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What Can the West Do to Help the Crisis in Crimea?

Russia invaded Crimea a mere couple of weeks after the appointment of Ukraine’s new acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov. In response, Ukraine has threatened to mobilize troops which many believe will spark a revolution and civil war. A referendum is to be held this weekend in Crimea that will vote upon whether it should join Russia or stay with Ukraine.

Both sides of the crisis in Crimea view each other in a very negative light and there is a lot of difference of opinion on the matter. Crimea was passed from the Soviet Union to Ukraine in 1954 and the population living there was then and is now mostly Russian with a few minorities, like the ethnic Tatar, but much of the population would prefer to not be a part of Ukraine.

Russia partially wants Crimea because of its strategic position on the Black Sea where Soviet naval fleets were stationed, and also wants it because in the agreement that gave Russia access to facilities in Crimea, Russia was prohibited to own any territory. The Russian media is portraying Ukraine as neo-Nazis who have reportedly held non-peaceful protests, but at the same time, the Ukrainian media is accusing Putin of being a neo-Nazi as well because he is annexing Crimea.

The reason why either of these countries actually even wants Crimea is questionable in that there are significant shortcomings for both. Crimea has a majority of ethnic Russians who want their independence from Ukraine and want to be able to join their homeland again. There are many downsides to Russia continuing in its annexation of Crimea because if it remained Ukrainian, those in support of Putin would vote for pro-Russians candidates and/or parties in Ukraine’s elections. Also, Russia will have to invest a fair amount of money in rehabilitating what would be the newly-Russian Crimean economy.

The role that the West, especially the United States, is playing in this situation is an interesting factor to consider. Ukraine used to have around 900 nuclear weapons, but the U.S. convinced them to give them all up in exchange for a guarantee that they would maintain Ukraine’s territorial integrity and security. It is just that which has been compromised and now many people are turning to the U.S. to take action. Ukrainians have made signs that are in English so that the U.S. can see their message more clearly–that they need to hold up their end of the bargain.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot that the U.S. can even do because of the very delicate situation. The American people do not have enough interest in this issue to support spending billions to intervene, not to mention that the U.S. would be facing a very powerful enemy if it went up against Russia. The European Union cannot impose sanctions on Russia because they are the ones that are dependent on Russia for natural gas. It seems that the West will have to stay out of the crisis for the time being until another big event happens–the referendum.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: National Journal, USA Today, CBS News
Photo: iLife Journey