In a recent Russian documentary, “Crimea: Path to the Homeland,” President Putin discloses details of his role in the swift annexation of Crimea. Protests erupted in Ukraine Nov. 2013 as Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych discarded European Union trade agreements in exchange for pro-Russian policies. The protests escalated Feb. 2014; Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from office on Feb. 21, 2014. Russia infiltrated the Crimean peninsula with special forces days later and annexed the region after a swift referendum that showed massive support for Russian rule. The takeover took less than four weeks.
Crimea has a history of being controlled by neighboring forces due to its arable land and advantageous position on the Black Sea. Russia originally annexed the region in 1783. It achieved independence for a brief period after the 1917 October Revolution but soon became part of the Soviet Union in 1921 and an administrative territory of the USSR in 1945. Nikita Khrushchev forfeited the Crimea to Ukraine in 1954; however, the region maintained close ties with Russia. Ukraine continued to allow Russia to operate military bases in the Crimea. In 2014, 60 percent of Crimeans spoke Russian. In “Crimea: Path to the Homeland,” Putin maintains that he would not have invaded the peninsula if Crimeans had not demanded it. He also claims that Russia is not currently stimulating a pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine.
In April 2014, pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine declared independence and assumed control of sections of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. More than 6,000 people have died since the fighting began.
Ceasefire deals were struck Sept. 5 and on Sept. 19, but both failed to hold in the face of persistent fighting. The most recent cease-fire agreement began Feb. 15 and called for an immediate armistice in sections of Donetsk and Luhansk, a withdrawal of major weapons on both sides and an establishment of a ceasefire line that will be supervised by The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. However, the agreement maintains the existing status of the Ukrainian border until the end of 2015, allowing Russia to continue to supply separatists with reinforcements. It is clear that Russia desires autonomy for Donetsk and Luhansk; some officials speculate that Russia’s aim is to achieve autonomy in Eastern Ukraine while maintaining membership in Ukraine’s Parliament. This would allow pro-Russian seats to disrupt Ukraine’s ambitions to join NATO and the European Union.
In response to the annexation and the continued fighting in eastern Ukraine, President Obama issued an executive order in December that bans US exports to Crimea and disallows US funding for Crimean businesses. The European Union enacted similar sanctions.
Crimea’s economy is largely in disarray. The territory is still dependent on Ukraine for its electricity, food and other amenities. Between Western sanctions and the insurgence in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine is experiencing a shortage of supplies and a fall in tourism. Russia replaced the Ukrainian hryvnia with the Russian ruble causing a rise in the price of goods for Crimean consumers.
In September, amidst the chaos of the Russian takeover, the United Russia party won a majority of votes in Crimea’s first election since the annexation. Russia continues to strengthen Crimea’s defenses and recently declared its right to allocate nuclear weapons to the Crimea.
As of yet, President Obama has only approved economic sanctions on Russia and Crimea; he has stood beside Chancellor Merkel of Germany and other European nations who oppose sending arms to eastern Ukraine. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution urging President Obama to send lethal weapons to Ukraine to help end the fighting.