Explaining the situation in Crimea

As dinner conversations, news shows, and water-cooler talk have turned from Oscar selfies to, well, real news, one topic has dominated  the Twitterverse and the airwaves (Russia! Ukraine! Russia invaded Ukraine!). 

As often happens, though, with complex stories that become part of the national conversation (see: “>”greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Putin, along with, don't forget, many Russians, wax nostalgically for the days when Russia shared the world stage with the United States. It was just so fun! To further the aim of becoming as important as it wants to be in global affairs, Putin acts sttategically and pragmatically towards reaching that aim. 

A necessary ingredient for recapturing global prominence is a close relationship with Ukraine, which aside from having a wealth of mineral deposits and millions of ethnic Russians, serves as a geographic gateway to Western Europe, and comprises the northern edge of the Black Sea, which is the only body of water that gives Russia military and economic access to the Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, and Syria, where Russia has a naval port. A non-allied, or worse yet, hostile, eastern neighbor, would make Russia's standing in the Black Sea trickier.

As Daniel Drezner Riot policemenare hit by fire caused by molotov cocktails hurled by anti-government protesters during clashes in Kiev on Feb. 18. Photo by Stringer/Reuters 

One word: Euromaidan. In late 2013, it looked almost certain that Ukraine's government was inching towards Western Europe's cozy economic umbrella, with its anticipated signing of an Association Agreement with the European Union. Well, that unnerved Putin, who lobbied hard to keep his ally, Ukraine's democratically elected Viktor Yanukovych, under a Russian thumb. Walter Russell Mead “>things turned bloody, with police using live ammunition, protestors using molotov cocktails and rocks, and dozens of civilians and police officers lying dead in the streets after the smoke cleared.

On Feb. 22nd, Yanukovych read the tea leaves and fled Kiev after his own guards abandoned him. Parliament declared him unable to fulfill his duties as president, and installed an interim government, scheduling elections for May 25th.

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Feb. 28. Photo by Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

3. And after all that happened, how did Crimea pop into the picture?

First, let's address the question you should have asked: “What and where is Crimea?” Good question.

Map from Global News

Crimea is an Ukrainian navy chief Denis Berezovsky swears allegiance to the pro-Russian regional leaders of Crimea in Sevastopol on March 2. Photo from Reuters TV

If, though, Russia invaded mainland Ukraine, the underdog would certainly use any means necessary to defend itself. 

6. What next? 

It's useless giving predictions, but there are a few options, with varying probabilities. A Russian invasion is unlikely, as is a Ukrainian counterstrike against Russian forces in Crimea. Matters will likely proceed as far as Russia is willing to take them. With the United States Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on  March 4. Photo by Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Reuters