Without firing a shot, Russia effectively took control of the Crimean Peninsula this weekend. Unidentified troops on the ground demanded declarations of loyalty to Crimea's new pro-Russian authority. The head of Ukraine's navy, Rear Adm. Denys Berexovsky, swore allegiance to Crimea's pro-Russian authority on Sunday.
Leaders in Ukraine's capital of Kiev and other world capitals fear the country's eastern regions may be next. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that it is necessary for his country's troops to be in Ukraine after the recent political transition.
Phone calls from European and U.S. leaders to Moscow have fallen on deaf ears. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Kiev Tuesday night to show support for the new Ukrainian government.
We consulted three experts on the anatomy of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine.
Inside Story: Why Crimea?
Dmytro Shulga: It is pretty easy for Russia to invade because there is a military base that has been there since the 1990s. The Russians are authorized to have a permanent military presence there, especially in Sevastopol. What we see now is that they have emerged from these boundaries and occupied the whole peninsula with the help of additional troops.
Has Crimea always been an area with a lot of Russian-speaking Ukrainians?
The Crimean peninsula’s indigenous population is Crimean Tatars. They were running their own state until 18th century when they were captured by Russian Empire. By the end of the 19th century, the majority of Tatarns became Russian. It was Stalin’s decision to expel them in 1944 during the war. The Tatarns were allowed back to Crimea when the USSR was falling. Most of them consider Russia today the heir of these original abusive regimes and so the Tartans loyalties now fall with Ukraine.
In the 1950s, Crimea was given to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Why? The majority of commentators say Russia was just giving presents to Ukraine. This is absolutely stupid, because the most legitimate claim is to Ukrainian Tatars and Ancient Greeks. They could make claims to it.
International Renaissance Foundation
Given Crimea’s dependence on Ukraine, doesn’t Ukraine have more leverage?
This is one of the explanations Russians give as to why it was a present to Ukraine. It is dependent on the mainland for energy and transportation. There are people saying, “Crimea, how can you be independent without Ukraine? How could you be part of Russia without Ukrainian resources?” So far, Ukraine is unwilling to apply strict measures. It is considering measures against the Russian military.
Crimea — can you give us a sense of the place?
Hannah Thoburn: Crimea holds an important and romantic place in the minds of many Russians and in Russian folklore. It was built by the czars between the 1840 and 1860s, where they built beautiful palaces along the coast. It was never conquered by the Russian empire, instead was run by the Crimean Tatar Khantes. Today the population takes pride in living in the autonomous republic of Crimea, with its separate government and separate constitution. There is a great deal of national pride in Crimea.
When did problems begin?
In 1944, when Soviet leader Joseph Stalin kicked the Tatars out of their homeland and moved them to Central Asia. Stalin then imported millions of Russians to take their place. Crimea became an important military installation during the Cold War and still is. The regions provides the only access to a warm water port, with its outlet to the Black Sea. There are many military bases built on the Crimean Peninsula taking advantage of strategic location.
One such base that’s been unused for decades was reactivated a few days ago by Russian troops, in the town of Dzhankoi. The more military bases reactivated around Crimea, the more airfields Russia has under its control, serving as a possible deterrent to NATO or other forces considering military action.
Eurasia analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative
What are you hearing from the Crimeans you’ve been talking to?
Many are afraid of losing their status as Russians. It is part of their deep heritage. Some feel they do not have a true sense of identity. “Ukrainian, Russian — where do I belong?”
How would you characterize Crimea?
Charles King: It has been part of Ukraine since 1991. Like other parts of Ukraine, it has significant minorities in it. More significantly, it has Russian military installations and Russian military retirees living there.
The Tatars — are they a wild card? Will they be involved in the intrigue?
They were part of a secessionist movement from Ukraine in the early 1990s. But the local Russians and Ukrainians in that period hammered out an autonomy agreement. They are, by and large, in favor of the Ukrainian central government. I do not think Tatars support a union with Russia or independence at this stage.
professor, Georgetown University
Is Ukraine viable as a sovereign entity?
Sure, it has been for 20 years. It is splitting apart because it is occupied by a foreign government. You cannot separate the current situation from a rise in anger toward the central government. This situation is what they were trying to avoid when they hammered out the agreement a few weeks ago. The protesters violated that agreement, and that is the pretext the Russians are now using. The big challenge here is turning down the rhetoric and violence at street level. And the first step to that is getting the European Union, the U.S. and Russians to sit down and talk.
Former President (Viktor) Yanukovich claims parliament violated their constitutional authority by voting him out of power. But that’s beside the point at this stage because even Russia would not want him back in power.