On Feb. 22, 2014, the elected government of Ukraine was overthrown by a revolution-coup, which was supported and encouraged by the United States. The new government of Ukraine was strongly anti-Russian. Five days later, on Feb. 27, Russian troops, assisted by local militia, seized the Ukrainian province Crimea, a 10,000-square-mile peninsula with 2.3 million inhabitants located on the north shore of the Black Sea. In a subsequent referendum (with Crimea still under Russian military occupation) 96 percent of the Crimean voters favored leaving Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation. Soon thereafter, Crimea was officially incorporated into Russia.
Russia's annexation of Crimea is not recognized by Ukraine, by most other countries, or by the United Nations. The annexation is widely regarded as a serious violation of international law. In response to this action, economic sanctions have been imposed upon Russia and Russia has been suspended from the G8 group of countries. More ominously, the Crimean annexation has heightened international tension and accelerated the new cold war between Russia and the United States, both loaded with nuclear weapons.
In defense of the annexation, Moscow points out that Russia has been deeply connected with Crimea for well over two centuries. During World War II, 200,000 Soviet soldiers died liberating Crimea from the Nazis. Crimea is culturally linked to Russia, and over 80 percent of the population are Russian (not Ukrainian) speakers. Crimea became part of Ukraine during Soviet times by an arbitrary administrative fiat. Moscow asserts that the overwhelming majority of Crimean citizens want to be part of Russia, and the overwhelming majority of Russian citizens support the annexation of Crimea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also claims that the annexation of Crimea was necessary to protect Russia's Black Sea fleet (stationed at Sevastopol) and to forestall a possible NATO military base in Crimea. He argues that the international community is treating Russia unfairly because it previously sanctioned the forcible separation of Kosovo from Serbia and has done nothing to oppose Israel's de-facto annexation of the West Bank. Nevertheless, the government of Ukraine continues to feel unjustly robbed by Russia's annexation of Crimea.
How can the problem of Crimea be resolved? This requires resolving the ongoing civil war in Ukraine. A workable peace settlement must have three essential components: (1) Ukraine must be a neutral country and stay out of NATO. (2) Ukraine must become a federal state with substantial autonomy for its eastern and western regions. (3) Both Ukrainian and Russian must be recognized as official languages of Ukraine.
A feasible settlement to the Crimean problem might have these three elements: (a) a new referendum, under international supervision, to ascertain the political wishes of the Crimean people; (b) (assuming Crimea remains in Russia) economic and/or territorial compensation by Russia to Ukraine for the loss of Crimea; (c) open borders and unconstrained economic interaction between Crimea and Ukraine.
Writing in the mainstream journal Foreign Affairs, the eminent political scientist John Mearsheimer says: "The United States and its European allies now face a choice in the Ukraine. They can continue their current policy and devastate Ukraine in the process — a scenario in which everyone would come out a loser. Or they can switch gears and work to create a prosperous but neutral Ukraine, one that does not threaten Russia and allows the West to repair its relations with Moscow. With that approach all sides win."
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.