Crimea: A game of motives

Crimea has been talked about a lot in the past few weeks after the very tense situation that has been put forward by Russian action. So we have seen a flurry of media coverage and activity in the area and almost every move by any of the parties are now under close scrutiny.

What doesn’t make any sense at all is the reason for Russia to put troops in Crimea and aid its secession from Ukraine. The fact remains that Russia’s move to put troops in Crimea was on a pretexts which had no grounding. The protection of the Russian-speaking population of Crimea being an objective makes no sense because the question of persecution itself does not arise. There has been no records of the Ukrainian government discriminating against the Russian speaking people by international agencies, human rights organizations or from the Russian Federation or the Russian speakers themselves.

Let us also not forget that Crimea is a semi-autonomous region which means that they have their own parliament and they are able to formulate their own laws and policies and it represents the highest levels of political accommodation.

So if it is a ‘humanitarian intervention’, there exists no reason to get into one.

The Crimean crisis is testimony to the fact that in the game of international politics, only national interests matter and absolutely nothing else. Russia has several national interests, especially in the Crimean peninsula. This is also the reason why the Russians were willing to sign the Budapest declaration where they along with the Americans and British promised to not interfere with the internal affairs of Ukraine, of which the Crimean peninsula was a part of.

Russia also signed agreements with the government of Ukraine allowing them to station their troops in Crimea a long time ago, which is the pretext on which the Russians have claimed legality on their sending of troops into Crimea. This means that Russian national interests were more or less being served in Ukraine and they had no reason to invade.

For this, one needs to go back to the issues in Russian-Ukrainian relations.

Military personnel, believed to be Russian servicemen, stand guard, with Ukrainian servicemen seen behind the gate, outside the territory of a Ukrainian military unit in the village of Perevalnoye outside Simferopol

Military personnel, believed to be Russian servicemen, stand guard, with Ukrainian servicemen seen behind the gate, outside the territory of a Ukrainian military unit in the village of Perevalnoye outside Simferopol

To begin with, let us understand Russia as it stood prior to the Crimean crisis. Russia was a waning power after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia’s need to project its image as a power that needs to be reckoned with has become a cornerstone of its foreign policy. This is true especially in front of the former CIS countries where Russia, through a series of measures has ensured their loyalty to Russia.

Amongst them, Ukraine has always been the rebel.

Firstly, Ukraine NEVER recognized Russia as the successor state of the Soviet Union. On this basis, Ukraine has often questioned Russia on various issues. Ukraine during its independence wanted to retain the nuclear weapons on its soil but only because of active western non-proliferation efforts and international disarmament pressures, they gave their weapons back to Russia.

Of all the former CIS states, it is Ukraine that has become a democracy and a strong one at that. The strength of its democracy lies in the very chaos that was shook Ukraine since December 2013 in the protests against Victor Yanukovych. While one might argue that democracy therefore has been a failure because it has created the kind of chaos we saw in the months preceding the Crimean crisis, one must not forget that it is only in a democracy can the people come out, protest and demand the ouster of their head of state which has been found to be working against the wishes of the people.

Can anybody imagine this happening in countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus or even Russia for that matter?

Ukraine has been the most distant from the CIS and it set off alarms in Russia when they found out that Ukraine was being more close to the EU and was relying on other countries for support other than Russia. Russia has always viewed EU enlargement as something that is challenging their domain in the region. Ukrainian democracy was doing quite well which was again, unlike other CIS countries.

When the Ukrainian public supports closer relations with the west, the Russians are bound to be alarmed because the government here is answerable to the people. This was not good news for Russian interests and for a reason.

More relations with the EU also becomes a question of better relations with the NATO which would then see a turn around in geopolitical dimensions. This would directly challenge the Russian security position and Russian security interests. The one thing they have maintained is that they wouldn’t let NATO encroach on their interests.

But most importantly, Ukraine going with West signifies a certain weaning off from Russia. That Russia is no longer the only power around, that there are other groups and countries to be associated and engaged with.

This break is not something that the Russians would like to see go out of hand. If this were to prevail with the Russians doing nothing, it would prompt other countries of the CIS to maintain an independent stand as well. This will challenge every single objective that the Russian leadership has stood for.

Which brings us full circle to today where Russia uses political chaos and anarchy in Kiev to bring about the secession of Crimea and absorption into the Russian Federation.

This signifies the very aspect of international relations where there are no free lunches and any action is prompted by national interests. National Interests are always supreme. Idealism is a pretty mask to hide real intentions. Crimea is one such example of which there are several others.

Pakistan and Kashmir form interesting examples. While Pakistan is one of the most vocal parties in the Kashmir conflict and is an ardent advocate for Kashmiri independence, the question remains as to what are their true intentions for Kashmir. The same standard can be applied here.

Events of this magnitude always need to be assessed on the grounds of the motives of the parties controlling the strings.


Ashwath Komath
An article by:
Ashwath Komath

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