The Ukrainians are worried that Russia has a reprise of the Georgia campaign in store for them.
They’re probably being a little over-dramatic here — mounting an invasion of Ukraine is, after all, somewhat more risky than cleaning out Ossetia and Abkhazia, and is a huge logistical undertaking. How likely is it, really, that Russia would do such a thing?
But the Ukrainian foreign minister has decided to go public with his case. Here’s the story from Friday’s Elsevier, as translated by our Flemish correspondent VH:
Russia on repetition: passports for Ukrainians
The Kremlin hands out passports to ethnic Russians in Ukraine without being accountable for it. Ukraine fears a repetition of Russian military power as happened in Georgia. The Russian passports are handed out from Sevastopol where the Russian fleet is anchored.
So said the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs of Volodymyr Volodymyr Ohryzko this Friday in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
In the longer term, Moscow can use the presence of Russian citizens in Ukraine “as an excuse for an invasion like happened last month in Georgia,” says Ohryzko.
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Back then the Russians handed out passports widely to inhabitants of the renegade Georgian regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The passports are issued by the Russian consulate in Sevastopol in the Crimea, in Ukraine. The country has around fifty million inhabitants of which ten million are ethnic Russians.
The Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea, was established [as an oblast] in 1954 by communist leader Nikita Khrushchev and given to Ukraine. Three quarters of the population there is ethnic Russian, and Russian is the main language.
The Crimean Peninsula is of great strategic importance to Moscow. The Russian Black Sea fleet is stationed in the port city.
The President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko wants Sevastopol to become the home base of a NATO fleet.
That last sentence is the kicker: Sevastopol as the home port for a NATO fleet.
One doesn’t have to be a Russophile to see why the Russians might object to this. The Crimea is historically Russian and has an ethnic Russian majority. What earthly reason would NATO have to establish an outpost there, except as a direct provocation to the Russians? Why would the Russians read it in any other way?
The Soviet commissars did a vast disservice to the Russian people by drawing the internal boundaries of the Soviet republics in the way they did. I’m sure it made sense at the time, as a divide-and-rule technique, or as a way of distributing power among party favorites with local fiefdoms.
But the long-term consequences of such foolishness are now being played out. The Politburo’s geographic tinkering in the 1950s was just as dangerous as were the borders in the Balkans, or “Churchill’s hiccup” in Iraq.