Why Putin Will Get Everything He Wants in Crimea

Why Putin Will Get Everything He Wants in Crimea

Even before the Crimean parliament voted to ask Moscow for permission to become a part of Russia, Russian forces had all but completed the process of establishing a new reality on the ground in Crimea — that the region simply isn’t under the control of the central Ukrainian government in Kiev anymore. And so, barring a major military response by the Ukrainian Army or a massive Russian excursion into Eastern Ukraine, it looks like Putin’s end game is about to unfold.

Many analysts have made mention of the Russian naval base at Sevastopol and how, as Russia’s main warm-water naval installation, it is of key importance to Russia. Negotiations with Ukraine over Russia's continuing operation of the base have gotten tense in the past, although a 2010 agreement gave Russia a lease until 2042.

Just to be safe, however, Russia has been quietly building a potential replacement at Novorossiysk, a commercial port a couple hundred miles east that has the notable distinction of actually being in Russia. It could house the Black Sea Fleet if Russia were to lose Sevastopol, and further expansion of naval facilities there could reduce or even eliminate Russian dependence on Crimea.

If the Russian Navy stays in Sevastopol, and Crimea stays in Ukraine, Ukraine would almost certainly be blocked from joining NATO. Ukraine has been trying to join for years to protect itself from… well, from this. However, a country can’t join NATO if it has a foreign military base on its soil. So, if Russia stays in Sevastopol and Crimea stays in Ukraine, it means Ukraine can’t join NATO. This is a positive for Russia, because it makes it easier to lean on Ukraine in the future, especially if Kiev gets a little too buddy-buddy with Europe.

A Crimean vote on whether or not to join Russia is now scheduled for March 16. If Crimeans vote in favor of it, there’s a chance the region could become a “frozen territory,” typically the result of a cease-fire announcement during hostilities, which freezes boundaries to match areas of military control. Frozen countries are usually considered by much of the world to be under military occupation, and few such zones ever receive formal diplomatic recognition as independent states. This is what happened in the aftermath of the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, which gave birth to the Republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Those zones are recognized as countries by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Tuvalu, and no one else — aside, of course, from other frozen states.

The frozen-state scenario would put the West in a delicate position. If the West were to recognize Crimean independence, it would open the gates for a closer Ukraine-NATO relationship thanks to Sevastopol no longer being an issue. But it would do so at the risk of ticking off Ukrainians by legitimizing Crimea’s secession. If the West were to make a stand and refuse to recognize what will inevitably be billed as Crimea's “legitimate democratic vote of determination” for independence, it would do so at the risk of putting a legal barrier between itself and Ukraine thanks to Sevastopol still being an issue.

In addition, if the West recognizes Crimea, it creates a more complex situation regarding diplomatic recognition of all the other frozen territories that have been hatched out of Russian military intervention: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, and Nagorno-Karabakh. This could serve to help usher in a new 21st Century form of conflict, in which moving a border via invasion is highly discouraged, but chipping off a chunk of a country in the name of self-determination is fairly acceptable. That debate will be very relevant as the international community decides how to move forward with ethnic separatists following the creation of new countries like East Timor and South Sudan.

When it comes down to it, the few diplomatic carrots that the West is willing offer or withhold from Russia have only as much value as Putin is willing to assign them. His ability to not give a shit exceeds the West's capacity to do anything he gives a shit about. The fact is that Russia cares a lot more about Crimea than anybody else does — except for Ukraine.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: https://news.vice.com/articles/why-putin-will-get-everything-he-wants-in-crimea

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