By Jade Azim
First, a crash course history: Crimea, a peninsula hinged off the South East of Ukraine, was a land owned by the Ottomans – and a population of twelve percent Muslims stands as its legacy before Tsarist Russia incorporated it into its vast empire in the eighteenth century. Here it stayed to form a Russia Soviet Federative Socialist Republic before being given to Ukraine and forming part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Fifty-eight percent of its population are ethnic Russians.
For the majority of the duration of Crimea’s existence, it remained a separate body to Ukraine, but having shared its borders, also shared much of its geo-political history. The remaining 24 per cent of its population is thus ethnic Ukrainian. To this day, it is an autonomous parliamentary republic within Ukraine, governed by its own Constitution of Crimea within the lawful boundaries of Ukraine’s own governance.
Knowing this history is important to understanding the breadth of the complexity of today’ situation.
Western headlines would likely have you believe there is a full scale invasion, a proxy war in a second Cold War. The truth is, there are four perspectives to be considered in this: Russia’s, Ukraine’s – who of course are justifiably concerned for their sovereignty, the West’s, and importantly, Crimea itself. The Kremlin’s perspective will be tainted with Putin’s sheer arrogance and self-interest, and it would be easy to mistake his rhetoric as something from the era of the Brezhnev Doctrine.
The actions of Russia right now are war-mongering, illegal militarism that deserves the condemnation it is given. It is also important to note that Stalin also evicted Crimean Tartars – a Turkic ethnic group – during his brutal tenure, and the Soviet government continually eroded at the rights of the Crimean minorities. There is nevertheless a very real concern coming from the ethnic Russians of Crimea that live in the region today.
Yanokovych’s legitimacy, too, was truly put to a halt after the murder of protestors, and the demands of protesters who wished for greater European integration to settle their needs for modernisation were too very significant, but the interim government that now proceeds him may prove a scary prospect for those that speak the Russian Language; they have, after all, officially degraded the language within Ukrainian law. It is important to understand that among these perspectives, the most vulnerable and least heard are indeed the Crimeans. Within Crimea, there will be a huge variety of views, and many, whether they be ethnic Russian or Ukrainian will wish for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and many will condemn direct Russian intervention.
But it is important not to be swept away by the sensationalism of this West versus East rhetoric that now represses the abundance of views of the people in the affected region. There is, after all, self-interest at the hearts of both sides. A Telegraph headline recently spoke of the danger of Ukraine’s vulnerable integrity to the global economy. The EU has heralded this event as among the worst of the security challenges they have faced since the fateful events of 1991. The City of London has set up precautions to ensure any of the potential outcomes of this crisis do not create shockwaves for banking. The West may not be the military aggressor here, and we must ensure Putin meets the justice of international law, but western intentions are not as pure or simple as protecting the regional or local interests; it is self-preservation. And the mainstream media will continually espouse sensationalism to emphasise this threat to said preservation.
So yes, we must condemn Putin for how he has approached this, but we must not pretend or be fooled to believe that we stand on one side of an iron curtain. This is not as simple as west versus east, this is about the specific nationalist loyalties and fears of the people, whose views do not make the headlines of The Telegraph or The Guardian.
This is about a complex peninsula stuck between two sensationalist and increasingly menacing fools.