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For Putin, it’s all about Crimea

Collage of Vladimir Putin in front of a sign stating "Crimea is Russian land" (RFE/RL Graphics)
Collage of Vladimir Putin in front of a sign stating “Crimea is Russian land” (RFE/RL Graphics)
For Putin, it’s all about Crimea

After several months of Russian statements that the country’s security depends on obtaining guarantees that Ukraine and other former Soviet republics will never be accepted to NATO, it turns out that it was all about Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin finally made this clear at a joint press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Putin stressed that if Ukraine joined NATO, Ukraine would then be able to present its claims to the “Russian” peninsula of Crimea and try to reestablish its control over it by military means. Thus, Russia would be drawn into conflict with all NATO member countries.

This logic is more than a bit strange. It was not Ukraine, but Russia who established its control over Crimea with the use of military force. It was not Ukraine, but Russia who incorporated Crimea in its own Constitution even though this decision contradicted both international law and the obligations of Russia under treaties, and it even contradicted the Russian Constitution itself, which was then revised to include two Ukrainian territories – Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. Meanwhile, Ukraine has always emphasized that it wants to resolve the issue of restoring its territorial integrity through diplomatic rather than military means.

Simply put, Ukraine is not Russia. The value of human life is much higher here.

Ukraine is not going to attack Russia, and even more so it is not going to draw NATO member countries into a conflict with the Russian state. Ukrainians expect Russia to have basic respect for international law. This respect would be demonstrated by Russia ceasing the occupation of the Ukrainian territories and reversing violations the government has made since 2014, such as the annexation of Crimea to Russia, the theft of other people’s property, the issuance of Russian passports to Crimean residents, and so on.

All the problems that according to Vladimir Putin could lead to a new conflict in Europe could be solved with just one stroke of a pen. After all, no occupation lasts forever. The Russian occupation of Crimea and the Donbas will also end someday. It may be a sign of great progress towards the end that even eight years after the occupation started, Russian claim to the Crimea still creates a major problem for Russia’s security.

No matter how Moscow tries to convince itself that the issue of Crimea is “closed,” Putin’s words about possibility of a conflict around the peninsula indicate the opposite; the Russian authorities haven’t felt secure in their control since the annexation. Not a single day.

Russia’s confrontation with Ukraine, its ultimatums to the West, and the militarization of the country are all natural consequences of the Crimean syndrome. But none of these actions solve Russia’s problem with Crimea. This problem will be solved only when Ukrainian flags will fly again over Simferopol, Sevastopol, Bakhchysarai, Yalta and other Crimean cities. And not one day earlier.

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