Is Crimea important for the West?

With the anniversary of Crimea annexation we hear from the West the condemnations of Russian actions, but usually Crimea is not very hot topic with ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine. So would you say that Crimea is more or less the lost case for the West, and maybe also for the Ukraine, and how it is perceived from Russia? Read few comments.

Sean RobertsLecturer in International Relations and Politics, University of Portsmouth

The annexation of Crimea was and has been a very interesting case. The events were immediately shocking in the sense that Europe’s post-1991 borders were changed in a significant way for the first time since the break-up of Yugoslavia, but at the same time the West seemed to move on quite quickly. The conclusion is that on-going events in Ukraine distracted attention or, more likely, that the West saw Crimea’s annexation as a kind of concession to Russia in return for securing Ukraine’s signature on the EU Association Agreement. In any case, western leaders continue to be muted on the subject of returning Crimea to Ukraine, indicating that this chapter is more or less closed. However, the reaction within Russia is perhaps more interesting. Aside from the triumphalism that accompanied the return of Crimea, there were some analysts who saw longer-term problems or the far reaching consequences of re-unification. The cost of maintaining Crimea, the problem of militarily securing the peninsula without annexing parts of East Ukraine and the issue of sanctions complicates the picture, but so too the symbolic meaning. Russia, under Putin, has championed non-intervention and respect of ‘sovereignty’ as an important part of its foreign policy. Russia, under Putin, has also championed ‘territorial integrity’ at the expense of self-determination within Russia (e.g. Chechnya). The annexation of Crimea made a mockery of both these principles, so short-term public approval masks a deep-seated unease at the long-term implications of this move.

Aurel BraunProfessor of International Relations and Political Science, University of Toronto, Visiting Professor, Department of Government, Harvard University

The West is not entirely homogenous on key international issues but in terms of the American leadership we now only see some remnants of the powerful rhetoric denouncing the Russian annexation of Crimea last year. Of course from the very beginning of the crisis grand denunciatory American rhetoric was followed by a rush to abject compromise. From the initial demand that Russia reverse immediately the annexation of Crimea the Obama administration is now largely left with pleading that Moscow and its separatist allies not attack and capture Mariupol – just as Mr. Putin shrugs off the Western sanctions.

We can’t say for sure that Crimea is a lost cause for the West (and thereby Ukraine) but for the time being Moscow’s position seems unassailable. This is not because of Russia’s strength but is rather due to the general lack of will and divisions within the West. There is an asymmetry that trumps the actual wide disparity in military and economic capacity of Russia on the one hand and the West on the other. Whereas Russia determinedly seeks to expand its zone of power the Obama administration is singularly focused on global disengagement and power retrenchment, and much of Western Europe seemingly prioritizes profits over principles. In such circumstances Russia has been able to condition the West for compromise. With each expansionary move in eastern Ukraine by Russia and its separatist allies, the West, as noted, settles for less than it had demanded earlier.

In Russia such “success”” has increased Mr. Putin’s popularity and diverted attention away from some very large domestic problems. Yet those structural problems are not just going to disappear and foreign policy successes often turn out to be ephemeral. In the latter sphere, moreover the differences in capacity between Russia and the West remain even if the Putin administration has the current advantage of determination and purpose. There is also the ever present risk that Mr. Putin could overreach in Ukraine thereby generating an unpredictable reaction even from a very reluctant West. And we just don’t know what will be the policies of the American administration that will succeed Obama in less than two years…

Juliane Fürst, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, University of Bristol

I think most European leaders have resigned to the Crimea being lost. However, Merkel recently declared that the reconstitution of the Crimea into Ukrainian territory is German policy. That would at least always leave German relations with Russia in a kind of limbo. America is also belligerent, but more out of principle I think. In Russia the vast majority of people is completely convinced that the Crimea is rightfully Russian territory. If the Donbass was partly designed to deflect from the Crimean issue worldwide, Putin was certainly successful. I think even in Ukraine many people believe that Crimea is not their most pressing issue – while it is disputed what the people in the Donbass really think, nobody doubts that the majority in the Crimea supported Russia’s take-over, even if the support might have been tepid. There is certainly little support for Ukraine, apart from the Tartars. But the Crimea was a much more clear cut violation of the Budapest memorandum than Eastern Ukraine, which has not been annexed formally (yet) and where Russia pretends the will of the people fuels the uprising.

Paul Ivan, Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre (EPC)

Indeed, the West seems to have accepted the annexation of Crimea, not from a legal point of view, but from a practical one. Given the ongoing war taking place in Eastern Ukraine, the political attention has moved towards stopping the fighting there and the Crimea issue was put on the side. All Western political leaders understand that they won’t be able to force Russia to give Crimea back to Ukraine so they try to focus on somehow more easily achievable goals.

I expect the current Western policy to continue for the months and years ahead and the West to maintain the current, rather reduced, level of sanctions regarding the annexation of Crimea as well as the additional measures regarding the ban on European investments in Crimea.

The Russian leadership perceives this as a victory, as a further proof that it can obtain gains if it acts with determination.

However, the forceful annexation by Russia of a territory of another state has and will continue to have very profound implications in what concerns the (lack of) trust between the two sides. This annexation has shown that Russia act as a revisionist power and this will have lasting consequences for relations between the West and Russia, for the security situation between the two sides and, more particular, the security situation in the Black Sea area.

David J. Meadows​, Research Fellow, Centre for Foreign Policy Studies, Dalhousie University

Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea are a prime example of an increasingly revanchist

and authoritarian attitude emanating from Moscow that disregards international laws on the sovereignty of nation-states. It is also increasingly clear that the current Western sanctions have done little to sway Moscow’s belligerent behavior.

However, one thing that should be noted is that large numbers of the population in Crimea, already held political-cultural worldviews that tended to be more pro-Russian than they were pro-Ukrainian, and also tended to have outlooks that had an anti-Western bent with high levels of nostalgia towards the former Soviet Union. So it might not be advisable or feasible for Ukraine to readmit such a pro-Russian enclave, considering that much of the rest of Ukraine is outwardly oriented to a pro-Western, pro-European Union stance.

A possible trade-off then would be to gradually and quietly let Russia keep Crimea, with the rest of Ukraine moving towards the goal of gaining EU and NATO membership. Here the Western members of the EU and NATO must also step up, and extend an invitation of eventual full membership to Ukrainians in a show of solidarity. Membership prospects would offer encouragement to the democratic leaders of Ukraine. They would have something tangible to offer the Ukrainian people that would justify added liberal reforms, both in terms of democratization and liberalizing the economy, which Ukraine badly needs.


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