By RUSLAN PUKHOV MARCH 4, 2014
MOSCOW — The decision of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, to send forces into Crimea provoked a hysterical reaction, but his motives are less ambitious than is commonly assumed.
Mr. Putin’s aim is not a de jure separation of Crimea from the rest of Ukraine. That would be legally problematic
My current Taki's column discusses how even though the U.S. invades countries all the time, it doesn't annex them. The dominant prejudice since 1945 has been that redrawing borders should be restricted to cases where no country gets bigger -- a view that Israel has chafed under ever since 1967.
This prejudice against legally accepting that a big country can't use military force to get bigger is strong and reasonable, so Russia would have a hard row to hoe to get annexation of the Crimea widely accepted. Right of conquest is occasionally accepted as a reason for reducing the size of an unpopular country (e.g., Yugoslavia had Kosovo taken from it by bombing in 1999), but enlarging via right of conquest is not at all on the table.
and disadvantageous to Moscow in terms of its future influence over Ukrainian politics. The purpose of Russia’s incursion was to obtain the greatest possible autonomy for Crimea while still retaining formal Ukrainian jurisdiction over the peninsula.
A referendum on March 30 is likely to result in a vote for further autonomy, and it would provide Crimea with such broad freedoms that it would become a de facto Russian protectorate. Moscow would then aim to keep the Russian Black Sea fleet in Crimea indefinitely, and remove any limits on its operations, size and replenishment.
At present, Mr. Putin is seeking to strong-arm the new, weak and unstable government in Kiev into agreeing to full autonomy for Crimea rather than risk a full scale invasion into Ukraine and a partition that chops off the country’s entire south and east. The intimidated government is likely to be compelled to accept this compromise. For its part, in exchange for major Ukrainian concessions, Russia is likely to recognize the new Ukrainian government, withdraw its support for Viktor F. Yanukovych and relinquish the threat of the use of force. ...
That’s because Russia has a strong interest in nominally retaining Crimea as part of Ukraine. From the disintegration of the Soviet Union onward, Crimea, with its traditionally separatist leanings, was always a destabilizing factor. It served as a direct avenue of Russian pressure on Ukraine, and also guaranteed almost a million “pro-Russian” votes in Ukrainian elections, ensuring the dominance of the pro-Russian eastern half of the country over the nationalist western half.
I doubt if the pro-Russian margin coming out of Crimea approaches a million votes, but the directional effect is there. Pro-Western Ukrainian nationalists might well think about trying to sell Crimea to Russia for a lot of money to reduce the number of anti-Western voters in Ukraine.
I was reading about the obscure war in 1919 between Poland and the Soviet Bolsheviks. Poland was the big winner, but the Polish nationalist party in party during the peace negotiations didn't push as hard as they could have for more territorial gains (e.g., Minsk) because they didn't want more non-Poles in their country. Similarly, the U.S. could have taken more of Mexico in 1848 but the American negotiator ignored instructions to grab for more of what is now Mexico because he didn't want America full of Mexicans.
... The final act in Mr. Putin’s calculated gambit is likely to be a return of Yulia V. Tymoshenko to power. It was, after all, Ms. Tymoshenko, not Mr. Yanukovych, who enjoyed Moscow’s de facto support in the Ukrainian elections of 2010; and in later years, Mr. Putin expressed his strong displeasure with her prosecution by Mr. Yanukovych’s government. Although she was released from prison last month, Ms. Tymoshenko was hardly celebrated by the Ukrainian ultranationalists in control of the Maidan. Now it seems that her hour has arrived.
Mr. Putin’s threat of invading Ukraine makes Ms. Tymoshenko the only national leader with the authority and capability to forge an agreement with Russia.
By the way, Ukraine is hardly without resources in this struggle. Much of Crimea's electricity and water comes over the narrow isthmus in the north from Ukraine. Crimea is a summer tourist destination, so politics are bad for business. You probably haven't felt a strong urge to book your August vacation for Yalta over the last week, have you?
On the east, the Crimean peninsula comes within a few miles of Russia at the 3-mile-wide Strait of Kerch, formerly known as the Cimmerian Bosporus, that connects the Black Sea to the south to the Sea of Azov to the north.
For about a week I've been thinking about the Strait of Kerch and it's lack of a bridge. A bridge would tie Crimea more closely to Russia. There is currently no bridge across the strait, although the Nazis built a sort of ski-lift across in 1943. The Germans started building a bridge, but the Red Army took it away and then tossed up a quick one. But ice floes that winter wrecked it.
In 2010 Ukraine boss Yanukovych and Putin's sock puppet Medvedev signed an agreement to build a bridge, but construction hasn't begun yet.
Apparently, Moscow has been thinking about the lack of a bridge a lot recently, too. Wikipedia now says:
Following the outbreak of the 2014 Crimean crisis the Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, signed a decree on 3 March 2014 to create a subsidiary of Russian Highways (Avtodor) to build a bridge along the Kerch Strait. The precise location, or intended timeline have not been publicly discussed.
This might be a positive that could be part of negotiations between Moscow and Kiev -- since the Russians intend to spend billions on a bridge, letting mainland Ukrainian firms have some of the construction contracts would be a gesture toward better relations.
So, a rail and road bridge would be a constructive step to tie Crimea closer to Russia de facto, but Ukraine's de jure right to Crimea could be respected with contracts to Ukrainian construction firms friendly with the new Ukraine government.