nazis in 1944. It stayed under Moscow rule until 1954, when Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, transferred the peninsula to Ukraine — then a U.S.S.R. territory known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
2. Turned Ukrainian post-USSR
When the U.S.S.R. collapsed in 1991, Crimea became part of an independent Ukraine, but with strings attached. While many Crimeans wanted Russia to demand that their peninsula be transferred back, it instead got negotiated into being allowed to govern itself as a separate, autonomous republic. Only 54 percent of Crimean voters were behind the idea of leaving Russia at the time — a relatively low percentage compared with the rest of Ukraine.
3. Still very ethnic Russian
In Crimea today, more than two-thirds of the population identify Russian as their native tongue, making it the most densely ethnically Russian area in Ukraine. Politically, the republic aligns sharply with other ethnically Russian areas, too. Below are two charts highlighting its polarized voting records in 2010's elections (a bigger version can be viewed here).
4. Hosts Russian navy base
Though Crimea is within Ukraine’s borders, the republic hosts one of Russia's major naval bases in Sevastopol. Just after the fall of the U.S.S.R., Russia and Ukraine split the Soviet Black Sea Fleet between them on the condition that Russia got to rent a base there for at least 20 years. In 2010, the lease got an additional extension until 2042.
5. Major natural gas network
An estimated 30 percent of Europe's natural gas is transported through a web of pipelines from Russia by the Moscow-run company OAO Gazprom. Crimea and other parts of Ukraine host many of these pipelines. In 2006 and 2008, Putin used the system's location to his advantage in disputes with Ukraine. He threatened to shut off the gas flow to Europe — and essentially cause a continental shortage — if Ukraine did not concede in pricings and volumes.
Anna Maria Dyner, an Eastern European analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, told Bloomberg on Friday: “Ukraine is an important gas transit country to Europe and a conflict would probably damage pipelines, further harming ties with the West. This would damage the Russian economy, which is the last thing Putin wants right now, just as they’re thinking about reforms amid weak growth."
How will tensions in Crimea affect Ukraine's political future?
Will Crimea side with the East or the West?
Is there a danger of regional violence breaking out?
We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.
This panel was assembled for the broadcast of “Inside Story.”
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