Sea Control 25 – Crimean Crisis

After months of protests by Euromaidan and days of armed violence in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, the Ukrainian government was ousted and replaced by pro-European politicians headed by Arseniy Yatsenyuk. His political positions stands against Russian influence in the Ukraine: for example, he doesn’t want Russian to become the second state language and he was against the agreement, which grants Russia to lease the naval facilities in Sevastopol. In reaction to the Ukrainian revolution – which is seen as a coup d’état by Russia – thousands of pro-Russian protester demonstrated in Sevastopol and Simferopol. Starting February 26, unidentified troops claimed by Russia to be local self-defense forces, but believed to be Russian soldiers, gradually seized control of the Crimean peninsula. Offiziere.ch already published several articles about the Crimean crisis: “Die Krim: Putins historische Chance” by Seka Smith (in German), “Russia’s Crimea Invasion Follows Decades of Perceived Humiliation” by Nick Ottens, “Ukraine: NATO Should Block the Bosporus and Assure its Allies” by Felix F. Seidler and “Fast Response Not Necessarily the Best in Crimea” by Jason H. Chuma.

The latest edition of Sea Control covers the Crimean Crisis, too. In the show Matthew Hipple talks with three CIMSEC authors: Dave Blair, an active duty officer in the US Air Force and a PhD student at Georgetown University in International Relations; Przemek Krajewski (aka Viribus Unitis), a commercial director of a construction firm from Poland, which does business on the Crimean peninsula; and Robert Rasmussen, a graduate of the MA International Relations program at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, and the CAS Security Studies program with Syracuse University’s Institute for National Security & Counterterrorism.

People walk past a poster in Sevastopol on March 11, 2014 reading "On March 16 we will choose either... or...", depicting Crimea in red with a swastika and covered in barbed wire, and Crimea with the colors of the Russian flag. Pro-Moscow lawmakers in Crimea voted for independence from Ukraine on March 11 in a precursor to a referendum this weekend for the region to become part of Russia (Photo: Viktor Drachev).

People walk past a poster in Sevastopol on March 11, 2014 reading “On March 16 we will choose either… or…”, depicting Crimea in red with a swastika and covered in barbed wire, and Crimea with the colors of the Russian flag. Pro-Moscow lawmakers in Crimea voted for independence from Ukraine on March 11 in a precursor to a referendum this weekend for the region to become part of Russia (Photo: Viktor Drachev).

The question about the driving force behind the Russian invasion into the Crimea is not so easy to answer as it seems. The port of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol is the only Russian warm-water naval port and is therefore of big importance for the Russian military. Despite of the assurance of the interim government in Kiev to follow all previous signed agreements with Russia, maybe Russian president Vladimir Putin wasn’t willing to undergo such risk. But it’s not just about the naval port, Sevastopol is only one piece in a bigger puzzle. Krajewski and Blair highlight the special historic status of the Ukraine for Russia, the identity of Russia and its position in the world, which defines its actions. Additionally, Rasmussen remarked that before 1991, Ukraine wasn’t really an independent state for the most part of its history.

The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. — Henry A. Kissinger, “How the Ukraine crisis ends“, Washington Post, 05.03.2014.

Russia observes International Relations through realistic glasses. Almost 25 years after the Cold War, Russia still seems to see NATO as a threat. According to Blair, Russia feels confronted by an approaching NATO, in which NATO is an aggregation of power of several powerful countries. The Crimean Crisis gives Russia once more the opportunity to show the world that NATO – despite its power – can’t act. In return, this gives the world a perception of the Russian power itself. Therefore, Krajewski thinks that Russia’s push to the Ukraine has a strong impact of the perspective of Eastern Europe countries on NATO’s capability. It was not a coincidence that Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland invoked NATO article 4 (consultation over military matters).

Colonel Yuliy Mamchur, commander of the Ukrainian military garrison at Belbek airbase, salutes before leading over 100 of his unarmed troops to retake Belbek airfield from soldiers under Russian command in Crimea, on March 4, 2014 in Lubimovka, Ukraine. After spending a tense night anticipating a Russian attack following the expiration of a Russian deadline to surrender, in which family members of troops spent the night at the garrison gate in support of the soldiers, Mamchor announced his bold plan to his soldiers early that morning (Photo: Sean Gallup / Getty Images).

Colonel Yuliy Mamchur, commander of the Ukrainian military garrison at Belbek airbase, salutes before leading over 100 of his unarmed troops to retake Belbek airfield from soldiers under Russian command in Crimea, on March 4, 2014 in Lubimovka, Ukraine. After spending a tense night anticipating a Russian attack following the expiration of a Russian deadline to surrender, in which family members of troops spent the night at the garrison gate in support of the soldiers, Mamchor announced his bold plan to his soldiers early that morning (Photo: Sean Gallup / Getty Images).

Blair thinks the Russo-Georgian war 2008 serves as a role model. But unfortunately for Russia, the residual Ukrainian troops acted differently than the Georgian troops 2008 and avoided the use of force. A good example of the strong message of a such non-violent tactic was demonstrated by the Ukranian air force Commander, Colonel Yuliy Mamchur with the march against armed Russian soldiers occupying his airbase in Belbek. Concerning Russia’s aims in the Ukraine, Rasmussen differentiates between a minimal and a maximal Russian scenario: In the minimalistic scenario, Russia will separate the Crimean peninsula from the Ukraine and secure his naval port in Sevastopol, in a larger scenario, it could additionally overtake Eastern Ukraine or at least try to heavily influence politics in the Ukraine itself. Therefore, he thinks that the actions of the EU and the NATO are decisive in regard to how far Russia will go.

Other topics discussed in the show are Ukraine’s social and political struggle, the effect of cyberwar in the Ukraine and why Serbian fighters travels to the region to support the Russian troops. At the end of the show, the discussion partners try to look ahead to the possible development of the crisis. All in all, Sea Control #25 is another excellent and well balanced show.

Listen to episode #25 immediately

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CIMSECThe Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank. It was formed in 2012 to bring together forward-thinkers from a variety of fields to examine the capabilities, threats, hotspots, and opportunities for security in the maritime domain. Check out the NextWar blog to join the discussion. CIMSEC encourages a diversity of views and is currently accepting membership applications here.

This entry was posted in English, Sea Control, Security Policy, Ukraine.

3 Responses to Sea Control 25 – Crimean Crisis

  1. Louis Martin Vezian did a excellent job to visualize the troops stationed around the Crimean peninsula:

    CIMSECUKRAINECRISISMARCH16
     
    RU_UKR_navies

  2. Around 93% of voters in Crimea have backed joining Russia and seceding from Ukraine, according to exit polls quoted by Russian news agencies (“Crimea exit poll: Around 93% back Russia union“, BBC News, 16.03.2014).

    The EU considers the holding of the referendum on the future status of the territory of Ukraine as contrary to the Ukrainian Constitution and international law. Therefore, the EU assesses the referendum as illegal and illegitimate and doesn’t recognise its outcome (European Council, “Joint statement on Crimea by President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barros“, 16.03.2014).

    And of course, the United States don’t recognise the outcome of the referendum either (Jon Swaine, “White House will not recognise result of Crimea referendum“, The Guardian, 16.03.2014).

  3. Today, War is Boring published a very interesting video by Zack Baddorf and Mitch Swenson, which shows that apparently nobody was forced to vote. Interestingly it seems that the Crimean Tatars boycotted the voting, which could explain the 96% pro Russian votes.

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