Is Russia Opening a ‘Crimean Front’?

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Recent discussions, such as Ukrainian journalist Velentina Samar’s article, Russia has Opened a Crimean Front, assert that experts are now seeing the necessary preconditions for Russia engaging in a ‘Georgian scenario’ with regard to Crimea. In the aforementioned article, Samar claims that there is clear evidence that such an Anschluss is already being carried out. American analyst Paul Goble was kind enough to offer translation and commentary on the scenario as well in his own article.

Samar points out the ongoing Russian pressure from trade wars to act as a lever in the region, its current involvement in the formation of a ‘fifth column’, and the laying of groundwork for military deployment.

Neo Cossacks
Militants & neo-Cossacks at a rally in Sevastopol

With regard to the emergence of a fifth column in Crimea, possible suitors could be neo-Cossacks, the use of Russian biker gangs, or neo-Soviet radicals in general. The issue here which requires further study is just how much popular support such groups could rally, or how effective their mobilization could be. By and large, the majority of the nation’s so-called Antimaidans outside of Kiev have taken place in the cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol, but not much has else has taken place in the rest of the republic. While incredible for their visual symbolism, the effectiveness of these groups remains to be seen. As Goble pointed out recently, “ethnic Russians in south-eastern Ukraine haven’t pushed their own agenda or organized their own groups to push either changes within Ukraine or their own social issues.” The Russian Bloc, if used as a measure of political radicalism in Crimea, is for all intents and purposes is fringe even in the regional scene. While Ossetia was in crisis, Crimea is comparatively sleeping.

With regard to potential military involvement, Samar does allege what would be troubling developments in Crimea at the moment. Vladislav Surkov, former Deputy Prime Minister and noted supporter of Chechen leader Kadyrov, who is also known for his his involvement in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, has recently been visiting Crimea to speak with the political leadership. The discussions, she says, concern the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait, connecting Crimea to Russia. This, while potentially a long-term play, would allow for theoretical troop movements to take place. When Russia invaded Georgia, it did so via the Roki Tunnel.

Umland’s recent article The EU should prevent the “Georgian scenario” in Ukraine, also weighs in on this topic, pointing out that notable pro-Russian politicians and activists has begun petitioning for Moscow to intervene in Ukraine to “protect” the inhabitants of the Black Sea peninsula, which holds a Russian ethnic majority. The echoes of the need to protect Russians abroad misleadingly points to the Georgian scenario and here is why: South Ossetia’s population prior to invasion was 3% Russian (2,100) citizens. Abkhazia, by comparison, also had no ethnic Russian minority of note. The pretext, instead, was that much of the population (illegally) held dual Russian citizenship. A much better historical comparison of ethnic liberation as a pretext for invasion would be the Nazi occupation of the Sudetenland, in Czechoslovakia. Also, a Georgian scenario would require an armed civil conflict between the Ukrainian military and Crimean separatists, a Sudeten scenario would only require allegations of oppression.

So, is Russia really opening a Crimean Front?

Motyl illustrated recently the ineffectiveness of a separatist or occupation scenario. The ruling regime benefits more from the threat of separatism in order to receive concessions, than from actually leaving the country. The Crimea is an economic sink on the state budget, receiving considerable subsidization from Kiev. A pseudo-independent Crimea would require substantial investment and subsidization from Moscow – a Crimea within the Russian Federation would be even costlier. South Ossetia has a population of 55,000 people, while Crimea’s population is nearly 2 million. That is also 2 million potential less pro-Russian voters in Ukrainian borders.The realpolitik conclusions here are straightforward from Russia’s perspective. Perhaps it is too early, and sensational, to speak of a ‘Crimean Front’ having already been opened.

4 thoughts on “Is Russia Opening a ‘Crimean Front’?”

  1. Lots of comparisons with South Ossetia/Georgia flying around; but there’s also a question of math:

    – Georgian Armed Forces: 37,000 active, 140,000 reserve, 900+ tanks & armored vehicles, 500 artillery pieces, 140 aircraft (recent numbers, but comparable to pre-intervention)

    – Ukrainian Armed Forces: 159,000 active, 1,000,000 reserve, 10,000+ tanks & armored vehicles, 2,200 artillery pieces, 440 aircraft

    The Russian military is, of course, much larger, but an invasion/intervention in Ukraine would not be a walkover.

    1. It’s not over yet. The endgame may just be to ‘ask for Crimea but settle for Sevastopol’, which would save them billions in terminating the Kharkiv Agreement. Sevastopol alone would also be much cheaper to maintain and control than all of Crimea – Russia’s Guantanamo Bay.

      PS: this was also published before Yanukovych was ousted, which dramatically changed, and expedited things.

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