Russian President Vladimir Putin has an agenda of annexation. As if no one had not seen that coming, it started with Russian military boots on the ground in Crimea—supposedly Ukrainian territory, or at least as an independent state within Ukraine as of 1992. Crimea is a peninsula located in the Black Sea, and at one time ground zero of some of the bloodiest battles of the region during World War II. Russia once leased a wharf and shore installations from Ukraine, renewed to extend past 2040. It had been a rather thin pretext for Russian invasion turned annexation, as there was no actual danger to the installations. Another pretext, also thin, was to protect the mostly Russian speaking, and mostly pro-Russian populace. Again, from what? The majority of the recent Ukraine crisis had centered on the capital city of Kiev.
Among some odd points about the events surrounding the Ukraine crisis and Russia’s eventual annexation of Crimea: deposed (by non-violent means by way of parliament vote) former president Viktor Yanukovych headed straight there by helicopter following the coup. As Putin allegedly put it, the current interim government is illegitimate. Coincidence that Yanukovych chose to flee from a murder warrant? Yanukovych also has allegedly asked for military aid from Russia, a common pretext for an invasion: to put down a rebellion.
Moscow does not recognize Ukraine’s new government, claiming it to be “ultra-nationalist” and posing a serious threat to Crimean civilians. Alleged ultimatums had included commanders of Ukrainian military bases being demanded to leave their posts and that Ukraine surrender control of the region to Russia. So far, Ukrainian military troops had been non-confrontational to the occupying Russian troops, including leaving their barracks unarmed. Had this been part of Putin’s agenda all along to annex Crimea?
Also, what’s this about Russia having denied there were even troops in Crimea? The assertion by a reporter about Russia’s statement once caught US secretary of state John Kerry during a press conference in mid-sentence with an obvious expression of surprise that Moscow had made such a claim. Moscow also disclaimed having made any ultimatums about Ukraine and Crimea. Still, one has to wonder if something else hadn’t been going on, if for no other reason that Yanukovych, supposedly ruling a country on the brink of bankruptcy, was himself living an extravagant lifestyle.
Meanwhile, it looked like history was repeating itself in Kharkiv and Donetsk—Yanukovych’s hometown—with pro-Russian demonstrations that have been on the violent side, with dozens injured. This complicated matters in an already tenuous situation, so perhaps Russia’s invasion and eventual annexation of Crimea had not been such a thin pretext at all.
Right now, the proverbial ball is in the West’s court as to a response to the annexation. Much pressure from the European Union had been for crippling sanctions. Before the annexation, the US camp had urged calm and a dialog between Russia and the Ukrainian government to determine how best to settle the situation, pretty much without anyone losing face.
One thing was for certain: there indeed had been a strong Russian military presence in Crimea prior to the annexation, with forces numbering in the thousands. However thin the pretext may or may not have seemed at the time, they were there and, in effect, in control. The global community at large believed Russia has violated international law, but as the old saying goes, all it takes is to get a toe in the doorway. Russia had its toe in the Crimean doorway and it led to its annexation.
Now Putin’s agenda seems to be that of bringing, the Baltic states, Belarus and Finland under the Russian roof, according to a close adviser. More annexations?
Editorial by Lee Birdine