Crimea is Only a Piece of a Much Larger Puzzle

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Many of us who have been following the events unfolding in Ukraine for the past several weeks have experienced emotions ranging from apathy to horror. Regardless of the position of the rest of the international community, the Kremlin now says Ukraine’s Crimea region as a part of Russia.[1] Many Ukrainians, including Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, are understandably outraged, calling the contrived annexation "a robbery on an international scale."[2] Others throughout the world, including many Americans, are still asking questions akin to, “why does this matter?” To understand why it matters, we must attempt to understand the motivations of the autocrat pulling the strings, Vladimir Putin.

In the author’s opinion, the Crimea annexation is simply the next step in creating “a powerful supranational association capable of becoming one of the poles in the modern world and serving as an efficient bridge between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region.”[3] This is not linguistic hyperbole, but instead language taken directly from an editorial written by Putin himself in October 2011. The association Putin refers to is the Eurasian Union. In December 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a remark that seems to represent the American government’s only public position on Putin’s idea: “There is a move to re-Sovietize the region”, she said.[4] It appears that Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation are attempting to rebuild much of the Soviet empire, but under a new name and with new ideals. According to Putin, “none of this entails any kind of revival of the Soviet Union. It would be naïve to try to revive or emulate something that has been consigned to history. But these times call for close integration based on new values and a new political and economic foundation.”[5] Unfortunately, “the history and rhetoric of the Eurasian movement suggests that it will inevitably be some hodge-podge of anti-Western, anti-liberal thought.”[6] Belarus and Kazakhstan have already agreed to join the Eurasian Union, while a number of other post-Soviet states, including Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, have signaled interest in joining.[7]

Crimea and Ukraine as a whole play a vital role in Putin’s developing Eurasian Union. “Ukraine—with its steel mills, coal plants, bountiful agricultural resources, and massive population of 46 million people—has always, according to Russia experts, been key to Putin’s vision for the Eurasian Union.”[8] The current worst-case scenario is that Crimea is nothing more than a stepping stone to Russia’s invasion of all of Ukraine. “With Ukraine in his pocket, Putin will have both the material and infrastructure assets he needs to reassert Russia as a global power. Without Ukraine, Russia will effectively be reduced to its 17th century borders, with some access to the sea.”[9] Putin’s well publicized claim that he is defending ethnic Russians, artificially supported by the sham referendum vote taken on March 17, could feasibly extend to all of Ukraine. While this is still most certainly a hypothetical scenario, the author believes it is time for the international community to begin crafting a strategy to deal with a potential Russian invasion of all of Ukraine. Crimea is but a piece of a larger puzzle. What the aggregate puzzle ultimately reveals could shape much of 21st century geopolitics.

[1] Alla Eshchenko and Laura Smith-Spark, Ukraine Cries Robbery as Russia Annexes Crimea, CNN (Tuesday Mar. 18, 2014, 2:38 p.m.),

[2] Id.

[3] Vladimir Putin, A New Integration Project for Eurasia: The Future in the Making, Izvestia(Oct. 3, 2011),

[4] Leon Neyfakh, Putin’s Long Game? Meet the Eurasian Union, The Boston Globe (Mar. 9, 2014) (citation omitted).

[5] Putin, supra note 3.

[6] Neyfakh, supra note 4.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Kyle Spencer, Ukraine is the Key to Putin’s Eurasian Union, Seeking Alpha (Mar. 4, 2014)

Posted by Cory R. Busker on Thu. April 3, 2014 1:00 PM
Categories: Russia, Territorial disputes, Ukraine

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