I cannot stand the media coverage offered by both the Western and Russian, my own country’s, news sources. On one hand, the western news has completely demonized Russia and shown obvious favoritism to the temporary government in Ukraine, while official news sources in Russia blame the West for the coup d’état in Kiev. It’s simply impossible to find middle-ground coverage.  The West portrays it as a full-scale invasion to destabilize Ukraine. Russian state media says that the troops will only be used to protect Russian speaking people and citizens living in Ukraine. Nobody even mentions the real reason behind Russia’s determination to pacify Ukraine – Sevastopol.

Russian foreign policy has always been dominated by the idea of finding a warm water port to raise trading and military presence in the region. Sevastopol became that warm port for us. This city on the southern tip of the Crimean peninsula became the stronghold of its Black Sea fleet. Thousands of Russian soldiers have paid with their lives to take the Crimean peninsula and finally reach the sea, something that had been a dream of the Russian czars for hundreds of years. During WWII, it took Wehrmacht almost an entire year to capture Sevastopol as it became one of the main strongholds of the Red Army. After a bloodbath, the Soviets retreated but were able to recapture Sevastopol two years later, determined never to give it up again.

Now try to imagine the thoughts of the citizens of Sevastopol and Crimea when Khrushchev announced a transfer of the Crimea region from Russian to Ukrainian jurisdiction. During the time of the Soviet Union, both Ukraine and Russia were part of the Union, and although Crimea became de jure Ukrainian territory, de facto it was still Russian. Most of Crimea’s people were ethnic Russians who moved to this region at one point or another. They did not know the Ukrainian language, along with most of Southeastern Ukraine, and did not consider themselves a part of the Ukrainian state.

Everything changed after the collapse of the Union. Now, these ethnic Russians found themselves citizens of another sovereign nation, Ukraine; a country whose culture and language were foreign. There was nobody to come and protect their rights to speak Russian and to potentially join Russia  again. At the time, Russia was a very weak country torn apart by the nationalist groups, a collapsed economy, and inept leadership. We weren’t in a position to defend the rights of our compatriots anywhere. Nobody came to help out those Russians who were being murdered en masse in Chechnya, Kazakhstan, and so on. Helping Russians in Crimea was the least of our worries.

Times have changed. Russian foreign policy toward Ukraine lacked any kind of political initiative and far-thinking, which lead to the election of corrupt president Viktor Yanukovich whose only advantage was being pro-Russia. His actions concerning  the European Union Treaty Association and his brutal retaliation against activists led to widespread protests in the central and western regions of the country. Although the liberal opposition was the main power behind the initial protests, the civil unrest in Ukraine lead to the emergence of radical nationalist groups.

On February 21st, Yanukovych signed an agreement with the protesters in Maidan, which gave them most of the changes they were asking for, with the president staying in power until elections later this year. Unfortunately, not without the radicals’ influence, the protesters made Yanukovych flee from Kiev and formed their own government.

It immediately started passing rather anti-Russian laws (the government reverted the law giving Russian a regional language status, virtually forcing most of the southeastern Ukrainians to learn a new language). Russia would most likely have left Ukraine alone if everything ended at just that. However, the new government started talking about cancelling the agreement  granting Russia a portion of Sevastopol as a place for the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters (remember, it’s been stationed there for more than two hundred years). This was potentially the main reason for the Russian government to start escalating the conflict in Crimea between the pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian population, causing a Crimean referendum which will determine whether the people of the region want to stay a part of Ukraine, form a sovereign nation, join Russia, or allow Putin to send the army into Ukraine.

In Russia, we have a famous saying, “Do the Russians want a war?” Not surprisingly, we never do. Nobody in the Russian chain of command wants to sign a decree sending the troops to Ukrainian soil. Doing so would be  economic suicide for Russia, which is already suffering continuous stagnation, and would launch a massive wave of anti-Russian insurgency, forever ruining already strained relations between our two countries. So far, the threat of bringing the troops to protect the rights of Russian-speaking minorities has been a way for the Russian government to send Kiev a message that it will stop at nothing when it comes to protecting its own interests. Even Western sanctions mean nothing if Russia loses Sevastopol which to this day still holds a tremendous strategical value. Now, we may only hope that this conflict doesn’t escalate to an open confrontationthat might end the fragile balance we have today.

Dyskin is a member of 

the class of 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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