On November 21, 2013, President Viktor Yanukovych turned his back on an agreement to form closer trade ties with the European Union to instead opt for closer coordination with Russia.
Soon thereafter, hundreds of thousands of protestors united to oppose the government and faced continuous injuries or even deaths as a result of confrontations with Ukrainian authorities, which was worsened by an anti-protest law that was passed.
This fighting continued until February 22 when President Yanukovych fled to Russia, protesters took control of presidential administrative buildings, and parliament appointed Olexander Turchynov as interim president as well as set new elections for May 25.
Just when things seemed to settle, however, the Russian parliament approved Russian President Vladimir Putin’s desire to send troops to Ukraine to “protect Russian interests and people,” specifically in the Crimea region.
Technically, Russia’s deployment of troops hasn’t broken Ukrainian or international law because Russia is allowed to have a maximum of 25,000 troops inside Crimea and it has only sent close to 20,000 so far.
Finally, on March 16 the Crimean region overwhelmingly voted (97%) to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
Although 83% of the Crimean people voted in the election, there is good reason to believe that the election was unfair for two principal reasons.
First, the actual ballot voters were only given options of either (1) seceding from the Ukraine or (2) seceding and joining Russia; Crimeans were never given an option to remain as they are.
Second, although the troops did not directly manipulate the vote, some people felt intimidated by their presence and could have felt pressured.
Now, the European Union and United States are caught it an anxious, Cold War-like situation. The predominant fear is that Ukraine is the beginning step for Putin’s long term, expansionist scheme.
Putin has a strong interest in maintaining Russia’s influence on the world, notably in post-Soviet Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. For this reason, countries like Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Moldova, Belarus, and even Turkey feel uneasy about Russia’s recent actions.
If Russia is willing to put military force in a region to protect ethnic Russians in Crimea, then what will stop him from sending his troops to other countries with notable Russian populations?
Putin himself said Russia reserves the right to stand up for Russians living outside its borders.
Just recently, the Transnistria region within the eastern side of Moldova re-announced their desires to join Russia. In 2006, 96% of voters approved annexation. Rumors are spreading that Transnistria could be Putin’s next target.
In the meantime, the EU and US are searching for diplomatic solutions to fend off Russia’s expansionist mood. So far, they have predominantly resorted to sanctions, which include visa bans and asset freezes against numerous Russian officials.
These could expand to include economic sanctions, but the EU and US are aware that such measures would hurt them back because of their high use of Russian oil.
Additionally, leaders like Obama are stating that NATO’s presence needs to be increased in eastern European countries that feel vulnerable to Russia.
I do not, however, believe the world is heading toward World War III. Yes, this is an uncomfortable, threatening situation, but Putin cannot be blind to how destructive war would be for Russia. Plus, no other country has recognized the legitimacy of Crimea as a Russian area.
Russia will only meet destruction if it does not stand down.