I’ve been wanting to write new articles about issues including shale gas, bitcoin and the foreign exchange rigging scandal. However, events in Ukraine keep making the headlines around the world and thus I’m inclined to cover them.
In my latest post, I had discussed how the Ukranian government had fallen and how Viktor Yanukovych was nowhere to be found. Following those events, something unexpected occurred. On February 28th, armed gunmen wearing unmarked uniforms took over military and government installation throughout Crimea, the autonomous peninsula region of Ukraine. For those of you not familiar with Crimea’s location, this map should help clear things up.
There are some important facts about Crimea that are necessary to know before we continue. Despite being a territory of Ukraine, Crimea is an autonomous region. It has its own parliament and its own laws to some extent. In fact, it was a part of Russia until 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to kindly hand it over to Ukraine. Sevastapol, which is a city on the southwest coast of Crimea houses Russia’s Black Sea fleet and is crucial for Russia’s naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea. Finally, and most importantly, as the map below shows, majority of Crimea’s population mainly consists of Russian speakers or trace their ethnic roots to Russia. All these factors combined make Crimea a significant piece in Russian-Ukrainian relations.
To continue, on the very same day that armed gunmen appeared all over Crimea, Yanukovych resurfaced in Russia, claiming to still be the legitimate president of Ukraine. Complications continued when on March 1st, the Russian parliament gave the military the right to invade Russia. Following the parliament’s decision, thousands of Russian troops crossed into Crimea on the pretense that they were mobilizing to defend Crimean citizens of Russian decent. Many Ukrainian military bases were surrounded and the Ukrainian reserves were put on alert. The newly formed temporary Ukrainian government and many western leaders saw Russia’s aggressive actions as a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Western leaders were quick to announce their discontent of Russia’s actions. US president Barack Obama sent a message to Putin by stating that “there would be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine”. Other western leaders concurred with Obama and announced that they would instill heavy economic sanctions on Russia in order to punish Putin and his government. British Prime minister decisively affirmed his determination by sending a tweet.
Proposed sanctions currently include travel bans and asset freezes on influential Russians. However, US and European leaders also announced that if Russia continues to escalate its military presence in Crimea, they could consider cancelling certain trade agreements with the Russian government. Sanctions may have not been put into place yet but investors gave Russia a slight pinch over the weekend following the start of the crisis. On Monday, March 3rd, the Russian ruble tumbled in value and the Moscow Stock Exchange (MICEX) fell by 11.2%. As the graph below shows, the MICEX neared its lowest point in a year on the 3rd of March.
All these events have finally led to this week’s Video of the Week. On March 6th, Crimea’s pro-Russian government decided that they will move to become a part of the Russian Federation. To confirm their decision with their citizens , the Crimean government decided to hold a referendum on the 16th of March. This decision by the Crimean government brought further negative reactions by Western leaders. President Obama stated that the proposed referendum would violate international laws.
If the West does in fact move to place trade sanctions on Russia, this will not only severely hurt Russia, but it will also strike at the European economy as well. As I had stated in my earlier posts, Europe nations import a significant amount of natural gas from Russia. If European nations were to end energy trade deals, then they would deal a major blow to their energy supplies as well. Without natural gas from Russia, the Europeans would have to turn to other sources such as increased imports from the Middle East or an increased investment into national energy production which would take years to develop. This is one of the reasons why some European nations such as Germany are reluctant to implement trade sanctions. The map below depicts the major natural gas pipelines from Russia to Europe.
There are two issues on which I want to express my own opinion. The first is the premises of Russia’s military intervention. Putin’s justification to intervene in Crimea is to supposedly protect Russian speakers in Crimea. This notion is extremely similar to the excuse Adolf Hitler used to invade Sudetenland (modern day Czech Republic and Slovakia) in 1938 in the lead up to the start of World War II. Back then, Hitler demanded control over the Sudetenland to protect the oppressed German minority of the region. However, as we all know, he had much bigger and much more violent plans. More importantly, the West’s concession of Sudetenland didn’t quench Hitler’s lust for conquest. With that in mind, I don’t believe that a country can claim the responsibility to protect a group of citizens in another country that have ethnic or linguistic ties to it; at least not to the extent that they see the justification to rely on force. If Russia can invade Crimea to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine, whats to stop Mexico from invading the United States in order to protect the rights of Mexicans in America or to stop Turkey from invading Northern Iraq in order to protect the local ethnic Turks. In the modern globalized world, the age of ethnically homogeneous countries are coming to an end. National populations are becoming more and more diverse with each passing year and with North Korea forming an odd exception, national identities are rarely forged from a single ethnicity or a single language. Thus, Russia’s decision to mobilize its military in order to protect Russian speaking Crimeans seems to be an excuse taken out of the 20th century’s playbook to me.
The second, and more important issue that I want to further discuss is Crimea’s right to self-determination, which is a fancy term for a region, or a country to determine its national identity or allegiance. The Crimean government announced that it wishes to be a part of Russia. But should it have the right to decide to which country it wants to belong to? I’m a fervent supporter of democratic rights and I know that Crimea is an autonomous region. However, Crimea is also still a part of Ukraine, and if Crimea is to join Russia or become independent, then all of Ukraine should have a say in the decision. Self determination seems rightful when you look at the issue from the side of those that are seeking it. However, not many may realize that in this case, if Crimea were to break away from Ukraine without the entire country’s consent, then Ukrainians would have their rights trampled on too. What sort of rights you may ask. The right to access, the right to utilize the public resources of that area and the right to do business are a few that come to my mind. Lets use the example of Catalonia, a region within Spain that also talks now and then about becoming an independent nation. The capital of Catalonia is Barcelona. Now imagine that I’m a Spaniard living in Madrid. As a Spanish citizen, I have the right to travel, live and move in Barcelona just like I would have those rights in Valencia. As a citizen of Spain, I should also have the right to utilize the resources of that region, whether it be public resources accumulated by the government or resources I might earn by setting up my own company there. If that region breaks off from Spain without the vote of all of the country’s citizens, then my rights would be violated. I’m sure that there are many regions within countries across the world where if a vote was held just in that region for secession, then it would pass. Catalonia, Quebec, the majority Kurdish populated regions of Turkey and Crimea are just a few that come into mind. Popular culture might make us symphatise with the struggle of these small regions. However, it is important to look at the issue on a national scale. That is why I’m against regional self determination without national consent.
Nevertheless, I’m an open minded person and I’m curious on what you might have to say about this issue. I’m sure that a lot of good arguments can be made in favor of self determination, such as the fact that many of the countries that exist today are a result of a struggle for self determination. Thus, for the first time, I’m creating a poll on my blog to see what you think. Should regions such as Crimea be able to secede or join another country or should it be up to the entire nation. I’m looking forward to hearing some interesting arguments that will challenge my opinions and perhaps sway me away from my current views.
Hopefully, the crisis in Ukraine comes to a peaceful end and I can write about other subjects. Until then, I’m looking forward to your views on my poll. As always, I’ll stay up to date on all matters regarding Ukraine. Stay tuned…
“The claims by President Putin and other Russians that they had to go into Crimea and maybe further into eastern Ukraine because they had to protect the Russian minorities, that is reminiscent of claims that were made back in the 1930s when Germany under the Nazis kept talking about how they had to protect German minorities in Poland and Czechoslovakia and elsewhere throughout Europe”