At a time when countries are signing peace treaties and signing bilateral trade agreements, why would Russia violate a peace treaty that could lead to a possible war? A mere 5 years after the Global Recession that affected the world, Russia included, why would Russia threaten its own economic and industrial prosperity? At a time when countries are striving to protect their own citizens against possible and probable terror attacks, why would one nation offer citizenship and protection to an entire city of foreigners? The answers to these questions lie in the rationale behind why did Russia annex Crimea? Crimea is to Russia what PoK is to Pakistan or Aksai-Chin is to China.
To understand what exactly happened in Crimea one needs to understand the Ukrainian situation in 2014. In February 2014, the government of Ukraine was overthrown by the public. The people of Ukraine wanted the President to sign the ‘Association Agreement with the European Union’ which would allow access to free trade as well as loans to Ukraine. This would, however, complicate Ukraine’s relationship with Russia. The pro-Russian government delayed the signing of the agreement which led to public unrest and popular protests across Ukraine. On February 22nd, however, the President of Ukraine fled to Russia. Russia believed that such a coop was illegal and hence did not approve of the interim government. Taking advantage of the Pro-Russian protests spreading in southern and eastern parts of Ukraine, Russia once again annexed Crimea.
Well Crimea is a small peninsula in Eastern Europe to the south of Ukraine and west of Russia with an area approximately equal to 0.15% that of Russia. With an area so small and an economy so weak compared to the giant Russia, what does Crimea have that Russia loves so much? The answer lies in the geostrategic importance of Crimea. Being in the Black Sea, Crimea allows Russia to assume control over the entire Black Sea which allows Russia access to and military control over the entire Mediterranean region.
Russia first annexed Crimea in 1783 by a decree of Catherine the Great. The Russo-Turkish war that lasted 7 years led to a financial downfall of the Russian Empire. This allowed the Ottoman Empire, which controlled most of Europe, to assume victory, however corruption, disintegration, a unification of Persia and a militarily incompetent new wazir led to a fall of the Ottoman Empire allowing The Russian Empire to again assume control over Crimea. This has resulted in Russian leaders from Stalin to Putin to assume that Crimea had always been an integral part of the Russian Empire.
But the geographical importance and the ideological reason do not provide as much weight to the rationale as does the humiliation faced by Russia over Crimea in 1856. The ‘Paris Treaty of 1856’ was signed between the alliance of the British Empire, French Empire, Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire post the War of Crimea. The war brought Russia to the brink of collapse. It had lost 500,000 men in the war, tribal conflicts were spreading over the entire region and the growing socio-political unrest in the country. All this clubbed with the increasing expenditure of the war would mean a fall of the Russian Empire. This led to Alexander II to presume peace talks with the British and French Empire, Russia wanted to end the war while there was still some strength left in the great empire once feared by the western allies. The Paris treaty caused global humiliation to Russia as its battleships were banned from entering the Black Sea and as the Black Sea was neutralized for international trade.
Gaining control over Crimea would allow Russia to become all-powerful again and restore its once held world dominance and take revenge for the humiliation it faced at the hands of the western allies. Crimea also provides Russia with a solution to the problem of the growing American military influence in Europe.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea violated the ‘Partition Treaty on Status and Conditions of Black Sea Fleet’ of 1997 signed between Ukraine and Russia which stated that Russia shall respect the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine and shall not interfere in any internal matters. But, in March of the same year, a referendum was held which gave the Crimean population two choices-either to join Russia or restore Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine. The majority of the Crimean population around 96.77% voted in favor of joining Russia. While the United Nations and most of the western world condemned Russia for its actions calling such a referendum illegal but Russia in support of the referendum stood to believe that it had suppressed the violence in Ukraine and helped settle the matters to some extent.
The economic and political effects of this annexation of Crimea by Russia has been multi-fold. It has reduced the number of tourists that visited Crimea, particularly from Ukraine, causing a fall in income levels. A sudden increase in the population of the country and the addition of a new federal subject has increased the burden on the Russian government as it now has to provide livelihood facilities to a larger sect of people. It has to pay more salaries, pensions and other benefits. In 2015 the number of corruption cases in infrastructure projects in Crimea has increased. There have been increased cases of violence against humanity on grounds of racial discrimination against the Crimean Muslims. The Pro-Ukraine activists have been arrested and tortured. Due to a number of western sanctions, Russian companies cannot hold operations in Crimea, as a result, they have to engage intermediaries which increased the cost of production thereby reducing profits and hence income. Ukraine cut-off the water supply to Crimea which resulted in crop failure. As a result, the supply of crops declined to lead to an increase in prices and inflation.
Russia’s attempt at restoring its dormant superpower status came at the cost of innocent lives, an economic slowdown and rising prices. I believe there is always a choice, the decision of 97% of people who voted in favor of Russia was taken into account but what about the other 3%? In all such situations, the vote of the majority is taken account of. Russia’s decision to annex Crimea was taken in haste which escalated problems leading to an economic crisis, a decision which had affected the lives of people and which would affect generations to come. Similar is the situation in many other parts of the world, United States’ annexation of Hawaii, China’s annexation of Ladakh and Pakistan’s annexation of Kashmir has affected the lives of innocent people who had nothing to do with world politics.
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Currently in her second year of Economics Honours from Shri Ram College of Commerce, she is a Punjab-Delhi express that demands to be recongnised. She is an enthusiastic soul looking for happiness in small things while trying to make it big in life. From books to humans she has opinions on all, a curious soul who never gets tired of learning.