Behind the crisis in Crimea

ELLIOT CHO

The volatile situation in Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine, is becoming a great concern for all those who care for Ukraine — including students at the University of Saskatchewan.

Just a few days ago, it seemed like the saga of Euromaidan — the democratization movement in Ukraine — would have a happy ending. The violence had slowed and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison.

Viktor Yanukovych, the apparent villain of this saga who’s responsible for the loss of lives, is now a man wanted for mass murder. Things would have looked well if Crimea was in a state of peace, but that is not the case.

The situation in Ukraine is still volatile as tensions between ethnic groups in Crimea rise. There are three groups that occupy this region: Russians, Tatars and Ukrainians. Currently there is protest going on in Simferopol, the capital city of Crimea, due to tensions between these groups.

A number of news organizations have reported that the hostility between the Russians, Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea has been escalating since the nomination of the new government on Feb. 26, 2014.

Crimea has been Ukrainian territory since 1954. Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the former Soviet Union, transferred the territory to Ukraine as a “gift.” After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Crimea remained as an autonomous republic within Ukraine — ironically having one of the strongest Russian influences in the country.

According to Bloomberg, 59 per cent of the population in Crimea is ethnically Russian. This is largely because of the centuries of control Russia had of the region from the 1700s to the end of the 20th century.

The strong Russian identity in Crimea continued throughout the Soviet period as the city of Sevastopol was decorated for its resistance against the Nazi invaders’ attack from 1941-42.

This strong Russian identity still exists even after the fall of the former Soviet Union, as many Russian retirees from the navy settled down in the region. The warm, sub-tropical climate made Crimea one of the best places to spend their retirement.

The Tatars and Ukrainians in the region seem to feel bitter about their Russian neighbors because they were persecuted under the Soviet rule. These two ethnic groups fear that they will lose their autonomy if Crimea becomes Russian territory once more.

The Russian community in Crimea is frustrated from what has happened in Kyiv because they fear that they would be persecuted by the Ukrainian nationalists in Kyiv — and rightly so. The gap between the ethnic groups in Crimea has already grown large and the government in Crimea is expected to hold a referendum on secession soon.

Meanwhile, Russia has held its historic role as a party crasher. On Feb. 27, 2014, Russia organized a large military drill near the Ukraine-Russian border. This fortunately did not escalate into a full-scale invasion, but some fear it might.

In his interview with CBC, Ukraine expert Adrian Karatnycky said the possibility of an actual full-scale invasion is supposedly low because Russia would suffer a high number of casualties and ruin what it has accomplished in Sochi if it were to actually invade.

However, what remains concerning is the presence of a group of heavily-armed men that have occupied the airport and parliament building in Simferopol, the Crimean capital, on Feb. 27. It is still unknown whether these men are acting under the Russian government’s order, as it has been suspected by media sources that these armed men have also hoisted the Russian flag at the top of the parliament building.

Even though the Russian government denies any direct involvement in Crimea, these are signs that there are those who want an excuse for Russia to intervene in Ukraine’s affairs.