Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

Crimea and the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

Crimea and the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict

Article excerpt

For the last four decades security on our continent has been burdened by armed violence and wars and has accompanied the disintegration of a number of states in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Western Balkans and the former Soviet Union. These developments resulted in the emergence on the political map of Europe of more than a dozen new and internationally recognized states. The most successful secessions of these new states occurred in parallel with the development of a group of failed states unrecognised or less than universally recognized by the international community, like Northern Cyprus, Transnistria, Abkhazia, Southern Ossetia, Nagorno Karabakh and later on Kosovo, that came to be treated in international relations literature as so-called "frozen" conflicts. With Kosovo moving out of this group, a newcomer appeared in the spring of 2014: the Russian-Ukrainian conflict over Crimea.

Like the other four "frozen" conflicts mentioned above, Crimea is geographically located on the Southern periphery of the former Soviet Union. Substantively, the newest conflict bears a number of similarities with the four other ex-Soviet cases. The ex-Soviet entities involved in these conflicts share a history up to two centuries-long of Russian imperialism and, subsequently, of Soviet communist rule. The Russian rule of these entities was preceded by up to three centuries of direct Ottoman rule or of strong dependency on the Sublime Porte. In the 18th and 19th centuries, following Russian victories in several wars against the Ottomans the five lands were militarily conquered by or ceded to and then annexed by the Russian Empire. Russian expansion in the Black Sea region and in the Caucasus had been opposed by the Western powers - Great Britain, France and Austria/ Austria-Hungary. This opposition began in the mid-19 century and resulted in a direct military confrontation, fought mostly on Crimea.

The immediate pretext for the Crimean War was the Russian occupation of two Danubian principalities Wallachia and Moldavia. In January 1854 the British and French fleets demonstratively sailed into the Black Sea. Following a Russian rejection of the British ultimatum to withdraw Russian troops from the principalities (territory that is today's Romania and Moldova), Great Britain and France declared war on Russia. In September 1854 almost one million Ottoman, French and British troops landed on Crimea and started a yearlong siege of the Russian stronghold Sevastopol. In January 1855 the Kingdom of Sardinia joined the coalition. The anti-Russian coalition suffered staggering losses of over 300 thousand soldiers, due mostly to disease. The Western powers and the Ottomans won the war against the Russian Army (which lost about 400 thousand soldiers) and achieved the destruction of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and of the fortress Sevastopol, as well as the military neutralization of the Black Sea. They failed, however, to dislodge Russia from Crimea. Austria's threat to join the coalition forced however the Russian government to withdraw its troops from the Danubian principalities. All of this happened in a geostrategic environment very different from the present one. Almost 160 years later no one in the West even thought of undertaking a similar operation against the Russian Federation.

The newest conflict in and over Crimea has developed since 1991 along the porous ethnic, linguistic and cultural line within a young successor state of the Soviet Union, other than the Russian Federation. In Ukraine this line has separated a majority within the titular nation, on the one hand, and a considerable part of the strong Russian-speaking minority, on the other hand. This "Russian" population has constituted however a strong local minority or a regional majority in parts of that successor state - in Eastern and Southern Ukraine and on Crimea. This particularity explains why the conflict in Ukraine bears resemblance with the Serbian armed secessions in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1991-1992. …

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