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Sovereignty vs Self-Rule: Crimea Reignites Battle
Inclusion of Russia into Georgia in 2008 provoked political fear among the west political arena and the media. They dreaded that similar intervention by the Russian military would be possible in other CIS (Commonwealth Independent States) with minority states such as Crimea of the larger Russian community. Crimea was part of the imperial Russia until 1954 when it was handed over to soviet Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev, the secretary general of communist party and Soviet Union. In 1991 it joined the independent Ukraine community while concurrently the Soviet Union broke apart. The question of Crimea region is often interpreted as a problem from the Russian community. Fear arose due to the Ukrainian domestic politics as well as the Russian external ambitions. The Crimean situation is interlinked and inseparable to the Russian-Ukrainian political relations (Hedeskog, 2008).
An interesting element of the argument amid Russia and Ukraine is that Ukraine has a minority of 11.3million Russian population .A large number of this population resides in Eastern Ukraine; while it represents a majority population of the Crimean population. Approximately sixty seven percent of the Crimean populations were Russians while Ukrainians were only twenty five percent of the total local population. Moreover, the traditional Ukrainians in Crimea considered Russian as their native mother tongue. Though self-identification does not follow distinct ethnic lines this was not the case after the conduction of the 1991 vote for independence which got nearly fifty four percent of support in line with ethnic division. This displayed the ethnic ridge amid these two ethnic groups. The division between is an image of the political scene not only in Crimea but in the entire Ukraine. Crimea was the region that was in dispute of Ukrainian independence. The entire Ukraine regions were in unanimous support for the nation's sovereignty. It may easily be concluded that the Ukraine's Russian population is rebellious to national interests of Ukraine. However, from another perspective it is true to say that Russians have a different vision of their country. Crimea, besides the quagmire surrounding it is the only region in modern Ukraine that has been able to enjoy the benefits of an independent republic. This shows the distinctly peculiar state of the political climate of Crimea (Trenin, 2008).
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the military coalition brought together in 1947 in order to offset the threat posed from the Soviet Union. Ukraine's decision to become a member of this organization has been a major factor in shaping the current political situation in the region, especially the intensification in groups that support Russia. The decision of Ukraine to become a member of NATO has led to conflicts between the Eastern European nation and Russia which views the organization as a threat to its national security as well as foreign policy (Bukkvoll, 2001). These changing relations between the two countries are the backdrop through which there has been a rise in pro- Russian political parties as well as civil society organizations in Crimea. In an attempt to ensure that Ukraine does not get admitted into NATO and also to prolong the Sevastapol's military base lease where the Russian Black Fleet is positioned, Russia has tried to blow the danger posed by these political and cultural associations out of proportion. However, several analysts have argued that the small groups in Crimea who are agitating for the region's the independence are insignificant and could not possibly cause any major threat to the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Currently, Crimea has attracted the attention of the West, albeit temporarily, due to the political turmoil within the Eastern Ukraine. But the current situation cannot be understood without a closer look at the history of the area, both distant and recent (D'anieri, 1999).
Crimean Historical Relevance
The space which Ukraine occupies has always been strategically important to whichever power is in control of the region at any given time. As a result this space and its residents have always been governed by one foreign power or another. It is the first time that the borders within which Ukraine is established as a sovereign state have the right of self-determination in its long history. Ukraine has been under the rule of major powers such as the Ottoman Empire, the Commonwealth of Polish-Lithuanian, the Crimean Khanate and Muscovy. In more recent history, the space has been governed sporadically by the Russian, the Ottoman and the Habsburg empires (Mizrokhi, 2009). The Crimean Peninsula is located in the South Eastern Ukraine. In the past, its strategic position was fought over mostly by the Russian and Ottoman empires. Their occupation of the region has greatly influenced every aspect of the culture of Crimea. The reason that this area was important to these major powers is that it separates the Azov from the Black seas. Any power seeking to be in control of the maritime bodies would have a great advantage over its rivals simply by having control over the Crimean Peninsula (Kuzio, 2006).
Crimea spent two centuries under the colonial rule of the Russians, both the Imperial and Soviet Russia. Probably because Russia was the last outside power to govern Crimea, its presence in the region changed the country's ethnic and political composition. Crimea was obtained by Russia after a couple of campaigns targeted at the Ottoman Empire. It came under Russian rule in 1783. Surprisingly Crimea is never presented in either Tsarist or Soviet history as the region of one ethic group, despite this being the reality. It is the Tatar National assembly named Krultav that brought back the use of the name Crimea (Qirim) through the slogan 'Crimea for Crimeans' during the October revolution. In the revolution, the Tartans wanted to achieve self-determination in the Russian federation. The National assembly joined hands in this quest with the National party, Milli Firqa, to demand for the autonomy of Crimea (Sasse, 2007).
Instead of Obliging to their demands, the Russians responded by silencing the intellectuals among the Tatars. The 1930s which were an era of repression in the Soviet Union saw some forty thousand Crimean Tartars being deported to Siberia. Those who survived during that period suffered the same fate after the Second World War. They were deported to the Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan among many other states in the Soviet Union. Soviet policies of regional growth and development led to Slavic influx into Crimea (Sasse, 2007).This influx made the tartans, who had a long history on the territory and felt that Crimea belonged to them, feel like they were the foreigners. There was a lot of emphasis on a Crimea that was more Slavic than anything else, therefore alienating the natives. This was a Stalinist strategy to completely remove any Crimean Tatars in the territory, who had survived after the deportations in 1944 (Sasse, 2007).
In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev decided to hand over Crimea to the Ukraine. Notwithstanding that this period was characterized by de-Stalinization which occurred after the death of the leader, there are no other clear motives that point to the reason why Krucchev made the transfer of Crimea (Sasse, 2007). What remains a fact however is that by the time of the transfer, the linguistic and ethnic makeup in Crimea was different from what it had previously been. The reasons for this change are directly related to the Soviet policies of regional development and deportation of Tartans as well as silencing of the intelligentsia.
In the past, Crimea was a region with non-Russian roots. However, the time when Crimea belonged to Russia a lot of Russian history was added to the region. Another factor that demonstrates the multiethnic nature of Crimea was the deeply rooted, emblematic, literary as well as historical memoirs that can be used to lay claim on the territory by different groups (Sasse, 2007). There are three opposing views about the history of Crimea presented by three groups. The Tatars view the region as their only homeland, citing their statehood between the 15th and 18th centuries as considerable evidence. The Russians view Crimea as a member of Russia, claiming that the Tatars were a part of Mongol invasion. The area serves as a reminder of the rules of both Catherine the great and Tsarist Russian Empire. The third group, the Ukrainians, have always had links with Crimea through geography, ethnicity and culture even before and during the Kyiv Rus state (Kuzio, 2007). In as much as these differing views exist they have not led to any civil wars or even any kind of serious conflicts. They have, however, continued to be a bone of contention and ethnic tensions between the Ukrainian Central government, the Russians as well as the Tatars. The reason why a fully fledged civil war has not resulted from these tensions is the multiethnic nature of Crimea, making it hard to mobilize people politically which would lead to the kind of divisions that lead to civil war. The pro-Russian feelings in Crimea are due to the Russian population living in the peninsula still…[continue]
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