Andrew Wilson offers some key points to think about to understand the current crisis.
1. The new Crimean authorities were established at gunpoint. Despite Russian rhetoric about a “coup” in Kyiv, the real coup was in Crimea. The Crimean Assembly building was taken over at gunpoint after a seemingly successful rally supporting the authorities in Kiev. Berkut militia, fleeing from their crimes in Kiev, were allegedly involved.
2. This is totally unlike the Russian war in Georgia in 2008. Then, by most accounts, the Georgians were provoked into firing first. Only one Russian citizen has died in the current crisis, and he was shot by snipers in Kyiv.
3. The proposed referendum is against the Ukrainian constitution. Only a national vote can change the country’s borders.
4. The new Crimean “Prime Minister” Sergei Aksionov was a local gangster in the 1990s. His nickname was “goblin”. His Russia Party won only 4 percent at the last elections in Crimea
5. There are 266,000 Crimean Tatars in Crimea. Before the coup they were chanting “Allah is Great! Glory to Ukraine!” Now they are reportedly forming “self-defence”units. They were all deported by Stalin to Central Asia in 1944; half died as a result. They were only allowed to return after 1989 and still live in marginal conditions. The 70th anniversary of the Deportation is this May.
6. The Crimean Tatars are Sunni Muslim. The Crimean Tatar Khanate was the dominant power in the region from 1441 until Crimea was occupied by the Russian Empire in 1783. The campaign to turn it into a Russian Athos, a centre of Orthodox Christianity, only gathered pace after the Crimean War.
7. There is an ethnic Russian majority in Crimea (58 percent), but most settled there after World War II. Some 24 percent are Ukrainian. Crimean Tatars are over 13 percent, but nearer 20 percent of the school population.
8. Crimea is a peninsula. It gets all its water and gas from the rest of Ukraine.
9. There are big deposits of oil and gas off the Crimean coast.
10. Russia is re-supplying its Black Sea Fleet for a role in the Eastern Mediterranean, including linking up with the old Soviet naval base in Tartus, Syria.
Andrew Wilson is Reader in Ukrainian Studies at UCL-SSEES.
This piece was first published in the ECFR Blog and is reproduced with permission.
Note: This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of the SSEES Research blog, nor of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, nor of UCL