With reports of pro-Russian separatists seizing control of cities and towns across eastern Ukraine, the country’s crisis looks set to continue. Unsurprisingly, amid escalating military involvement, political tensions between Russia and the West remain high.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry recently accused Russia of “distraction, deception and destabilisation” in Ukraine. Despite these accusations, and the economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and EU, Putin has made it clear that Russia reserves the right to intervene militarily, should it’s interests be threatened.
Some have since speculated on Russia’s actions within the post-imperial context of the Cold War era, yet beneath the political storm surrounding the annexation of the Crimea region, two questions remain; to whom does Crimea’s national identity belong, and does this national identity justify Russia’s actions in Ukraine?
It is undeniable that Crimea has strong links to Russia and the Soviet Union given that it was as recent as 1991 that the region became part of an independent Ukraine. It’s cultural and linguistic heritage is subsequently closely intertwined with that of Russia, though there are multiple ethnic divisions within the region itself.
In spite of this, Russia’s annexation of Crimea remains firmly against international law. Putin has consistently defied and challenged the West’s response to the crisis, stating that “in people’s hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia.” This sense of national identity, firmly associated with Russia in large parts of Crimea, cannot however be used to bypass international law and warrant further reciprocal action in Ukraine against the West’s involvement. Not only does it leave Russia open to international scrutiny, but places Ukraine in a state of crisis and uncertainty as to its political future.
This political instability has already spilled over into parts of eastern Ukraine, with 8 European military observers taken hostage and presented to the media in Slovyansk for allegedly spying on behalf of NATO. Though 1 observer has since been released, it indicates a worrying escalation by pro-Russia separatists as increasing numbers of pro-Ukrainians are detained by armed groups.
It is clear from this that the situation requires extensive and on-going negotiations to minimise the damage already caused in both Kiev and Crimea. So far though there has been little success in talks held at the conference in Geneva over a week ago.