Sample Expository Essay: The Annexation of Crimea
The current Ukraine-Russia crisis is a result of the ongoing conflict between the two countries. Factors like politics, heritage, and securing power are some of the causes of this conflict that started years ago. These causes resulted in infighting, political deposition, and eventually; the current crisis. The annexation of Crimea is one of the results of these causes which some also consider a contributing factor to the current Ukraine-Russia crisis. With this, understanding the events that happened before, during, and after the annexation of Crimea is integral to a better comprehension of the current crisis. This sample expository essay will discuss these events, the history behind the annexation, and how it factored into the current conflict.
History of Crimea to Russia
One of the reasons behind the annexation of Crimea is the nationalistic idea of Russians toward the region. Russians believe that they have a historical claim to Crimea since it is the site of their Christian origins, a place with significant military history, a highly cultural spot, and originally a part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (Salsuchev, 2014; Pifer 2020). The rich history that Russia has with Crimea created a nationalistic idea that enforced its claim to the region. In 1954, however, Crimea became a part of the Ukrainian Societ Socialist Republic and alienated the ethnic Russians.
To better understand this historical claim, it is useful to enumerate the Russia-related significant events in the history of Crimea. The region is the site of the Byzantine Empire’s introduction of Orthodox Christianity and the baptism of Kyivan Rus Prince Vladimir in 867 (Salushev, 2014). This introduction to Christianity and sovereign baptism resulted in Russia becoming a Christian nation. This enforces a strong cultural connection between Russians and Crimea which was one of the contributing factors in the annexation. This is similar to the Israel-Palestine crisis in which the two countries are fighting for their claim on a holy site.
During Catherine the Great’s sovereignty in 1783, the Crimean peninsula was a part of Russia and a significant military outpost. The country colonized the peninsula by defeating the Crimean Khanate forces, an Ottoman Empire-controlled state (Saluschev, 2014). This colonization provided Russia with a historical claim to the peninsula (Pifer, 2020). However, since Crimea’s transfer to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was legitimate, the region officially became a part of Ukraine.
Aside from the historical claims, Crimea is a site of significant military battles and a place where Russian artists lived. In 1853, the Russian Empire fought against France, Britain, and the Ottoman empire. Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea, became the “City of Heroes”’ after World War II Soviet soldiers defended the city from German Nazis (Saluschev, 2014). Russian artists, such as Anton Chekhov, Ivan Bunin, Maksim Gorky, Alexander Kupriin, and Fyodor Chaliapin, lived and created their works in Crimea. These factors contribute to the cultural heritage that Russia has with the Crimean peninsula. They prove that the region’s history is closely related to Russia which enforces the country’s historical claim.
In 2013, the Euromaidan protests began to oppose Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych’s decision regarding Ukraine’s relationship with Europe and Russia. The Ukrainian President announced that he would not sign an agreement with Europe, which meant that Ukraine may lean toward Russia (Clarke, 2019). However, Ukrainian citizens did not agree with the announcement and started to conduct nationwide protests. According to Clarke (2019), there was an estimated 700,000 Ukrainians participating in the protests and the Ukrainian President ordered the use of extreme force against the protesters. In February 2014, the Ukrainian President fled the country and went to Russia (Pifer, 2020). After this, Ukraine’s parliament elected an acting president and had intentions of establishing better relationships with Europe.
The military annexation of Crimea began after the Euromaidan protests and the election of the acting president. Ukraine and the European Union have just signed an association agreement when armed Russian troops began to occupy key facilities and checkpoints in Crimea (Pifer, 2020). According to Clarke (2019), Russia was able to easily take over Crimean checkpoints because of a 1997 deal allowing Russia to establish bases in Crimea. Since the region has a weak military presence and is a peninsula, away from Ukraine’s mainland, Russian troops were able to take over with minimum resistance.
By March 2014, Russia has taken over the entire Crimean peninsula. The military forces in the region did not resist or attempted to fight because of orders from Kyiv and Western partners to avoid a crisis (Pifer, 2020). On March 16, 2014, the Crimean Supreme Council created a referendum that provided Crimea with the choice of joining Russia or acquiring autonomy, as per Crimea’s 1992 constitution. The two choices in the referendum ensured that Crimea will not become a part of Ukraine and either become a part of Russia or an autonomous region. The decision regarding Crimea’s position resulted in 96.7% of participants voting to join Russia. Local authorities reported that the voting had a turnout rate of 83%, however, a leak from the Russian President’s Human Rights Council reported that the real turnout rate was 30%. Half of the 30% voted to join Russia (Pifer, 2020). However, since the leak surfaced two months later, the Crimean and Russian officials have already signed the Treaty of Accession of the Republic of Crimea to Russia and established the Republic of Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol on March 18, 2014 (Pifer, 2020; Clinton, 2022). By this time, the Crimean peninsula had officially become a part of Russia.
Reasons for the Annexation
1. Far-Right Extremists
Aside from Russia’s historical claim to Crimea, the country has other reasons for the annexation. One of these is Russia’s aim to protect Russians from the far-right extremists in Ukraine (Clinton, 2022). According to Saluschev (2014), while Russia tends to exaggerate the influence of ultra-nationalists and Nazi sympathizers in Ukraine, ethnic Russians in the country feel their presence. As Ukraine leans towards relationships with European institutions, such as NATO, Russia believes that the country is creating an anti-Russian project (Clinton, 2022). Russia aims to ensure that Ukraine does not become a member of NATO which led to the annexation. In the current Ukraine-Russia crisis, the issue regarding Ukraine’s NATO membership is also a factor, indicating that it is a persisting factor in the conflict.
2. President Yanukovych’s Deposition
The Euromaidan protests led to violent government retaliation and the deposition of President Yanukovych. This deposition became a mistake that contributed to the annexation since Russia did not accept the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government. Before the President’s deposition, he signed an agreement that accepted the opposition’s demands; such as amnesty for detained protestors, a constitution that limits presidential powers, the establishment of a new government, and early elections (Saluschev, 2014). However, despite the signing, the opposition defaulted on the agreement and deposed the President. The United States and Europe quickly accepted Kyiv’s new government while Russia rejected its legitimacy.
3. Interference of the United States and other Western Countries
During the Euromaidan protests and other significant events prior to and during the annexation, the United States and other Western countries were active in showing their political position. American politicians, such as Senator McCain, appeared in the Euromaidan protests to support the protestors; EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton met and supported Ukrainian opposition leaders; U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and Assistant Secretary of the United States Victoria Nuland delivered food to Euromaidan protesters (Saluschev, 2014). These actions showed Russia the political allies of the opposition and the lack of Western support for the relationship between Russia and Ukraine. Similarly, in the current Ukraine-Russia crisis, the United States was one of the countries that released sanctions on Russia. While necessary, this action allowed the Ukraine-Russia crisis to significantly affect the global economy and worsen the effects of the conflict.
4. Status of Russian Language in Ukraine
After the deposition of President Yanukovych, the Ukrainian parliament lowered the status of the Russian language. As mentioned earlier, Russia has strong ties with its heritage and puts great value on its origins. The lowering of the Russian language in Ukraine became a significant issue for the ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Crimea. However, after understanding the consequence of the action, the acting President Oleksandr Tuchynov reversed the law (Saluschev, 2014). Despite the reversal, many Russians disregarded the legitimacy of the new government. This became another factor in the tension between Ukraine and Russia.
The Annexation of Crimea and the Current Crisis
Crimea experienced economic and social declines after the annexation. The peninsula suffered from human rights abuses, cultural discrimination, lowered wages, and tourism decline (Pifer, 2020). The ethnic groups in the region suffer from discrimination, the Crimean and Ukrainian language is banned, and political prisoners are still in Russia’s custody. In the Donbas region, pro-Russian separatists established the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic which led to infighting involving 13,000 to 14,000 casualties (Ellyat, 2022). These outcomes from the annexation worsened the conflict between Ukraine and Russia which eventually resulted in the current crisis. Additionally, it is important to note that the annexation of Crimea is just one of the reasons for the Ukraine-Russia crisis. The establishment of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic along with the infighting in Crimea led to continuous conflict between the two countries which precipitated the current crisis.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea is an indicator of the preexisting conflict between Russia and Ukraine that preceded the current crisis. The annexation illustrated Russia’s value toward its heritage and the security of its citizens. However, it also illustrated the adverse effects of the Ukraine-Russia conflict on citizens, economies, and other countries. Understanding the events, key figures, and effects of the annexation is integral to a better comprehension of the reasons behind the Ukraine-Russia crisis thus developing possible solutions for the conflict.
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Clarke, J. (2019). Crisis in Crimea: A Case Study in Geopolitics. Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. Available at https://digitalcollections.sit.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4113&context=isp_collection. Accessed March 7, 2022.
Clinton, J. (2022). Why Did Russia Annex Crimea? What Happened When Putin Invaded in 2014 and How NATO Reacted to Annexation. INews. Available at https://inews.co.uk/news/world/russia-annex-crimea-why-putin-invaded-2014-what-happened-nato-annexation-explained-1424682. Accessed March 6, 2022.
Consilium.europa.eu. (2022). Ukraine: Declaration by the High Representative on Behalf of the EU on the Ilegal Annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol. European Council-Council of the European Union. Available at https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2022/02/25/ukraine-declaration-by-the-high-representative-on-behalf-of-the-eu-on-the-illegal-annexation-of-crimea-and-sevastopol/ . Accessed March 6, 2022.
Ellyatt, H. (2022). Why is There Conflict in Ukraine and What is Putin’s Endgame? Here’s What You Need to Know. CNBC. Available at https://www.cnbc.com/2022/02/23/russia-why-is-there-conflict-in-east-ukraine-and-what-is-putin-endgame.html. Accessed March 3, 2022.
Pifer, S. (2020). Crimea: Six Years After Illegal Annexation. Brookings. Available at https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/03/17/crimea-six-years-after-illegal-annexation/. Accessed March 7, 2022.
Saluschev, S. (2014). Annexation of Crimea: Causes, Analysis and Global Implications. Global Societies Journal, vol 2(0). Available at https://escholarship.org/content/qt5vb3n9tc/qt5vb3n9tc.pdf?t=ndsd8r&v=lg . Accessed March 6, 2022.