Just as a nationwide vote seemed to promise freedom for the Crimean Peninsula, Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized the seizure of two Ukrainian naval bases and now urges all soldiers to “voluntarily” leave the region.
The vote, or referendum, overwhelmingly supported Russian annexation of the Crimea region, even though that area (a part of Ukraine for decades) is geographically attached to Ukraine and only 17% of its population identifies itself as “ethnically” Russian.
In fact, a 1991 referendum revealed that 90% of the Ukrainian population, including the Crimean peninsula, supported independence from Russia.
As revealed in Nov. 2013, Russian-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych advocated closer alliance with Russia than with the European Union. Protestors ultimately prevailed over his policy and installed a temporary regime in Kiev.
Before elections could be held, however, Putin’s troops marched into the Crimean peninsula to “protect” the interest of Russians in the region, both civilians and militants.
To hasten the annexation process approved by the recent vote, the two bases have been surrounded by armed Russians and local militias; the Ukrainians inside feel helpless as their Kiev based government never authorized their armament.
“Kiev should have given the order to use weapons at the beginning, because then we could fight back, but they were afraid to give this command because they were afraid to spill blood. Now we are outnumbered and we cannot fight back,” Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Lusyan said to The Guardian.
Ukraine, by relying on Russia for its energy supply, rendered itself, and the entire Crimean region, vulnerable to Russian control.
Yanukovych’s unstable government served as the green light for Putin to go ahead with what many consider to be a “land grab”. His interest is subtly reminiscent of Hitler’s with the Sudetenland (a region Yugoslavia just as the Crimea is an area within the Ukraine).
The United Nations, and the U.S. especially, does not support Putin’s endeavors. Ukraine officials currently seek the U.N.’s assistance in, essentially, removing militants from the Crimea.
The relevance of the outcome is as simple as this: if Russia aggressively strikes any NATO ally, including Ukraine or the Crimea, VP Joe Biden confirms that the U.S. will respond while President Obama rules out military intervention. Were Putin to act, the U.S. would be pulled into diplomatic, potentially economic, debacles with a major world power.