Research Brief: “Russian annexation of Crimean Peninsula: reasons and outcomes”
More than a year has passed since Russian ‘polite people,’ or ‘green men’ appeared in Crimea and following an unrecognized referendum, Crimean peninsula’s annexation occurred. Nevertheless, Crimea still remains in the focus of the international community as the situation keeps developing and even gains new momentum. World political analysts claim that there are no economic advantages of the decision to annex the Ukrainian territory, contrarily it creates various difficulties for Russian authorities due to economic sanctions and increased hostility of Western countries. This paper seeks to explain the reasons for such a decision and discuss its aftermath.
But is there something specific about Crimea? Or is its annexation just a part of a common new paradigm? Trenin argues that “It was precisely Crimea, …, that was the one area most Russians felt strongly about.” However, Galeotti and Bowen stress that annexation of Crimea “by any rational calculation, did not make sense.” Thus other motivations could play in favour, such as symbolical meaning, since peninsula could be viewed as a key sphere of influence within the concept of a’Russian world.’ Or Crimea’s annexation could just be a part of a ‘reset’ in relations between Russia and the West – in a demonstration of power. There are various official explanations of reasons by Kremlin propaganda, such as official demand to protect Russian-speaking people made by then President Yanukuvych, but they obviously don’t reveal true motivations. Below I propose four possible answers-scenarios of why Russia made the decision to annex peninsula:
- Available opportunity
The first proposed and the simplest answer to this question is that Russia did it because it could. Chief editor of the German newspaper Die Zeit, Josef Joffe called Putin master tactician and strategist, he claimed that “Putin is just using opportunities as they become available,” and also that “he carefully, coolly and cynically calculated all the risks, he sees little risk, he realizes that he has not met a serious confrontation from the West.” Contrarily, Nikolay Zlobin, President of Centre on Global Interests (USA) during a meeting with EURUS students in November 2015, he claimed that Putin doesn’t have any long-term strategy “Putin runs form corner to corner and on each he reevaluates the risk and possibilities and then makes decisions,” but he is a very good tactician. Zlobin also mentioned the fact that currently Obama is president of the United States and plays an important role, since he maintains “relative softness in relation to Russia.” Taking into consideration the weakness of the Ukrainian state due to practical absence of government and a president, and shock after murders of civil unarmed protesters on the streets, Russia could counted on the confusion and delayed response from the Ukrainian side to its actions in Crimea. Therefore, Russia wasn’t bounded neither by a strong Western response, nor by Ukrainian actions, leaving Putin to seize the opportunity. Nevertheless, it seems that this decision creates more problems than new possibilities, but this will be discussed in details further.
- Desire to secure the Black Sea Fleet
Another scenario is that Russia strategically demands presence of its military fleet in the Black Sea in order to be able to protect itself from surrounding NATO counties. Since the regime in Kyiv has changed and Ukrainians express strong pro-European positions, Russia is afraid that NATO would place its bases on the territory of Ukraine and Crimea in particular. This point is directly linked with previously discussed Russia’s perception of its right to have regional and global interests and protect their key spheres of influence. In the documentary dedicated to the first anniversary of the return of the Crimea in the bosom of Mother-Russia, Putin himself and other interviewed officials repeatedly stress that Russia has to fulfill its “duty and protect Crimean people from NATO units and United States Navy.” And Putin officially claimed Russian military presence only a year after annexation in above mentioned documentary. However, during the ongoing Crimean campaign high Russian authorities denied its participation. For example, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu “called provocation media photos of Russian military equipment in Crimea. When asked by journalists whether Russian troops present in the Crimea, the Minister again replied: “No, absolutely.” If Russia was protecting people from military threats, why didn’t they officially admit it? Moreover, Russia’s military presence in the Black Sea was secured by Kharkiv agreements and signed in April 2010 by Yanukovych, which prolonged the fleet’s stay on Ukrainian territory until 2042. And furthermore, some experts even express doubts as to whether Russia needs the Black Sea Fleet in general. “Generally speaking the Russian Black Sea naval fleet is very expensive and practically a useless attribute of imperial Russian statehood, and nothing more.” Experts further extend his point by asking: “Who is going to fight Russia in the Black Sea, after the capture of the Crimea? With Turkey, Georgia, Bulgaria, Romania?… In the case of a Russian attack on Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey will have to confront all the military potential of NATO countries and their allies. In the event of such a war, the Russian Black Sea Fleet will be destroyed ‘in an instance,’ without coming into direct contact with the combat fleets of the NATO countries.”
- Preservation of political influence on Ukraine
Some observers claim annexation of Crimea a leverage of implementation of Russia’s interests in Ukraine. In another words, after occurrence of Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, Moscow invented a new method to prevent Kyiv from moving towards West. This reason is also connected to the idea of a ‘Russian World,’ described in a previous section. I could agree with the existence of intentions to moderate the Ukrainian path of development, but the invasion in Eastern Ukraine serves this aim. Firstly, since Russia embodied Crimea as its federal district, Crimea doesn’t have any administrative decision power in Ukraine. Also, the population of Crimea traditionally express anti-Western political attitudes, and influenced national decisions anyway. Contrarily, “Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples Republics” according to Minsk agreement have to remain in Ukraine with ability to influence or veto some decisions of Kyiv. Secondly, by Crimea annexation actually created an opportunity for Ukraine to influence Western position toward Russia, and moreover to put pressure on Russia itself, since Crimea is highly dependent on a supply from Ukraine in groceries and energy fields.. Moreover, as a side effect, by excluding Crimea from Ukraine, Russia reduced the pressure on the Ukrainian economy, since Crimea was a subsidized region, which pulled a lot of resources from Ukraine. For the same reasons version that Russia wanted to punish Kyiv for Maydan occurrence with Crimea annexation, as some analysts suggested doesn’t work.
- Return of the Crimea as a small victorious war
And the last scenario represents the Crimean campaign as a boost for ratings in Putin’s support among the population. Social scientists agree that the legitimacy of Putin’s political regime is to a large extent dependent on Vladimir Putin’s personal popularity and support. Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy stress that from the moment Putin appeared in Russian politics he was in a “permanent media campaign.” Well known Russian financier Slava Rabinovich claims that “Putin annexed the Crimea, started the war in the east of Ukraine, and in general, began this monstrous criminal adventure with Ukraine for only one reason: to preserve his criminal power at any costs, in the period of impending economic collapse.” He also explained that “in January 2014, just before the Olympics, even (even!!!) on a wave of “patriotism” of the upcoming “exemplary” Olympics, Putin’s approval ratings plummeted. Moreover, his approval ratings then reached such a level that it has never had: only 40% of Russians were satisfied with his actions as president.” Other analysis confirms this view and further develops it: “thus, Putin is now in perfect position to maintain his position in power. The economic situation is catastrophic, but broad masses of people do not pay any attention to it, except in the context of the ‘damned West strangles us’…. ”The rubble has fallen? So look at the hryvnia! The standard of living is reduced? So in Ukraine there is complete poverty! We have corrupted people in power? So Ukrainians have not just been corrupted, but they are even fascists. And so on and so forth. The main thing for the rating – not to reduce the degree of hysteria.” Furthermore, sociological surveys conducted in Russia prove the correctness of stated assumption.
April 2016 will mark two years of the annexation of Crimea peninsula by the Russian Federation. In the documentary dedicated to the first anniversary of the return of the Crimea, Putin called Crimean occupation “the largest successful bloodless military campaign.” But what has this campaign actually brought in the aftermath? From the symbolical perspective, as was said “Crimea-ours” (Крым-наш) provoked an uplifting of patriotic sentiments among Russians, and boosted Putin’s rating. Three hundred people was awarded with a medal ‘for the return of the Crimea,’ and a special documentary was dedicated to the first anniversary. But even speaking about this abovementioned film, which the “objective was to show the world the Russian version of events that occurred in February – March 2014 in Ukraine, in particular the processes that accompanied the reunification of the Crimea with Russia,” it’s really hard to say that it reach its goal. One commentator mentioned that “I see the film only as an element of foreign policy strategy of Russia, and even in this case it is not clear why it was necessary to walk such a complicated way. In terms of internal promotion, the film both doesn’t brings benefits, but also brings risks. The film has repeated message that Russia was forced to attach the Crimea in order to prevent in Crimea development of situation similar to conflict in the Donbas. The film was still in the air, when the questions of Donbas residents and sympathizers form Russians appeared in the internet – ‘Are they not human beings? Don’t they need to defend?’ – until it became clear that it is technically impossible to attach Donbas similarly to the Crimea.” So even symbolically, the film failed to reach its aim.
From the political perspective, “resolution, which does not recognize the secession of Crimea from Ukraine, was supported by 100 countries” in the UN General Assembly. Moreover, only Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe voted against. Furthermore, occupation lead to decline of Russia’s prestige on the international arena, Russia lost its status of reliable partner, and it was excluded from the G8. Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Syria doesn’t greatly improve the situation, and recent the accident with Turkey airspaces violation produced even higher tensions. Moreover, Russia lost even its old associates, such as Belorussia and Kazakhstan.
From an economic perspective, the West imposed various sanctions against Russia and it’s authorities, both personal and sector, and despite hard efforts of Russian diplomats, recently prolonged it for another half a year. Sanctions make tangible impacts on the Russian economy, but even if not taken into consideration, financing of the peninsula itself is a heavy burden for the Russian budget. According to murdered politician Boris Nemtsov calculations, Crimea costs 4 billion dollars per year for Russia’s budget. And according to Galeotti and Bowen “Russia has already pledged $1.5 billion to support Crimea,” apart from regular social spending. And now, problems causes by current products and energy blockade initiated by Ukrainian- Crimean Tatar activists have to be added into account. They not only request additional costs to stabilize the situation in peninsula, but also to spoil the positive image of Russian officials among the entire country.
Summarizing, after the collapse of Soviet Union Russia was mistreated by Western countries by imposed Cold War prejudice, need to obey strict rules of reforms created by West through IMF and other institution, role of a ‘junior partner.’ And Russia’s primary goal was to return its status of a Great power and ability to play in international arena by its own rules. Some scholars say this was the personal ambition and vision of Vladimir Putin, others consider Russia’s foreign actions as just a reflection of the mood of the population. However, Russia’s new Foreign Policy and Military Doctrine reflects Russia’s right to have regional and global interests and protect their key spheres of influence, which to some extent could be defined by a concept of a ‘Russian World.’ But only to some extent, since this paper proved that this concept mostly used for domestic justification and as a propaganda tool, the true reason for Crimea’s annexation was the need to secure Putin’s popularity among the Russian population against the background of an impending economic crisis, since it is essential component of regime legitimacy. The outcomes of Crimean occupation are mostly negative: economic decline, losing of the world community’s respect (which is so important for Russian mentality) and status of reliable partner. The only gains are in symbolical field: risen level of patriotism and boosted rating of President Putin. Therefore, the primary goal was accomplished, but it seems like Putin’s team are much better in tactics than strategy, since it hasn’t foreseen or calculated side consequences, such as long-lasting sanctions, real cost of keeping Crimea population and infrastructure, and furthermore – response from Ukrainian civil society and Crimea Tatars resistance. More importantly, it seems like Putin’s biggest ambition is a ‘Russian World’ is both strategically and tactically accomplishable, since Putin miscalculated – by gaining Crimea he lost all of Ukraine.
Conducted by: Varvara Shmygalova
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 Trenin, p. 410
 Galeotti, Mark, and Andrew S. Bowen. 2014. Putin’s empire of the mind. Foreign Policy (206): 16, p. 17
 “Путин не сумасшедший, он просто использует свои возможности”, Радио Польша, September 09, 2015 http://www.radiopolsha.pl/6/249/Artykul/220502#sthash.7uencMbM.dpuf
 “Шойгу о российской технике в Крыму: ‘чушь и провокация’”, Русская служда ВВС March 05, 2014 http://www.bbc.com/russian/russia/2014/03/140305_crimea_troops_shoigu
 “Договор Януковича и Медведева о базировании флота до 2042 года. Текст документа”, Украинская правда, March 22, 2015 http://www.pravda.com.ua/rus/articles/2010/04/22/4956018/
 “Комплекс мер по выполнению Минских соглашений”, President of Russia official website, February 12, 2015 http://kremlin.ru/supplement/4804
 “Зачем Путину нужен Крым – The National Interest”, Корреспондент.net, April 12, 2014 http://korrespondent.net/world/worldabus/3318431-zachem-putynu-nuzhen-krym-The-National-Interest
 Fiona Hill, Clifford Gaddy, “Putin: Operative in Kremlin”, Brooking FOCUS Book, 2012.
 “Рабинович рассказал, зачем Путин аннексировал Крым и развязал войну в Украине” Хвиля, July 09, 2015 http://hvylya.net/news/digest/rabinovich-rasskazal-zachem-putin-anneksiroval-kryim-i-razvyazal-voynu-v-ukraine.html
 “Зачем Путину Крым и война в Украине?”, Аналитический портал “Антиимперский русский национализм”, April 24, 2015 http://right-dexter.com/analytika/rossiya/zachem-putinu-krym/#.Vlo7Gt-rRAY
 “Владимир Путин: доверие, оценки, отношение” Левада-Центр, April 27, 2015. http://www.levada.ru/27-03-2015/vladimir-putin-doverie-otsenki-otnoshenie
 Ростислав Ищенко, “Фильм «Крым. Путь на Родину» – сигнал внешним партнерам”, Политическая Россия, March 16, 2015 http://politrussia.com/news/rostislav-ishchenko-film-510/
 “Россию исключили из «большой восьмерки», на очереди – ‘двадцатка’?”, Московский комсомолец, March 26, 2014 http://www.mk.ru/politics/article/2014/03/26/1003781-rossiyu-isklyuchili-iz-bolshoy-vosmerki-na-ocheredi-quotdvadtsatkaquot.html
 “EU sanctions against Russia over Ukraine crisis”, European Union Newsroom, http://europa.eu/newsroom/highlights/special-coverage/eu_sanctions/index_en.htm
 “Санкции против России продлят еще на полгода – СМИ”, Корреспондент.net, November 22, 2015 http://korrespondent.net/world/3593287-sanktsyy-protyv-rossyy-prodliat-esche-na-polhoda-smy
 Boris Nemtsov personal page, Facebook, post from March 9, 2014 https://www.facebook.com/boris.nemtsov/posts/598283640241240
 Galeotti, Mark, and Andrew S. Bowen. 2014. Putin’s empire of the mind. Foreign Policy (206): 16, p. 17
 “Блокада Криму. Кримські татари і активісти вже почали підготовку до акції”, Телевізійна служба новин, September 20, 2015 http://tsn.ua/ukrayina/blokada-krimu-krimski-tatari-i-aktivisti-vzhe-pochali-pidgotovku-do-akciyi-496942.html
 Енергетична блокада Криму: Окупанти півострова закликали населення “готуватися до гіршого”, УНІАН, November 23, 2015 http://www.unian.ua/society/1191288-energetichna-blokada-krimu-okupanti-pivostrova-zaklikali-naselennya-gotuvatisya-do-girshogo.html