Kyiv – Crimea: the State of Uncertainty

16 March 2015, 18:50

A year is enough to reflect on what happened in Southern Ukraine in the spring of 2014, and to draw conclusions. However, the current government is reluctant to deal with the facts. Firstly, the Crimean mistakes are often repeated in the war in the East: the same strategy of non-action, waiting, handing initiative to the enemy and responding reactively, not proactively to the opponent’s steps. Secondly, many of Ukraine’s current leaders are not personally interested in investigating the Crimean events, because they were involved (and instrumental) in the defeat. Thirdly, it is not really the best time now since, as the Crimean Tatars leader Refat Chubarov said, to solve the Crimean issue, you need to save Ukraine first, and Ukraine's future today is being decided in the East.

Nevertheless, even if investigating personal responsibility of individual leaders can wait till better times, we need to analyze the mistakes right away, in order not to replicate them. Today, a trend can be observed to justify Ukraine's defeat in Crimea by the suddenness and the unexpectedness of the Russian military intervention. Some state pathetically that "nobody could expect that Russia would attack Crimea, occupy and annex it." Maybe, nobody wanted to expect it and to notice the obvious?

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Many analysts (including the writer of these words) kept warning about the threat that came true in 2014 ever since Ukraine gained its independence. Analytical intelligence has been published, which described step by step how the intervention would proceed, how Russia would establish military control over Crimea, and how it would attempt to destabilize the South and East. Everything happened as predicted. Unfortunately, all those people giving warnings were not heard any better than Cassandra in the ancient Greece crying out: "I can see Troy in flames!"

One did not have to be a genius to understanding these things, since everything was on the surface. Already 60 years ago, when the Crimean oblast of the RSFSR was transferred to the Ukrainian SSR, Young Life, the Magazine of Ukrainian Plast Youth published in New York and Detroit (Issue 2, 113, May 1954), wrote: "…In the future, a situation may occur when we will have to defend Crimea, which is now part of the Ukrainian territory, from enemy's assault." Russia, time and again, demonstrated by its actions what could be expected from it: in 1991-1994, numerous provocations in Sevastopol and Crimea on the edge of an armed conflict with Ukrainian law enforcement agencies; in 1994, deterioration of relations and concentration of the Russian troops at the Ukrainian border, followed by the easing of tensions, luckily for us, due to the war in Chechnya. Then, Meshkov's "initiatives" in Crimea, bringing once again two countries to the brink of a clash…

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Later, Putin began "probing Ukraine with a bayonet" (as Lenin put it talking about the proper handling of the bourgeois Europe), arranging a provocation with the Tuzla Island in the Kerch Strait. Of course, it was not about a 1 km stretch of sand located between Ukrainian Crimea and Russian Taman peninsula. Ukraine was tested for its ability to resist.

That was one of the first rehearsals of the "Russian Spring 2014." After Russia's attack on Georgia in 2008, only the lazy did not write and say that Ukraine would be the next object of aggression. But Kyiv kept "not expecting"…

For the future of Ukraine and for its security, it is very important to investigate the events of the late February and early March of 2014, hour by hour, and to examine the acts and omissions of all state officials involved. This must be done after the war, but for the time being, it is important to have at least a general idea of ​​the course of events leading to the annexation of Ukrainian Crimea by Russia. Because this course of events poses a lot of painful questions. Why were the post-Maidan authorities, when faced with the Russian attack on Crimea, confused and helpless, timid and indecisive? But were they conceived as anything different during the Maidan? We all remember that great crowd of people and the figures on the stage, who had nothing to say to the people, except for the hackneyed slogans that they could remember from the Orange Revolution. They obviously (as quite a few eyes noticed) did not know what to do. Their plan was simple: if a million Ukrainians come to Maidan, Yanukovych will panic and flee. Then again, they would be able to distribute government posts, establish control over financial flows, appoint their own people, that is, to do everything that they could do well and enjoyed doing.

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When Yanukovych did not panic and flee, the “leaders” of the revolution started showing signs of concern: when will he leave? Or at least make concessions? The time slowed down. If not for the clashes on Hrushevsky Street and the radicalization of the protest, everything could have ended nowhere, with the opposition leaders surrendering to the owner of the golden toilet. The ordeals that subsequently began in Crimea were much harder, and entirely of a different nature. In this case, the then opposition leaders had to deal not with a puppet, but with the master. What could have been the response to this formidable challenge by the representatives of the rubberstamp opposition accustomed to comfortable life? A cozy parliamentary seat, MP immunity from any prosecution, regular exercises in eloquence on TV, and vacations on exotic islands…

The futile tactics of the people from the stage of Maidan were continued in Crimea. The only order that Ukrainian troops on the peninsula obtained from the Kyiv authorities in a month was as follows: "To stand and not to provoke!". And so they stood, until all the Ukrainian military bases in Crimea were surrounded by the Russian army. They surrendered Crimea, but they refrained from provocations… At the same time, Ukrainian government-controlled media kept tirelessly telling us how heroically the Ukrainian military surrendered to the Russians, singing the national anthem. By the way, the aggressor at first acted cautiously and timidly, waiting for the reaction of the Ukrainian side. When APCs of the Russian Black Sea Fleet based in Sevastopol moved to the administrative center of the Crimean autonomy, they stopped at every Ukrainian traffic police checkpoint and presented documents. When they saw no reaction on the side of Ukrainians, they went ahead, boldly and brazenly. They did exactly what they were allowed to do by the Ukrainian authorities. Ukraine’s military forces were paralyzed not by Moscow's actions, but by the prostration of the Kyiv government, which bears the main responsibility for what has happened.

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Valentin But, a Crimean writer and an eyewitness of the events, is right when he insists that these developments were not inevitable: "…Despite the almost total degradation of the Ukrainian army, Crimea still had enough combat-ready units, which, if given timely orders, could have effectively stopped the disastrous developments by taking control of the administrative buildings and major infrastructure objects… In a modern war situation, decisions have to be taken very quickly. Minutes or hours at the most divide defeat from victory. Delays of days and weeks meant only one thing: defeat. This is why, after waiting quite a bit to make sure that there would be no resistance, Putin began methodically to inundate Crimea with Russian troops. Crimea was surrendered. The war in Donbas and the implementation of Putin's plans for "Novorossiya" followed.The Russian troops took the building of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the Council of Ministers and other buildings in Simferopol, without firing a shot. No one showed resistance. Later, the notorious FSB Colonel Igor Strelkov aka Girkin, according to his own words, with his armed companions, shepherded the deputies of the Crimean parliament to vote for decisions required by Moscow, including the announcement of the "referendum."

A year has passed since the surrender of Crimea. What has been done to return the peninsula to Ukraine? Practically nothing. The Ministry for Crimean Affairs still does not exist in Ukraine, while the Russian Federation has one. Ukrainian officials mention Crimea less and less often, unlike Obama, Merkel, Cameron and Komorowski, who use every opportunity to remind Moscow that it has annexed a foreign territory. Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko does not mention Crimea at all in the Strategy for Sustainable Development of Ukraine until 2020, causing discontent among Crimean Tatars, in particular. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk stated that the problem of Crimea will be solved "by our children and grandchildren." So, the official Kyiv decided to stay clear of this issue.

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The issue of returning Crimea to Ukraine heavily depends on the effective and principled policy of Ukrainian authorities, the rate and success of economic and administrative reforms in the mainland Ukraine, the clear strategy of the country's development, and the ability of the Kyiv government to accumulate the forces and resources required to resist the aggression in Donbas. So far, they have not given a reason even for a cautious optimism.In the meantime, Moscow is strengthening its position on the peninsula, bringing it daily to the common Russian standard, training the "new converts" to be afraid of the FSB in the situation when any careless word may result in charges of "extremism" and a jail term. People are scared and try not to talk to strangers. Against this background, the statement made by the Russian representative to the United Nations Vitaliy Churkin that recently some German sociological agency conducted a survey in Crimea to discover that 93% of the local population support what Churkin called the "reunification of Crimea with Russia," sounds rather touching. In totalitarian states, any sociology is pointless, because it is very difficult to find out what people really think, since their honesty is often blocked by their self-preservation instinct.

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Moscow maintains a certain level of material wealth on the annexed territory, paying good money to the military, state employees and pensioners. However, Russia can afford to do so only, so to speak, on a share basis with the official Kyiv. The Russian money in Crimea would have long become scrap paper with which little can be purchased if the Ukrainian government did not ensure the supplies of food, electricity, gas and water from mainland Ukraine, because for Ukraine Crimea is a peninsula, while for Russia it is an island. Without the help of Ukraine, Russia would not be capable of solving the logistics between this "island" and the rest of its territory: building a bridge to unite the two shores of the Kerch Strait would be difficult, expensive, and technically fantastic. Using ships from the ports of Novorossiysk and Tuapse would also be expensive and inconvenient, plus, a whole fleet would be needed, not to mention a major reconstruction of the ports of Kerch, Feodosia, Yalta, Yevpatoria, and Sevastopol. To ensure the minimum food supplies to Crimea, at least 500 truckloads of food every day are required. The maximum capacity of the Kerch ferry is 90 truckloads. This means that there is an urgent need for help on the side of Ukraine. The official Kyiv respects the needs of the aggressor. According to Crimean insiders, about 1,000 trucks enter Crimea via Perekop daily to make sure that the Crimean group of the Russian Armed Forces is not starving… At the same time, traffic for ordinary citizens between the peninsula and the mainland Ukraine has been interrupted, increasing the distance between the Crimeans and the rest of Ukraine in the human dimension. The representatives of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis said on Social Country TV station (former Black Sea TV station, now broadcasting from Kyiv): "Our elders will understand the economic blockade of Crimea, but they will not understand the breach of human relations."

Losiev Ihor

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