A Political Solution to the Crimea Dispute With Russia
While there is much to be argued against Russia’s behavior, in particular how the Russian government treats its own citizens, and the recent revelation that a Russian intelligence agency paid bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. and British soldiers, the overall world political security issues call for an understanding to be reached between the West and Russia. With Vladimir Putin strengthening his control over Russian political life, it would be futile to believe that President Putin will be relinquishing control of Russia anytime soon. While the West universally condemned the seizure of the Crimea, which began this standoff, it was the West's behavior that pushed Russia to assert political control over the Crimea in her national security interests and give Putin the leverage to solidify his control of Russian political life.
With the rise of the “Wolf Warrior” policy by China, the threat to world peace comes from China.
Russia shares a large land border with China, in particular Siberia, and China has already proclaimed that China intends to recover land taken from China by Russia by the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689. Given Russia's history with the Oriental culture, it is hard to imagine that Russia does not have apprehensions about China's rise, both economically and militarily. Given the West's menacing moves against Russia, it is no wonder that Russia has moved closer to China, rationalizing that Russia's more immediate threat was from Europe.
The Importance of the Crimea to Russia
While the Crimea has always been important to the national security of Russia, the most recent example is the summer of 1942 and the siege of Sevastopol that delayed the start of the German offensive, code named Case Blue, until June of 1942. A look at the topography of southern Russia clearly shows the importance of the Crimea to the national security interests of Russia. The key to southern Russia has always been the Crimea. Separated from the mainland, the Crimea acts as a natural fortress which would need to be subjugated before any invasion of southern Russia would have any hope of success. As the reader can see in the map below, once past the Crimea, there are no natural boundaries to an invading force until one reaches the foothills of the Caucuses and the Volga river.
Before Case Blue could begin, the 1942 German offensive in southern Russia, the Russian naval base at Sevastopol had to be reduced, and the Crimea denied to the Russian air force. The Russian military airfields were within easy striking range of the oil fields of Romania, which German depended upon for her oil supplies for the German war machine. The fight for Sevastopol was long and costly for the German 11th Army. The 11th had been scheduled to accompany the German 6th Army in the drive to the Volga, and the capture of Stalingrad. However, the 11th Army was so depleted after the fight that it was not able to accompany the 6th Army. So, when the moment of truth arrived in the rubble filled streets of Stalingrad, the 6th Army did not have the strength to evict the Russian Army from the west bank of the Volga, and this led to the defeat and total destruction of the German 6th Army in February of 1943.
The U.S. Betrayal of Russia and the Overthrow of an Elected Government in Ukraine
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and prior to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the West approached Russia and struck an agreement that would gain Russia agreement to allow East and West Germany to reunite, as well as allowing Germany to remain a part of NATO. In return for the reluctant acquiescence of the Russian government, the U.S. and NATO promised Russia that NATO would not advance any further into Middle Europe and threaten the borders of Russia. Yet less than two weeks after this gentleman's agreement was reached, the United States reneged on its promise and laid plans to expand NATO up to the frontier of Russia. By 2009, NATO had advanced right up to the Russian political borders. It should be noted here that in the last 220 years, the West has invaded Russia four times if one includes the Crimean War in the 1800s. Three of those times, the invasions were of an existential threat to Russia. Russia has not invaded Western Europe except during WW2, where Russia moved west to defeat Germany, who had attacked her in 1941.
In 2014, Ukraine's legally elected government was overthrown by protesters in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. This was done at the urging of the West. Indeed, western diplomats discussed with the protestors the advantage of being aligned with the West internationally. Regardless of who would have been in power at the time, Russia had to see that as a threat against her polity and took the steps necessary to protect the vulnerable soft underbelly of Russia.
Absent a military campaign by the West to force Russia out of the Crimea, it should be clear to all parties that Russia will not willingly quit her position in the Crimea. It should be abundantly clear by now as well, that the eastern provinces of Ukraine object to the overthrow of a democratically elected government and feel that their destiny lies with Russia rather than with Ukraine.
Unless there is a dramatic change in the willingness of the West to force a military decision, then a political solution must be sought to lower tensions between the West, in particular, Western Europe and the E.U., and come to an accommodation with Russia. By coming to an accommodation with Russia, China would be forced to consider her security issues to the North with Russia and would need to become less aggressive in other parts of the world.
A Possible Diplomatic Solution to the Crimean Crisis
For any type of a settlement to be made, the West will need to acknowledge that the Crimea will remain in Russian hands.
If one makes a careful study of history, they will find that historically, since 1768, when Russia annexed it during the Russo-Turkish War, Ukraine has been a political and territorial part of Russia. The ethnic population of the Crimea is over 65% Russian.
- Crimea was traditionally a part of the Russian SFSR until 1954 when it was transferred to the Ukrainian SSR by Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev was in a power struggle for control of the Communist Party of Russia and needed the support of Oleksiy Kyrychenko, head of the Ukrainian SSR, to defeat his rival Georgii Malenkov. Kyrychenko’s price for supporting Khrushchev was the Crimea, which Khrushchev was willing to pay. In the end, Khrushchev was triumphant and disposed of Malenkov from the Politburo in 1957.
- The recognition of the Donetsk People’s Republic by the West and Ukraine. The DPR has been in open rebellion against Ukraine since 2014. The population of this region feels the overthrow of a popularly elected government by a minority segment of Ukraine was illegal and did not represent their political desires to remain in Russia's economic orbit.
- NATO would agree not to allow Ukraine to join NATO, but NATO would be allowed to hold defensive war games in Ukraine under the observation of Russian military observers.
- Russia would agree to provide compensation to Ukraine. A neutral party would determine the compensation.
- Russia would acquiesce in Ukraine, turning her economic interests and political structure to the West and would not object if Ukraine were to join the European Union in the future.
- Sanctions against Russia that came about after the seizure of the Crimea would be dropped, and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would be allowed to be completed.
This agreement could be brokered under the auspices of the current Minsk Agreement.
These proposals only reflect the current political and military situation in Ukraine. The West is not going to use military force to retrieve the Crimea or force the breakaway provinces to return to Ukrainian federal control. Since there is not going to be a change in leadership in Russia, the situation as it stands will not change. It is time for the West to accept, however much it grates on the West, that the Crimea now belongs to Russia, and that the eastern Donbass region will not be returning to the government in Kiev. This is simply realpolitik. The West needs to woo Russia away from her de facto alliance with China and apply strategic pressure upon the northern Chinese border to modify China's behavior.
Triangular Diplomacy was used before in the 1970s by the Nixon Administration, though it was China that the U.S. used as a trump card against Russia. This was when Russia was viewed as the primary threat to the United States' national security interests and world peace.
Richard E. Caroll is a retired economist and a retired soldier. His degrees are in Economics and Liberal Arts. He has traveled extensively in South East Asia and in Latin America, and is currently living in South East Asia.