MS Risk Blog

Welcome to Russia: Crimea Declares Independence and Applies to Join Russia

Posted on in Ukraine title_rule

Following Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, the European Union (EU) has agreed to impose travel bans and asset freezes against twenty-one officials from Russia and the Ukraine.  The EU announced its new sanctions after a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels, with Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevic indicated that further measures were expected to be taken in the upcoming days.

The move comes just one day after Crimea’s referendum, in which officials indicate that 96.6% of voters backed breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia.  On Monday, Crimea declared its independence and applied to join Russia.  This is the most radical redrawing of the European map since Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.

The Ukraine’s interim president Oleksandr Turchynov denounced the vote as a “great farce.”  Ukraine’s lawmakers also approved a partial mobilisation of the army, which is aimed at countering Russian troops’ effective seizure of Crimea.  The defence minister also insisted that Ukrainian troops would stay in the strategic Black Sea region.

Although EU officials have not released any names of the twenty-one officials, who will have travel bans and asset freezes imposed on them, they will reportedly affect top Russian ministers and presidential aids, however not Putin himself, and are mean to demonstrate the West’s united resolve to punish Kremlin for its overt show of post-Soviet might.  Despite the sanctions, Putin has signalled that he has no intentions of turning back on what he describes as his defence of ethnic Russians who have come under increasing attack from Ukrainian ultranationalists.  Other authorities in Moscow and ordinary Russians have also appeared unfazed by the threat of Western sanctions and international isolation.

The latest crisis follows the ousting on 22 February 2014 of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president Victor Yanukovych, who had sparked months of street protests by rejecting a planned EU trade deal in favour of closer ties with Moscow.  Pro-Russian forces have been in control of Crimea since late February however Moscow has on a number of occasions stipulated that the troops are pro-Russian self-defence forces and are not under its direct control.

Most of the international community has rejected the referendum, calling it illegal because Russia had vowed to respect its neighbour’s territorial integrity under a 1994 agreement that saw Ukraine renounce its Soviet-era nuclear arms.  The White House indicated over the weekend that US President Barack Obama had warned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that Washington and its allies would “never” recognize Crimea’s breakaway vote.  However the government in Crimea has announced a series of measures that are aimed at severing its ties with Ukraine.  Amongst these are seizing Ukrainian institutions and plans to set the peninsula on Moscow time.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin will address both houses of Parliament over Crimea’s vote to leave Ukraine and become a part of Russia.  According to Ivan Melnikov, the first deputy speaker of the lower house, the State Duma, “the speech of the president with an address on Crimea has been scheduled for 3 PM (1100 GMT).  The Kremlin has confirmed the statement however the contents of Putin’s address have not been revealed.  State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin indicated that Russia will recognize Crimea’s independence from Ukraine in a special treaty, with lawmakers also stating that they would accelerate procedures to allow Crimea to join Russia and fast-track bills to give out Russian passports to local residents.