European Theater

UN invalidates Crimea referendum

The UN General Assembly approved a resolution on March 27 declaring the Crimean referendum to secede from Ukraine invalid. The resolution calls upon all UN states, international organizations and specialty agencies not to recognize any change in status of the Crimean region despite the referendum. The UN gained broad support for the resolution as 100 states voted in favor, outnumbering the 11 votes against and 58 abstentions. The US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power stated in regards to the vote that "the draft resolution was about only one issue: affirming a commitment to the sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine." The Russian Federation representative asked the UN to respect the voluntary choice made by Crimea and not refuse their right to self determination.

Tatars flee Crimea, fearing persecution

Russia's annexation of Crimea has sent hundreds of the region's ethnic Tatars fleeing the peninsula for western Ukraine. Mustafa Dzhemilev, former chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, said that nearly 1,000 have fled the peninsula since Russian forces took over there some three weeks ago. Dzhemilev decried the exodus, saying, "We did not spend 50 years in exile to be able to now escape under the first threat." Most of the displaced Tatars have made for Ukraine's Kherson Oblast, where there have been reports of Russian military incursions, with a natural gas plant said to be under the control of Moscow's forces. 

First blood as Russia annexes Crimea

Russian President Vladimir Putin and representatives of Crimea's government signed a treaty March 18 incorporating the territory, including the autonomous city of Sevastopol, into the Russian Federation. The agreement follows a referendum two days earlier in which more than 95% of Crimean voters, largely ethnic Russians, elected to secede from Ukraine and request to join Russia. The US, EU and Ukraine all challenge the legitimacy of the referendum and refuse to recognize Crimea as either an independent nation or as a part of Russia. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called the annexation "a robbery on an international scale." Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers reamin in Crimea, and are now facing off with Russian troops and pro-Russian paramilitary forces. At least one Ukrainian solider was reported killed in a clash at a base near Simferopol as Crimea's annexation was announced. Yatsenyuk said the base had been attacked, calling it a "war crime." Russian media said that a "self-defense member"—persumably, a pro-Russian paramilitary—was also killed. The slaying was blamed on a "sniper," who was reported to have been detained.

Crimea parliament declares independence

The Crimean parliament on March 17 formally declared the region independent and asked to join the Russian Federation following a popular vote to secede from Ukraine. The US and EU have called the vote illegal, and the EU stated that the vote's outcome would not be recognized. The US on March 17 announced sanctions against seven Russian officials while the EU's foreign ministers imposed travel bans and asset freezes against 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine. Though the government in Kiev refuses to recognize the results of the vote, Moscow considers the vote legitimate. The Crimea region, which has been under the control of pro-Russia forces since late February, has appealed to other countries as well as the UN to recognize Crimean independence. As a result of the vote, Crimean officials claim Ukrainian laws no longer apply in the region, and Ukrainian state property there will be nationalized and made part of the property of the Crimean Republic.

Ukraine and anti-Semitism: house of mirrors

Hillel Cohen, Ukraine director of the Jewish ambulance corps Hatzalah, was stabbed the night of March 14 in Kiev by a group of men who reportedly hurled anti-Semitic slurs during the attack—making him the third Jew to be assaulted, and the second to be stabbed, in the city since January. These attacks are certainly convenient to the relentless Russian propaganda that portrays Ukraine's new leaders as fascists. At a recent press conference in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin warned against the "rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev." But some Ukrainian Jewish leaders think the attacks are a little too convenient. Josef Zissels, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) of Ukraine and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, told the Jerusalem Post the assault on Cohen was a provocation, intended as a "justification for the continuation of Russian aggression" in Crimea and to "discredit the new government of Ukraine."

Crimean Tatars protest Russian occupation

Crimean Tatars held protests in the peninsula on March 14 ahead of a referendum to join Russia. Around 500 demonstrators took to the streets calling for "Russian soldiers to return home." Tatar leaders have dismissed this weekend's poll as illegal and called for a boycott. (Euronews) Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to support Crimea's Tatars. "Turkey has never left Crimean Tatars alone and will never do so," he said, after a phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month. Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed to protect the "rights of our kinsmen" after meeting with Ukrainian officials and representatives of the Tatar community during a visit to Kiev. (AFP, March 13) In a move to reassure the Tatars, Crimea's parliament has passed a resolution guaranteeing the ethnic minority proportional representation in the body,  and granting their language official status. (RT, March 11) Meanwhile, street clashes are reported from the eatsern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, with one young man killed in fighting between pro- and anti-Russian demonstrators. (The Guardian, March 14)

Will Ukraine 'go nuclear'?

In a case of very disturbing bluster (but, we hope, still just bluster) Ukrainian parliamentarian Pavlo Rizanenko told the Western media that Ukraine may have to arm with nuclear weapons if the US and other world powers refuse to enforce a security pact that he said obliges them to act against Moscow's takeover of Crimea. "We gave up nuclear weapons because of this agreement," said Rizanenko of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR). "Now there's a strong sentiment in Ukraine that we made a big mistake." (KSDK, March 10) Rizanenko was refering to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Late last month, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, formally invoked the Memorandum. In their statement, lawmakers said: "Ukraine received guarantees of country's security in the 1994 Budapest memorandum on security assurances over Ukraine's accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." (ITAR-TASS, Feb. 28)

Ukraine crisis threatens Russian pipeline plans

In response to the Crimea crisis, EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced he is to delay talks with Russia on the South Stream gas pipeline that would export Russian gas via the Black Sea. The South Stream line strategically bypasses Ukraine, which currently hosts the main arteries for export of Russian gas. (Reuters, March 10) The European Commission has already postponed discussion of the OPAL pipeline, part of the Nord Stream project, which similarly bypasses Ukraine via the Baltic Sea. (Voice of Russia, March 11) Russia's giant Gazprom, which uses the existing Nord Stream line to send gas to Germany, plans to start shipments to Europe through the South Stream line at the end of 2015. Russia is seeking to boost gas exports to Europe as much as 23% over the next 20 years. (Bloomberg, March 12)