Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Georgia-Russia Conflict: Possible Implications for Ukraine and Crimea

Part 3 of a 6 part essay on the recent conflict in Georgia, its causes, and its potential implications.

Ukraine’s control over the Crimean peninsula in the Post-Cold War era has been a particularly sore spot for the Russians. Crimea is considered by many to be an integral part of Russia and was under continuous Russian control for centuries.[1] Indeed, ethnic Russians make up a majority of Crimea’s population today (though only after decades of eviction of the Crimean Tatars and resettlement by the Russians).[2] After the creation of the Soviet Union, Crimea was part of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR), but in 1954 it was given to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (UkSSR). At the time such an act had little practical significance, but when the former SSRs gained independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Crimea found itself as a part of Ukraine instead of Russia because of the earlier transfer.[3]

While Crimea’s historical ties to Russia and its allure as a tourist destination inevitably made the Russians unhappy with the loss, a more critical matter dominated tensions over Crimea: what to do with the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet anchored at the peninsula at Sevastopol.

Such tensions would be eased for the moment, though, with the Treaty of Friendship in 1997 between Ukraine and Russia, in which Russia essentially recognized Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea and, in return, Ukraine let Russia have most of the Black Sea Fleet as well as a long-term lease of a naval base in Sevastopol.[4] Many at the time hoped this agreement would spell the end of the dispute over Crimea and Sevastopol and might eventually pave the way for better relations between Ukraine and Russia. However, tensions have since flared up again between Ukraine and Russia, particularly in the years following the election of the pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko (who, incidentally, was mysteriously poisoned while campaigning in 2004).[5] Ukraine’s ambition to join NATO, as with Georgia’s, has especially angered Russia. Now, in light of last months’ events in South Ossetia and Georgia, Ukraine can only help but wonder if it will pay the same price as Georgia for defying Russia and if such a price will be extracted through a renewal of the dispute over Crimea.


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