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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: March 24, 2014 NO. 13 MARCH 27, 2014
Compromising Over Crimea
Moscow's absorption of Crimea may trigger a new "cool war" between Russia and the West
By Ding Ying

ACCESSION APPROVED: Leaders from Russia, Crimea and Sevastopol sign a treaty on the Crimean Peninsula becoming part of Russia in the Kremlin on March 18 (XINHUA/AFP)

After Crimea passed—with an overwhelming majority of votes—a decision to join Russia in a referendum held on March 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin won a victory that subsequently enraged the West enough to declare economic sanctions, but not enough to risk military conflicts with Russia.

It now appears that there is no immediate danger of war, and Chinese analysts have claimed the situation is still on the track of political settlement.

Putin's decision

Russia moved swiftly to absorb Crimea after it declared independence from Ukraine. Putin asked the parliament on March 18 to ratify a treaty adopting two new regions, the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, into its territory. Two days earlier, a referendum was held in Crimea, in which 96.77 percent of Crimean voters supported joining Russia.

"Russia bet that the West would not have a strong reaction. For now, everything has gone as Russia expected," said Li Zhiguo, a researcher on Russian studies with the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) to Beijing Review.

The West's interests in Ukraine are simply not serious enough to start a war. But to Russia, Crimea is important enough to warrant risking the costs of war to get it. Li explained that European countries, which depend on natural gas from Russia, will not undertake extreme efforts to contest the recent developments. The majority of residents in Crimea are ethnic Russians. Moreover, Russia's Black Sea Fleet is stationed in Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula, added Li, making the peninsula an area of geo-strategic significance for Russia. The researcher noted that from 1941 to 1942, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany fought over Crimea for a full year.

In a speech on March 19, Putin said he will respect the Crimean people's wishes, stressing Crimea's decision was fully in accordance with international law—in particular with Article 1 of the UN Charter that stipulates the principle of equality and self-determination of peoples. "Crimea is part of our common heritage and a key factor of stability in the region. This strategic territory should be under strong, stable sovereignty, which in effect can only be Russian," he said.

Li said the situation would be different if the West had stopped pressuring Russia after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who is pro-Russia, announced an early presidential election as one of the measures aimed at ending the country's political crisis on February 21.

"Ukraine's political power in the country's western areas intended to clear away pro-Russia forces in the eastern regions, and upgraded the political crisis in Kiev, which enraged Russia," Li added. Russia maintained a rather moderate policy toward Ukraine after the West-backed "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine in 2004. "Now Putin is determined to land a blow that can make the West feel the pain," said the researcher.

During his speech, Putin repeatedly slammed the West as a whole—and the United States in particular—for hypocrisy and the use of double standards. The situation in Ukraine mirrored what had been happening in the world after the collapse of the bi-polar system, because the United States started to believe in its exceptional right to pursue its interests by force, he said. Still, Putin said, Moscow did not seek confrontation with its partners in the East and the West.

Former Chinese Ambassador to Russia Gao Yusheng pointed out that the reason why Putin moved to adopt Crimea is that the Russian president believed retreating was not an option. Even if Russia agreed to let Crimea be an independent state, the West still would launch sanctions on Russia, said Gao.

As Russia regains its lost territory, Putin's personal reputation as a tough and powerful leader has reached a new high. Crimea, historically part of Russia, was transferred to Ukraine in 1954, then a republic of the Soviet Union.

According to latest polls in Russia, Putin's favorable rating among Russian people reached over 70 percent. Russia's parliamentary election will be held in September, and the overwhelming patriotism will surely help the ruling party to win.

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