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Crisis in Ukraine: Ukraine and Russia Beyond Crimean Secession

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My third interview on Ukraine with David C. Speedie, director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, first published on March 24, 2014. My previous two interviews can be found here and here.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I'm David Speedie, director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. I'm delighted to welcome back to our Ethics in Security Bulletin series Professor Nicolai Petro. Professor Petro is with the University of Rhode Island but, serendipitously for us, he is currently on a Fulbright Fellowship in Odessa in southern Ukraine. We call upon him once again to give us his impressions of the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

Nicolai, welcome back to our series.

NICOLAI PETRO: Hi, David.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Let's begin, as always, with just a general overview. It has been, I guess, a couple of weeks since we spoke. So much seems to be happening on a daily basis, if not an hourly or minute-by-minute basis. So give us just your general sense of things from your vantage point.

NICOLAI PETRO: Well, the issue in the mind of locals, as well as everyone else internationally, is the secession of Crimea, its declaration of independence and then its annexation by Russia. That proceeded very quickly.

In this area where I happen to live, in southern Ukraine, a region largely populated by Russian speakers, I'd say, as I said before, the people are not thrilled with this development. But, in addition to a certain resignation, they also tend to take the matter philosophically.

I've heard a number of times people say, "Well, Crimea was unusual and different from other regions of Ukraine, and there were obviously historical ties."
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On the other hand, there are people who are equally adamant that this is an attack on Ukraine's territorial integrity and must be rebuffed. But the options that the government has for responding effectively in Ukraine are apparently very limited.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Let me just make sure I understood something. You say that Russian speakers in the south of the mainland of Ukraine are disturbed at the events in Crimea?

NICOLAI PETRO: Yes, in the sense that no one likes to have had the situation resolved in this manner. Crimea was always a problematic addition for Ukraine, and Ukrainian nationalists, in particular, seem to feel so.

I recall reading one particular columnist in western Ukraine actually refer to it as a potential fifth column that would be dragging Ukraine down from its desire to join the EU and join NATO. But that doesn't mean that they wanted to give it up.

So there's a sense in which they don't approve of how this was done, but there is a certain understanding of the historical logic of what happened.
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DAVID SPEEDIE: And of course, the history, as most of our audience will know, is that the transfer of Crimea, which had been for 300 years or so part of Russia, since the days of Catherine the Great and the winning of Crimea from the Ottoman Empire, this was essentially an artificial transfer in 1954 by Khrushchev, in the sense that it was an internal transfer within the then Soviet Union. I think that tends to be forgotten in all this conversation.

NICOLAI PETRO: I was reading a little bit more carefully through some of the legal documents, and I was struck by something that doesn't seem to have been noted, although I do agree that the legal arguments are essentially moot at this point.

But there is one aspect to this that hasn't been very carefully noted, at least in the Western press, and that is that when Crimea was transferred to the Ukrainian SSR, Sevastopol was not. So Sevastopol itself was always part of Russia.

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Nicolai N. Petro is professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island. He has served as special assistant for policy in the U.S. State Department and as civic affairs advisor to the mayor of the Russian city of Novgorod the Great. His books include: The Rebirth of Russian Democracy (Harvard,1995), Russian Foreign Policy (Longman, 1997), and (more...)
 

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