“Russian-Ukrainian relations: case study Crimea and the repercussions for the Balkans”

The Ukrainian-Russian relations are a complex interweaving of history, ethnic and religious factors, geopolitical political ambitions, common tragedies and victories.

The Ukrainian and Russian and Belarusian states lead their history to the state formation of the ancient Eastern Slavonians - Kievan Rus 9-13 century ad (centered in Kyiv). It was during the Kievan Rus that began the formation of the national identity of the Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian peoples, and they adopted Christianity of the Eastern ritual in 988. That's why the Ukrainians and the Russians have close culture, language, an Orthodox Church. The Russian elite of all times considered Ukraine not only as a primary zone of influence, but also as a spiritual center - the cradle of Russian civilization.

Later the Ukrainian state repeatedly became a hostage of confrontation between the Russian Kingdom (Empire, the Soviet Union) and European countries. Short periods of the Ukrainian independence appeared in the 14th and 17th centuries, and from 1918 till 1921.

Modern Ukraine has completed its territorial formation in 1939 - after the annexation of Western Ukraine (Poland), Transcarpathia (Hungary), Bukovina (Romania) by the Soviet Union. And after the handover of the Crimea from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954.

In 1991, in the result of the Soviet Union collapse, Ukraine bloodlessly gained independence for which voted in a referendum more than 90% Ukrainians (with voting turnout 84%). At the same time in Sevastopol there voted for independence 57% of the population (with a voting turnout of 64%), in the Crimea – 54% (with a voting turnout of 68%). But even after gaining independence, until 2014, Ukraine entered into the sphere of political and /or economic influence of the Russian Federation. Did not change the situation even after a peaceful "Orange revolution" of 2004 that brought to power President Viktor Yushchenko.

The relations between the countries have extremely aggravated (agrəˌvātid) after the Second Ukrainian Revolution of 2013-2014, which brought about:

- overthrow of loyal to the Russian Federation President V. Yanukovych with his following escape to the Russian Federation;

- annexation of Crimea (which will be discussed below);

- beginning of armed hostilities in Donbass;

- break of socio-economic ties between Russia and Ukraine;

- imposing sanctions against the Russian Federation.

Today, the relations between the states can be characterized as a war. But the war of a specific type – hybrid – in which key armed hostilities are conducted on legal, informational and humanitarian field. And strictly military instruments play a supporting role.

Thus, it is the Crimea annexation that became one of the key markers of the conflict characterizing not only to the situation in Ukraine, but also the style and methods of decision-making of the current Russian leadership.

1. The Crimean demi-island is unique land. And the strategic importance of this land possession for policy and trade people realized thousands of years ago. The Peninsula is situated almost in the center of the Black Sea between the Caucasus (Central Asia) and Southern Europe, Turkey and Northern Europe, сloses the Sea of Azov and allows to plan operations in the Mediterranean Sea. The wealth of natural resources and wonderful climate only complemented the motivation of the confrontation for the Crimea. At different times the Crimea was owned by the Tauris, Cimmerians, Greeks, Scythians, Romans, Huns, Goths, Bulgarians, Tatars, Slavs and other peoples.

Since 1774 the result of the Turkish-Russian war in the Crimea came under the control of the Russian Empire, since 1921 (after the defeat of "white movement" by the Communists) – the Soviet Union.

Due to its geopolitical position the Crimea as a part of the Russian Empire became a powerful base of the Navy. "Unsinkable aircraft carrier" as it is called today in the Russian military-political circles.

2. Given the unique history, in the Crimea there formed special regional culture and a complex, mosaic, ethnic situation. According to the latest population census – Russian one of 2014 - in the Crimea there were about 2.4 million people – representatives of more than 100 nationalities. Out of them 67% are the Russians, 16% - the Ukrainians, 13% the Crimean Tatars and the Tatars (over 300 thousand), other nationalities - less than 1%. Herewith, 83% of the Crimeans consider Russian their native language, for 12% - Crimean Tatar and Tatar language, for 3.3 % - Ukrainian language. 97.5% residents of the Crimea have Russian citizenship. Especially hard and tragic fate do have the Crimean Tatar people who survived the deportation from the Crimea to Central Asia (ˈāZHə) in 1946 and began coming back to their homeland in 1989. As a result, the number of the Crimean Tatars in the Crimean population has declined from 19.4% in 1921 up to the present 13%. Even in the years of the Ukrainian Independence one could notice a decrease in the number of ethnic Ukrainians and native Ukrainian language native speakers in the region (3-4 times).

The key factors that determined the annexation by the Russian Federation in 2014 became (according to the influence):

1. Critical weakening of the Ukrainian statehood and the legitimacy crisis after the victory of Maidan ("Revolution of Dignity"). The Ukrainian society was split in relation to the events of the Revolution. Sociological surveys in January 2014 (a month before the end of Maidan) showed that 49% of the Ukrainians supported Maidan, and 46% did not. The society was, and remains split in this matter. According to the recent sociological data (March, 2017) Maidan is considered to be "Revolution of Dignity" more than 50% of the Ukrainians, more than 30% consider it a state coup. And this data was obtained without taking into account the Crimea and Donbass (the territories controlled by self-declared "DPR" and "LPR"), where reside 5-6 million citizens.

On 22nd Feb 2014, Viktor Yanukovych, the President of Ukraine, by the Parliament decision was ousted from power and fled with his entourage to the Russian Federation.

A new government was formed hastily, with significant legal problems, and with the number of people not particularly popular in society. There was a crisis of legitimacy. Partially this crisis will be resolved later during early Presidential elections in May and parliamentary in October 2014.

The state machine, working before against the protesters, was demoralized, especially the power unit which was guided by people who threw stones and bottles with fuel at police officers a few days ago. The army, which has never fought before and weakened by corruption, was unable to carry out orders. And according to the statements of new authorities, it had at its disposal no more than 4 thousand combat-ready soldiers (despite its total population over 100 thousand soldiers);

2. In the Crimea there were extremely strong Pro-Russian sentiments and the fear before the radicals of Maidan. Moreover, in 1992 and 1994 the Crimean political elite already tried to declare independence from Ukraine or expand its powers. But then they did not find support at Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership. At the same time, at the Crimea there actively worked Pro-Russian political organizations and mass media.

Especially Pro-Russian sentiments intensified after the returning to the Crimea the participants of protests against Maidan - so-called "anti-Maidan" and members of special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on riot suppression – "Berkut" affected by the protesters' actions (there were the killed, many wounded people). The overthrow of Yanukovych (who was mostly voted for in the Crimea during the elections in 2010) only increased regional antagonism.

The image of new authorities of Ukraine was worsened even more in the eyes of the Crimeans by attempts to cancel the guarantees of rights use of the Russian language in Ukraine. The relevant law was adopted in Ukraine (although it did come into force) on the second day after the change of government. This was seen as the attack on humanitarian law.

The level of Pro-Russian sentiments in the Crimea, not only among the population, but also in government and law enforcement agencies and power bodies is demonstrated at least by the fact that from more than 100 thousand representatives of the security forces and the state bodies of Ukraine in the Crimea – police, army, intelligence services, border guard, emergency service, public prosecution office and so on remained faithful to their oath and returned to Ukraine after the Crimea annexation is not more than 5 thousand people – 5%. All the rest stayed in the Crimea and most of them serves and works at similar positions in the Russian government and army.

The decision on proclamation of the Crimean independence and joining the Russian Federation was adopted by the deputies of the legitimate Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, elected in 2011 under Ukrainian law.

According to the Russian data, the Referendum on the independence of Crimea and joining the Russian Federation in March 2014 was attended by 83% of the Crimean people and 97% voted in the affirmative. And although the numbers are questionable, but the number of votes certainly has been significant – more than 50%.

3. The presence of "Black Sea Navy" of the Russian Federation in the Crimea under the Agreement between Ukraine and Russia on the division of the Black Sea Navy of the USSR of 1997.

On the one hand, the Russian Federation reasonably feared that new anti-Russian leadership in Kyiv will break this treaty and force Russia to leave the Crimea. By the way, it could have happened 3 days ago – duration of the main part of the treaty has expired on 29 May, 2017. Russia feared that its base in Sevastopol might be handed over to the NATO and, respectively, its position in the Black Sea region and the Caucasus would significantly worsen.

On the other hand it created opportunities for legitimate Russian military presence on the Crimea that then played a key role in the annexation. After all, it is the parts of the Black Sea Navy of the Russian Federation seized key administrative buildings of the region, blocked and began the disarmament of the Ukrainian military units.

4. Actual refuse of the guarantor countries of "Budapest Memorandum" to fulfil its obligations - the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia and China. Let me remind that in 1994, Ukraine received security guarantees in exchange for the waiver of the third nuclear potential in the world.

5. Lack of appropriate reaction of the international community to the war in Georgia in 2008 and the precedent of recognition of Kosovo independence.

6. Persecution of its economic interests by the Russian Federation. Through the Crimea there lies one of the branches of the Silk Road, promising delivery routes of the Caspian energy carriers. On the Black Sea shelf of the Crimea there develop significant oil and gas reserves. Estimated, it comes about resources in the amount of 40 billion U.S. $. Besides, the loss of shelf made Ukraine even more dependent on energy imports.

7. Fear of the Russian Federation before possible "export of revolution". Many of the leaders of the Ukrainian protest movement declared that now they would concentrate their forces on organizing the protests to the Russian Federation. Besides, just a year before Maidan in Russia stopped the mass wave of protests under the general label "Bolotnaya Square".

In the result, in the 20s of February 2014 local authorities in the Crimea took a decision on the sovereignty from Ukraine, and by forces of Pro-Russian activists and local employees of law enforcement bodies, the Crimea was blocked and cut off from the territory of Ukraine (blocked airports and roads). On February 27th they seized key administrative buildings (most likely, by forces of the Black Sea Navy of the Russian Federation). On March 1st, 2014 by decision of the State Duma, Russia officially entered its additional troops to the Crimea and began the process of disarmament of the Ukrainian army. On March 16th there was held a referendum. On March 18th, the Crimea was adopted to the Russian Federation. The whole operation took less than a month.

The decision about the Crimea annexation cost for Russia at least 180 billion dollars. For - capital outflow, falling of capitalization of Russian companies, subsidies for the adaptation and development of the Crimea (10 billion subsidies, not less than 4 billion – bridge), the consequences of the sanctions.

The annexation of the Crimea to Russia in 2016 was recognized only by six countries: Afghanistan, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea and Syria.

At the Crimea example, the Russian government showed that it was ready to go far in pursuit of their own geopolitical interests or under pressure of fear. Further events in Syria are one more proof.

In fact, most conditions that brought about the annexation of the Crimea are present or may occur in the Balkans, which, because of the militarization of the Black Sea Region are at the forefront of the geopolitical standoff.

Events around Montenegro, Serbian Republic, significant Pro-Russian sentiments in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia and other countries require close attention and productive public policy.

Today, the Russian Federation positions itself as an alternative center of power and attraction in the world - political, military and humanitarian. Russia is ready to fight for it long and hard. And any social alienation in the Western Balkan countries will strengthen the success of the Russian strategy.

Russia always works in a zone of social alienation and frustration. The most vulnerable in this case are opposition and regional political elites, radical political groups (from the far right to the extreme left), minorities - national, linguistic, social. Therefore, overcoming social exclusion, maximum political decentralization and guaranteeing the rights of minorities are the main recipes for opposing propaganda and illegal influences.

Appendix 1

Survey: 51% Ukrainians are for Ukraine's joining the EU and 19% - for the Customs Union

Approximately 51% Ukrainians want the entry of Ukraine into the EU, while 19% respondents are for the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

This is evidenced by the data of survey of ‘’RATING’’ Sociological Group at the request of the International Republican Institute which was held from September 28th till October 7th, 2016.

According to the survey, 51% Ukrainians want Ukraine to become an EU member, and 19% are for the Customs Union (in June 2016, the figure was 15%).

On the West of the country 79% respondents said that they wanted Ukraine to become an EU member, and in the East - 40% respondents are for the Customs Union.

In addition, 43% Ukrainians support joining the NATO, in June 2016 the figure was 39%.

Most supporters of Ukraine's joining the NATO are in the West (68%) and Central part (47%) of the country.

Meanwhile, 29% Ukrainians oppose joining NATO.

One should remind that by results of sociological survey conducted by the Institute of world policy, the Ukrainians consider the priorities of the foreign policy of Ukraine, the search of new markets (54.1 %), integration into the European Union (30.4%) and integration into the NATO (27.9%).

Ruslan Bortnik,

Ukrainian Institute for Analysis and Management of Policy