As we might have expected, Obama’s weak warnings about economic sanctions had no effect on Russian tough guy Vladimir Putin. His response, according to Reuters, was that Russia could not ignore calls for help from Russian speakers in Ukraine.
“Russia cannot ignore calls for help and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law,” Putin said.
Ukraine’s border guards said Moscow had poured troops into the southern peninsula where Russian forces have seized control. Serhiy Astakhov, an aide to the border guards’ commander, said there were now 30,000 Russian soldiers in Crimea, compared to 11,000 permanently based with the Russian Black Sea fleet in the port of Sevastopol before the crisis.
Putin denies that the forces with no national insignia that are surrounding Ukrainian troops in their bases are under Moscow’s command, although their vehicles have Russian military plates. The West has ridiculed this claim.
The most serious east-west confrontation since the end of the Cold War – resulting from the overthrow last month of President Viktor Yanukovich after violent protests in Kiev – escalated on Thursday when Crimea’s parliament, dominated by ethnic Russians, voted to join Russia. The region’s government set a referendum for March 16 – in just nine days’ time.
European Union leaders and Obama denounced the referendum as illegitimate, saying it would violate Ukraine’s constitution.
The head of Russia’s upper house of parliament said after meeting visiting Crimean lawmakers on Friday that Crimea had a right to self-determination, and ruled out any risk of war between “the two brotherly nations.”
Before calling Putin, Obama announced the first sanctions against Russia since the start of the crisis, ordering visa bans and asset freezes against so far unidentified persons deemed responsible for threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty.
China, often a Russian ally in blocking Western moves in the U.N. Security Council, was more cautious, saying that economic sanctions were not the best way to solve the crisis and avoiding comment on the legality of a Crimean referendum on secession.
The EU, Russia’s biggest economic partner and energy customer, adopted a three-stage plan to try to force a negotiated solution but stopped short of immediate sanctions. The Russian Foreign Ministry responded angrily on Friday, calling the EU decision to freeze talks on visa-free travel “extremely unconstructive” and warning that Moscow would retaliate against any sanctions.
Brussels and Washington also rushed to strengthen the new authorities in economically shattered Ukraine, announcing both political and financial assistance. Promises of billions of dollars in Western aid for the Kiev government, and the perception that Russian troops are not likely to go beyond Crimea into other parts of Ukraine, have helped reverse a rout in the local hryvnia currency.
Putin was defiant on Ukraine, where he said the pro-Russian Yanukovich had been ousted in an “anti-constitutional coup.” But he underlined what he called “the paramount important of Russian-American relations to ensure stability and security in the world,” the Kremlin said.
“These relations should not be sacrificed for individual differences, albeit very important ones, over international problems,” Putin said.
The 28-nation EU welcomed Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk to an emergency summit, even though Kiev is neither a member nor a recognized candidate to join the bloc, and agreed to bring forward the signing of the political parts of an agreement on closer ties before Ukraine’s May 25 elections.
Yatseniuk said after returning to Ukraine that no one in the civilized world would recognize the result of the “so-called referendum” in Crimea. He repeated Kiev’s willingness to negotiate with Russia and said he had requested a telephone call with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
The European Commission said Ukraine could receive up to 11 billion euros ($15 billion) in the next couple of years provided it reaches agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which requires painful economic reforms like ending gas subsidies.
On the ground in Crimea, the situation was calm although 35 unarmed military observers dispatched by the pan-European Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were denied entry into the peninsula on Thursday after landing in the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa.
Part of the Crimea’s 2 million population opposes Moscow’s rule, including members of the region’s ethnic Russian majority. The last time Crimeans were asked, in 1991, they voted narrowly for independence along with the rest of Ukraine.
On March 1, Putin received parliamentary authorization to deploy Russian troops to Ukraine in response to the Crimean crisis. Pro-Russian troops accordingly mobilized throughout Crimea and the southeast of Ukraine. As of March 2, pro-Russian troops are said to have complete control over Crimea. A Crimean autonomy referendum is scheduled to be held on 16 March 2014.
Crimea had autonomy within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic as the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic from 1921 until 1945, when Stalin deported Crimean’s Tartar majority and abolished Crimean autonomy. In 1954, the Soviet leadership under Nikita Krushchev transferred the Crimean Oblast (a sort of province) from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR in a “symbolic gesture” that seemed insignificant at the time, since both republics were a part of the Soviet Union. Crimea’s pre-1945 autonomy was re-established with the Crimean sovereignty referendum in 1991, the final year of the Soviet Union’s existence.
The Autonomous Republic of Crimea has been part of an independent Ukraine since 1991. In 1992, the Crimean Parliament voted to hold a referendum to declare independence, while the Russian Parliament voted to void the cession of Crimea to Ukraine. In 1994, Russian nationalist Yuri Mishkov won the 1994 Crimean presidential election and organized a referendum on Crimea’s status. Later in that same year, Crimea’s legal status as part of Ukraine was recognized by Russia, which pledged to uphold the territorial integrity of Ukraine in the Budapest memorandum signed in 1994. This treaty was also signed by the United States, United Kingdom, and France. Ukraine revoked the Crimean constitution and abolished the office of Crimean president in 1995. Crimea adopted a new constitution in 1998 that granted the Crimean parliament lesser powers than the previous constitution, including no legislative initiative. Crimean officials would later seek to restore the powers of the previous constitution. Further developments in Crimea and the future of Russian naval bases there have been a point of contention in Russian-Ukrainian relations. The 2010 Kharkiv Pact extended the Russian lease of the base to 2042 in exchange for discounts on Russian natural gas, but was denounced by opposition groups in Ukraine
According to the 2001, “ethnic Russians” (people who speak Russian rather than Ukrainian, according to the Russians) make up about 58 percent of the two million residents of Crimea. But some 500,000 of those residents are Muslim. In Sevastopol, which houses a base for the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, ethnic Russians make up 70% of the city’s population of 340,000. Ukrainians make up 24% of the Crimean population, while 12% are Crimean Tartars (Muslim).
As for the Tartars, the present territory of Tatarstan was inhabited by the Volga Bulgars who settled on the Volga River in the 7th century AD and converted to Islam in 922 during the “missionary work” of Ahmad ibn Fadlan. After the Mongol invasion, Volga Bulgaria was annexed by the Golden Horde. Most of the population survived, and there may have been a certain degree of mixing between it and the Kipchaks of the Horde during the ensuing period. The group as a whole accepted the exonym “Tatars” (finally in the end of the 19th century; although the name Bulgars persisted in some places; the majority identified themselves simply as the Muslims) and the language of the Kipchaks; on the other hand, the invaders eventually converted to Islam. As the Horde disintegrated in the 15th century, the area became the territory of the Kazan khanate, which was ultimately conquered by Russia in the 16th century.
Ethnic Russians (Russians in Ukraine form the largest ethnic minority in the country, and the community forms the largest single Russian diaspora) in the world. In the 2001 Ukrainian census, 8,334,100 identified as ethnic Russians (17.3% of the population of Ukraine); this is the combined figure for persons originating from outside of Ukraine and the autochthonous [now there’s a word for you, meaning “indigenous] population declaring Russian ethnicity. Near the end of World War II, the entire population of Crimean Tatars (numbering up to a quarter of a million) was expelled from their homeland in Crimea to Central Asia, by Stalin under accusations of collaborations with Germans. The Crimea was repopulated by the new wave of Russian and Ukrainian settlers and the Russian proportion of the population of Crimea went up significantly (from 47.7% in 1937 to 61.6% in 1993) and the Ukrainian proportion doubled (12.8% in 1937 and 23.6% in 1993).
The Russians did not become the largest population group in Crimea until the 20th century, after Stalin ordered the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1945. Crimean Tatars since their deportation, were not permitted to return to Crimea, and became an international cause celebre, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The continuing return of Crimean Tatars to their homeland Crimea since the Soviet collapse is causing persistent tensions with Russians, and more especially, the Ukrainians.
So there’s the information we haven’t been told. Sometimes we have to do our own digging to find out the truth.