What is the future of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine?

By Slava Tsukerman

The recent developments of the events in Ukraine and especially in Crimea have been covered accurately and extensively in the American media. Here is a New York Times article that, in my opinion, provides a very thorough analyses of the situation.

I was very surprised that a majority of American politicians and political journalists thought that Russian moves towards annexation of Crimea were unexpected. They blamed Vladimir Putin for “overreaction” and the CIA for not predicting this “overreaction”.

About a month ago, while watching Russian TV, I told my wife: “Don’t you think it looks like Putin is stirring up matters in Ukraine in order to have a reason to grab Crimea?”

“Sure” – she answered. “Isn’t Crimea Russian? We learned it in school. Remember, Leo Tolstoy was fighting for Sevastopol?”

Putin obviously was repeating the same strategy that he used in Georgia. On one hand he provoked Ukrainians to be more aggressive and more nationalistic; on the other hand he was stirring up Russians with propaganda tales about “Nazi” Ukrainians backed by foreign enemies of Russia. How could he “overreact” if he reacted to the situation he himself created?

What surprised me most of all was the fact that American specialists ascribe Putin’s actions to foreign policy while completely ignoring internal political reasons.

My wife and I are not knowledgeable about politics; in most cases we are politically ignorant. But we had grown up in Russia and could see what almost every Russian saw.

With protests growing and economic situation worsening, Putin needs to do something to raise his rating. Nothing can do it better then return Crimea back to Russia; a tereritory, in the opinion of the Russian majority, unfairly taken by Ukraine.

The return of Crimea to Russia would make Putin a national hero, worshipped by millions. The possibility to also grab the eastern, Russian oriented, part of Ukraine is even more alluring.

In spite of all the enormous political and economical problems attached to seizure of Crimea, the temptation was too great for Putin.

Now, when most of the steps to seize Crimea have already been taken, Putin’s situation is especially difficult.

If he backs down, the new Ukrainian government might demand he withdraw the Russian military fleet from its leased base in Crimea. This defeat would tremendously harm Putin’s popularity.

On the other hand grabbing Crimea is unquestionably the best measure to provoke Ukrainian nationalists to some actions. And their actions are exactly what Putin needs to justify moving the Russian army into Eastern Ukraine.

Given the situation, it is very difficult to predict Putin’s future actions.

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Updated: March 11, 2014 — 4:13 pm
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