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Crimea: A potential flashpoint
Russia's emergence as an economic and military superpower has shaken many in the Western bloc, specially the United States and Europe, as they regard Moscow's aggressive international politics to be a gateway to a new Cold War era.

 

KREMLIN’S OVERWHELMING military victory over a hapless Georgia bore the hallmark of a dominant Russia that is ready to roll back the years of a ruthless Soviet legacy that constantly rubbed shoulders with its arch ideological rival, the United States of America.


Concerned about Russia’s bullying tactics against former Soviet republics that are striving to join the affluent European Union bloc and its military wing, NATO, western analysts are keeping a close watch on Moscow’s intentions in and around Eastern Europe that could easily lead to Russia-West conflicts. One such potential conflict zone is Crimea, off the coast of the Black Sea in Ukraine. Although the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Ivanov, had promised last October that Russia will leave the Black Sea peninsula if the Russian Navy’s lease of the Crimean port of Sevastopol in 2017 won’t be renewed, not many Ukrainians are counting on his word. Ukrainian leaders in Kiev are not in favour of extending the lease beyond 2017, yet many in the West believe that Kremlin would find ways to bully or blackmail Ukraine in order to get an extension on the lease. Crimea is too strategic a place for the Russians to let go after having it as their fleet base for the last 225-odd years. With most of the former Soviet states inclined to join the EU and NATO, the base in Crimea offers Russian military and civilian intelligence agencies a chance to keep a close watch on the political affairs in Ukraine and its neighbouring states like Georgia, Azerbaijan, etc.


Some of the local Russian residents have more faith in the government of Kremlin than in that of Kiev. So, one can believe that any forceful decision on the part of Kiev’s politicians to get rid of the Russian military would be heavily opposed by the Russians in Crimea. This could take an ugly turn if Ukraine follows Georgia’s policy of attacking South Ossetia that drew a stern retaliation from Moscow and within moments the Caucasus was burning under severe Russian bombardment of Georgian cities and towns.


Western fears about a Russia-Ukraine face-off over Crimea can’t be ruled out at the moment if one goes by what happened in South Ossetia between Moscow and Tbilisi. Ukraine, with support from USA and NATO, would vehemently oppose Russia from keeping Crimea under Moscow’s full control with the help of the mighty Russian Navy. Many Ukrainian and Western analysts have revealed that ethnic Russians in the region possess dual Russian and Ukrainian passports, and this is where things get a bit too complicated. The Georgians, during their short but brutal war with Russia, had accused the leadership in Moscow of illegally distributing Russian passports and identity cards to the ethnic Russian population in the Georgian region of South Ossetia in a bid to prove Russia’s involvement in the war perfectly legitimate. With most of the Crimean Russians carrying Russian passports, any tension over the Black Sea between Russia and Ukraine could be extremely dangerous. And with local Crimeans pledging their loyalty to Moscow, Russia can exploit the situation very efficiently, both, militarily, and politically.


Many in Eastern Europe do not trust President Dmitry Medvedev’s government in Moscow. In fact, many see the academic politician and former chairman of oil and natural gas major Gazprom as a puppet to the Prime Minister, as well as former President Vladimir Putin. No one can now deny the fact that Moscow plays a major role in the current economic and political turmoil that has gripped the planet. Washington heavily depends on Moscow in bringing Iran and North Korea to the negotiating table and Russian help is immensely important in tackling the economic crisis.


The Ukrainians were unhappy when Russian naval warships set sail from Sevastopol to create a blockade on Georgian ports during the seven-day war last August. Kiev felt that by using its own legal territory to fuel a war in a friendly nation, Russia has directly challenged Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and security. Luckily, the situation did not spiral out of control, but it certainly reflected the tense nature of the geo-political game that is being played all around the Black Sea and the Caucasian region.


Crimea is on edge and there is every reason to believe that we are not far from another Cold War unless common sense prevails in the upper echelons of the political leadership in Moscow, Kiev, Washington and Brussels.

 

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