Russian ruse, Ukrainian crisis

It is increasingly clear that the armed ‘green men’ in Crimea are Russian soldiers, writes the author
Russian President Vladimir Putin once said that the collapse of the Soviet Union is the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Apparently, he has been trying to fix that, selecting the methods used back then: Mostly war, coercion, and blackmailing. Putin’s idea of creating the Customs Union and attempts to drag Ukraine into it, where it would have become even more dependent on Russia, is a vivid example of such plans.

In 1994, Ukraine gave up the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. In return, the US, the UK and Russia guaranteed its sovereignty and protection by signing the Budapest memorandum. After 20 years of violating that memorandum and other agreements by implementing economic pressure on Ukraine, Russia invaded Crimea. Russia has expressed concerns over imaginary threats to the ethnic Russians in Ukraine, although there was no evidence provided whatsoever.

However, the annexation of Crimea is not Putin’s final goal. It is not a simple coincidence that the Russian Parliament permitted deployment of forces to all territory of Ukraine [Ru], and not solely Crimea. The Kremlin has decided that if the majority of a population in the South-eastern part of Ukraine prefers to use the Russian language as the de facto official language, then it is indication these regions want to join the Russian Federation.

Nevertheless, Putin “forgot” to explain how the same Russian-speaking people voted [Ua] for their independence more than 20 years ago. It does seem of his concern what the non-Russian speaking citizens of that region think, either. Russia rehearsed a similar military intervention scenario in Georgia seven years ago, and went unpunished. So clearly the Kremlin will breach international role yet again.

Organising a takeover

Sergey Lavrov made a statement that the Ukrainian crisis was “created artificially”. However, he “forgot” to mention that Russia has played the lead role in organising the crisis. The so-called “green men” (the armed individuals wearing green uniforms that have taken over law and order on the peninsula) appeared in Crimea in unison with the Russian parliament’s bill permiting the deployment of military forces in Ukraine.

The “green men” blocked Ukrainian military units and important infrastructure. They shut down Ukrainian TV channels and replaced them with Russian ones. They also blocked the roads leading into the peninsula, stopping journalists and obstructing and beating those who were already on the peninsula. Furthermore, the Russian navy has been blocking Crimean ports and the ferry line.

At the same time, Putin is trying to sell the story that the “green men” are a self-organised militia who happen to wear Russian military uniforms and who protect the people of Crimea from some imaginary threats. It is difficult to believe, however, that the Russian insignias, the Russian license plates, the latest modification of the “Dragunov” sniper rifle and the off-road vehicles GAZ 2975 “Tiger” (which are exclusively sold to the Russian army) belong to spontaneously organised militias. Not to mention that some of the “green men” have given unofficial interviews[Ru] to the media, saying that they are Russian troops and are protecting Crimea.

The “green men” blocked the Crimean Parliament, where Sergei Aksyonov declared himself prime minister of Crimea (although his party had only about 4 percent in the last elections in Crimea [Ru]). Then he announced a referendum (to be held in May, then changed the date to March 30, and lastly to March 16). This referendum is unconstitutional in the first place, since according to articles 72 and 73 of the Ukrainian constitution, a referendum can only be announced by the national parliament.

Even if Ukrainian legislation allowed such a referendum, would it be right to hold it at gunpoint, without observers and press? To shatter any lingering doubts, the Crimean election commission has already requested to prepare the ballots. Russian troops also blocked the OSCE delegation observers. It is clear that they will not allow any independent observers or press for their referendum.

Justifying an invasion

Moscow’s argument that it simply supports the right of self-determination is absurd. One has to just recollect the history of the wars in Chechnya to understand how “supportive” of the idea the Kremlin really is. If one has some illusions that Russia is trying to protect minorities’ languages as it states, it is worth mentioning that Russia never signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, while Ukraine did so almost ten years ago.

Additionally, the Kremlin continues to act in ways that do not match its rhetoric to the international community. It is clear that Russia simply invaded Ukraine and is now trying to annex at least part of its territory.

The Russian leadership clearly suffers from an imperial complex and cannot understand that Ukraine is a sovereign country and it is unacceptable to consider it their tool to counteract NATO and the EU. Various Kremlin supporters lamenting over the potential loss of Sevastopol overlook the fact that this is sovereign Ukrainian territory. Even if the Crimea naval base is so important to Russia, why should Ukraine pay for its geopolitical fears?

The pro-Russian clique has argued that Moscow is protecting its geopolitical interests, just like the US did in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just like the US, the UK, and France, Russia, too, has legitimate interests to defend, they say. But so does Ukraine! And the interest on top of the list is preserving its territorial sovereignty.

Those opinions, created and supported by Kremlin propaganda, work on destabilising the situation in Europe and may undermine the existing world order. Instead of suggesting some alternative solutions, Kremlin puppets are urging to use Ukraine as a shield against perceived threats from NATO.

None of them mention the fact that according to international law, Russia has committed to maintaining Ukraine’s territorial integrity and what it is doing in Crimea is completely illegal.

Russian aggression against Ukraine can be detrimental not only to its sovereignty, but also to the stability of the Black Sea region and the whole of Europe. Therefore, containing Russia should be on top of political agendas across the continent.

Oleksandr Iakymenko is an Edmund S Muskie Fellow at Western Illinois University and the International Secretary of the Ukrainian National Youth Organisation “Young Rukh”. He has worked as an expert at Kiev’s Institute of Political Education and the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. Since 2008 has been working on projects to promote tolerance, leadership skills and political education.

By Oleksandr Iakymenko,