Friday, December 7, 2018 12:55 pm
By Owei Lakemfa
When the Ukrainian government, against warnings by Russia, this Sunday, sent a tug boat, the Yani Kapu, and two gunboats, the Nikopol and the Berdyansk into the Kerch Strait in the Crimea controlled by the latter, it could not have been hoping for a joyous reception. It could also not have hoped that the small naval ships would over run Russian positions in the waters which Russia had barricaded since September. The barricade had followed an earlier drama of a claim of sovereignty by the same ships enacted in the same waters. This time, Russia seized the three ships and two dozen sailors including the intelligence officers on board.
What might be surprising is Ukraine’s cry of “provocation” by Russia. It is also claiming a Prisoner of War status for the sailors, while Russia is treating them as criminal trespassers.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s act of sending the three naval ships to breach Russian military defences in the Crimean waters is like a child slapping an adult, and then crying that the latter is reacting. It is unclear why Poroshenko decided to provoke Russian reaction. It might be part of an understanding with the American-led North Atlantic Treaty Organsiation (NATO) to provoke war in the Black Sea.
If this were the case, it means the Ukrainians learnt nothing from the five-day Russo-Georgian War. Georgia, led by President Mikheil Saakashvili believing that NATO would fight on its side, had in 2008, taken on the Russian Army. But NATO did not lift a finger, leaving the Georgians to be crushed by Russia. There is nothing to indicate today, that were war to break out between Ukraine and Russia, NATO would risk a Third World War by attacking Russia.
On the other hand, the provocation could be part of Ukraine’s tactics to get the West impose fresh sanctions against Russia; but if it were to succeed in doing this, of what benefit will it be? What were the effects of earlier Western sanctions on Russia over the same Ukraine?
Ukraine has enacted on the world stage a number of farcical drama presentations against Russia in order to turn the international community against its neigbour. So far, the most childish is the Tuesday, May 29, 2018 fake assassination of Russian exile journalist, Arkady Babchenko. The Ukrainian security services staged scenes in which the journalist was ‘shot’ three times, subsequently, declared dead and wheeled to the mortuary. The Ukrainian government went on to show footages of the alleged assassin, Valid Lurakhmanov, a ‘notorious Chechen hitman’. There was outrage across the world against Russia. A few days later, the Ukrainian Government produced Babchenko alive at a press conference saying it had faked the assassination for “propagandistic effect”.
The Ukrainian government this Wednesday followed up its latest drama with an unrelated declaration of Marshall Law which it claims it introduced with the sole purpose of boosting Ukraine’s defence in the light of a growing aggression from Russia. While the state of emergency includes what it says is a partial mobilization and strengthening the country’s air defence and anti-terrorism measures, the government quite curiously included curtailing fundamental human rights in the measures. No such measures were introduced in 2014 and 2015 when the country witnessed an escalation of war in the Eastern part including the Crimea. It is not unlikely that the new law is aimed at curtailing the opposition as the Presidential elections approach.
Stripped of all its melodrama, the real issue in contention is the Crimea which both countries claim. Crimea became part of the Russian Empire in 1783. So when the Russian Revolution took place in 1917, it was part of the successor Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Ukraine was also part of the Soviet Federation. In October 1921, Crimea became an autonomous Republic within the USSR. However, in 1946, it was stripped of this status, and in 1954, merged with Ukraine. As the USSR began to unravel in 1990, Crimea sought to regain its old status as an autonomous republic. But the process was still on when Ukraine became an independent country with Crimea, which has a 70 percent Russian stock, as an integral part.
However, in the post-Cold War era, there was an ideological struggle with Eastern Ukraine being pro-Russia, and the rest of the country including the capital Kiev, leaning more to the West. These differences were reflected in the country’s elections. The 2004 Presidential elections resulted in a run-off in which Viktor Yanukovych a pro-Russian politician from the East was declared the winner. A protest in the capital Kiev followed. Called the Orange Revolution, the Presidential elections were upturned and the Supreme Court ordered new elections in which the rival candidate, Viktor Yushchenko was declared winner.
However, Yanukovych again won the 2010 elections. This time, all agreed he was the clear winner and was sworn into office. However in 2014 there were again pro-West demonstrations in Kiev over the refusal of the government to sign a trade deal with the West; the Ukraine – European Union Association Agreement. Unlike the bloodless Orange Revolution protests, this was quite bloody with over 100 persons killed. This led to a coup in which President Yanukovych was ousted. He fled to Eastern Ukraine where the populace took up arms and declared themselves independent from the rest of the country. Half the Ukrainian soldiers stationed in the East defected to the side of the rebels and that war in which over 10,000 people have been killed, is still on.
Crimea was part of the country that took up arms against the Kiev coup plotters. On May 25, 61 of the 64 parliamentarians at a sitting, voted for a referendum on autonomy, and 55 of them voted to remove the regional government. The Crimea population voted to rejoin Russia, and were accepted.
The Ukrainian authorities claim that the votes in Crimea Parliament and the referendum were secured under duress and that the Crimea remains part of sovereign Ukraine. It is this sovereignty, Ukraine tried to assert by sending the three naval ships to the Kerch Strait in the Crimea.
The disputes in Ukraine are likely to go on for a long time, but I think the country shot itself in the foot by using the populace of one part of the country to overthrow the legitimately elected government led by politicians from another part of the country. If Ukraine were to reunite, it will take more than the antics of the leadership in Kiev. For instance, it may need to consider the restoration of the Yanukovych administration as part of national reconciliation. If this seems far- fetched, so does the reunification of the country.