Crimea and eastern Ukraine: Things can always get worse

Thursday, March 6, 2014

While things in the Crimea are bad, it could always get worse. Conflict between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine would make the events taking place in the Crimea look relatively simple by comparison.
While there are ethnic Russians in both the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, the situations in the two regions are different. The Crimea, unlike eastern Ukraine, is a republic. It is in fact a ‘mini-republic,’ one of the smaller entities within the fifteen Soviet Socialist Republics that became independent during the time that the USSR was breaking up in 1991.

I’ve written a lot about ‘mini-republics,’ a term I’ve used to describe the smaller entities that were within the Fab 15 republics of the USSR. The Fab 15 all became independent during the time that the USSR was breaking up in 1991. Since then, most of the major confrontations taking place in post-Soviet space have resulted from disputes over the borders of these mini-republics. Such has been the case with Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, and now the Crimea as well.

Crimea: tough options

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

One thing that I’ve been struck by with regard to the events relating to the Crimea is how little people in the US seem to care. I guess this shouldn’t be a big surprise—since when do Americans care much about foreign policy? Compared, say, to the ways in which ordinary people in the US became agitated about Kuwait in the aftermath of Iraq's invasion in 1991, American interest in Russia and the Crimea has been very tepid this week. 
The reason, I think, is because Americans take their cues on matters like this from the President. Americans cared about Iraq in 1990 because they understood that Bush was going to do something. People realize, I think, that Obama will do nothing exciting regarding the Crimea so their concentration is elsewhere.

Russia and the politics of citizenship

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

One less-noted aspect regarding the events taking place in the Crimea is the role that citizenship has played in the conflict. In the Washington Post this morning, there's a small piece by Eric Lohr on a phenomenon that I've mentioned a couple of times in this blog:

According to existing Russian law and generally accepted international practice, citizenship is normally granted only to individuals residing within the country. However, the Russian Federation has waived the normal residence requirements and waiting periods before to naturalize populations outside its borders. In the Georgian territories Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia allowed thousands of natives of the region to naturalize by expedited procedures during a controversial naturalization drive in the summer of 2002 and sporadically afterwards, then expanded this program during and after the war. According to the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia, this provided a justification for intervention (to protect “Russian citizens”) and a legal means to meld the regions into the Russian sphere after Russia recognized the two areas as independent states (a recognition that the rest of the world has not endorsed).

It's an interesting issue, and there now are indeed reports that, as was the case with Abkhazia, Russian officials have been distributing passports in Ukraine for some time. These reports correspond with older rumors that such a practice was indeed taking place.

Crimea: More than just a war

Sunday, March 2, 2014

These are pretty old, but I wanted to put up some photographs documenting what a special and beautiful place the Crimea is.

I've made two trips to the Crimea in my life. The first time was in 1994, a couple of years after I'd started living in Istanbul. It was part of a ten-week trip that I took through Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Moldova, but unfortunately my camera was stolen in Varna, Bulgaria on my way back to Istanbul and with it all of my undeveloped film.

More thoughts on Crimea

Saturday, March 1, 2014

There's a piece I noticed yesterday in the Washington Post on the Crimea--it turns out that to 'understand' Crimea, you have to at least take a look at its history.It's nice to know that the Crimea is understandable, but it is kind of a bummer to think that I'd have to go through the trouble of 'taking a look at its history' first.
More seriously, there is a problem in the piece (or at least something I don't understand). The piece’s author, Adam Taylor, writes "[w]hen Ukraine held a referendum on independence in December 1991, 54 percent of Crimean voters favored independence from Russia."

That would be independence from the USSR, not Russia.
The quotation links to a 2002 book by Mark Beissinger, an expert on the region and a political scientist from Princeton. But Beissinger’s point is that, because of the large Russian population in the Crimea, there was less support for independence from the USSR. In other words, little enthusiasm for Ukrainian independence. But there's a huge difference between favoring, in 1991, 'independence from Russia' and preferring to break away from the USSR.