Crimean autonomy talks receive fast-track status after Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov stated that Crimean forces were capable of defending the region themselves, despite ongoing armed standoffs between Russian and Ukranian troops at several key installations. After months of protests ousted pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yunukovych, talks of Crimean independence scheduled for the end of March would take place weeks sooner as part of efforts to settle the tense region.
Despite strong ties to Russia, Crimean citizens have been living under Ukrainian rule for years, despite underlying wishes to cut ties with the superpower. As the protests in Ukraine went on and claimed hundreds of lives, Crimeans worried that Russia would put a violent end to the uprising since there are several strategic points in the region valuable to them, not the least of which is the Black Sea fleet naval base located on the Crimean coast. Over 16,000 Russian troops have been dispatched to “protect Russian installations” in the region. Now that talks of Crimea seceding from Ukraine have begun in earnest, it seems possible that everyone will get their way, if Putin accepts one of the many opportunities to gracefully back down the world has offered.
Amid the ongoing controversy, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kiev on Tuesday, bringing news of a billion dollar loan from the U.S. for the Ukraine to help them set up elections and fight corruption during the early days of the newly installed government. As well, the money will be used to protect Ukrainian citizens from energy price hikes that will occur if Russia cuts of the flow of natural gas they supply to the region. Now that Crimean autonomy talks receive fast-track status, everyone involved hopes these crippling economic measures will be unnecessary.
While these talks go on, Russian President Vladmir Putin states that the forces deployed are meant to protect those who identify themselves as Russian citizens in a country that has fiercely resisted Russian influence since the fall of the Soviet Union, swearing that deadly force will only be used as a last resort. At the same time, claims that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine through Crimea have been put down as Russia responding to an “unconstitutional coup.” Now that Crimean autonomy talks are on the table, it is possible that Crimea can become its own state. Should this be successful, Ukraine will not have to retaliate against Russia for taking part of its territory, and Russia will not have to use the armed forces they have spread throughout the region to keep what they have held there for decades.
Even after Crimean autonomy talks receive fast-track status there are murmurs of economic sanctions against Russia designed to cripple their ability to wage a war, even one so close to home. Although the U.S. claims these measures would be in the interest of protecting Ukrainian and Crimean citizens, the frosty relationship the two powers have had is no secret to the world. Putin has warned America that they would also suffer under these sanctions, and that they would prove to be uncalled for.
By Daniel O’Brien