San José State University
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

Vladimir Putin's
Annexation of the Crimea
to the Russian Federation

There is no doubt that Vladimir Putin and the other top leaders of the Russian Federation would like to see a resurrection of the Soviet Union and are working toward that end. But in the matter of the separation of the Crimea from the Ukraine they are in the right. The Crimea was never an intrinsic part of the Ukraine. Administrative control of the Crimea was transferred to the Ukraine only in 1954 and then only for logistic reasons. Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian in origin but of Russian ethnicity, carried out the transfer in 1954 because the supply of water and power to the Crimea was most economically achieved from Ukrainian sources. But that transfer was contingent upon the Ukraine being closely allied with Russia. The transfer was labeled a "symbolic gesture," marking the 300th anniversary of Ukraine becoming a part of the Russian Empire.[

When the Soviet Union collapsed politically in 1990 the Ukraine with Crimea became an independent country. Crimea then chose in 1992 to declare its independence but it did not have the resources to function as an independent country and so in 1995 rescinded its declaration of independence. But again all of this was contingent upon the Ukraine being closely allied with Russia.

Putin tried to keep the Ukraine tied to Russia and under the leadership of Viktor Yanukovych as president the Ukraine was moving toward closer ties to Russia and away from ties to the European Union. But the Putin-Yanukovych alliance overplayed its hand and prompted a revolution which deposed Yanukovych. This of course changed the situation with respect to Crimea and entirely justified Crimea's separation from the Ukraine.

It is foolish for the West to challenge Putin in the matter of the Crimea. It is a special case and entirely unrelated to the ethnic Russian enclaves in the Baltic countries and elsewhere. The West is not able to stop the secession of the Crimea and inevitably will come out looking ineffectual. In the matter of Crimea Putin is in the right and it would be best for the West to acknowledge this and emphasize its distinctness from the other cases of ethnic Russians in countries of the former Soviet Union.

Crimea was like a wedding anniversary present and now that the marriage is over the giver wants returned. It is not like a pound of flesh near the heart.

By imposing sanctions on Russia concerning the transfer of control of Crimea the U.S. and EU used up what little they had in terms of sanctions. Thus there are no additional costs to Russia for interferring in the matter of the ethnic Russian enclaves in the Ukraine. It would have made more sense to accept that Crimea had to be transferred back to Russia but the other ethnic Russian enclaves were entirely different situations. Ultimately those enclaves should also be transferred but with adequate compensation to the Ukraine. In voluntary trade arrangements both parties can be made better off; in war both parties are hurt severely.

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