There is a sense of déja vu surrounding the present separatist crisis in Crimea, for there was a vibrant Russian secessionist movement in the region in the early 1990s. Crimea was then an important case in the former Soviet Union where war was widely expected but did not materialize. The region exhibited many of the factors associated with violent conflict elsewhere – multi-ethnicity, historical antagonisms, a legacy of autonomy experiments, center-regional struggles, economic collapse, international politicking, and a Russian military presence.
This book explains why, contrary to expectations at the time, conflict potential was defused in the 1990s and Crimea became a case of ‘non-conflict’. It argues that the primary reason was a drawn-out constitutional bargaining process centered on discussions about regional autonomy. This provided enough incentives to keep all the key actors engaged in finding political solutions. The outcome was a politically weak but constitutionally embedded autonomy status. The institution-making process rather than the final institutional outcome was significant for conflict-prevention. Four other factors contributed to the peaceful outcome of the Crimean crisis in the 1990s. First, Crimea’s multi-ethnicity was itself a moderating factor. Overlapping and blurred identities between Russians and Ukrainians in the region and the presence of a sizeable and vocal Crimean Tatar minority provided an important check on Russian separatism. Second, the Crimean Russian movement was internally divided and became more so over time. Third, Russia under Yeltsin exercised restraint in Crimea in the wake of the first war in Chechnya. Fourth, Kyiv adopted a cautious approach and continued to negotiate with the Crimean leadership.
Two decades later the present crisis in Crimea is a direct consequence of three months of protests and the ouster of President Yanukovych. Once again Crimea is high on the international agenda as a potential war zone. Events have escalated much faster and with greater external involvement than in the 1990s. Back then violence was limited to isolated clashes between Russians and Crimean Tatars, and Kyiv’s control over the region was only briefly in doubt in 1994. At no time did Russia or Russia-backed armed forces attempt to seize control. Russian President Putin has different priorities and policy approaches compared to Yeltsin. He has deliberately escalated the situation with the display of military strength in and around Crimea, and the Russian parliament’s authorization of the use of Russian troops in Ukraine.
Putin's actions are primarily aimed at ensuring that Ukraine preserves a political balance that gives a strong voice to the southern and eastern regions. The Russian government knows that it can effectively use its leverage, be it political rhetoric, economic pressure or military manouevres, to influence Ukrainian and Crimean politics. Russia will continue to do so both for domestic reasons and for the purposes of external power projection, but it does not need to risk an unpredictable war. Both Kyiv and Moscow understand the critical role of the Crimean Tatars in any political or military confrontation in the region. The key question now is whether Moscow and Kyiv can continue to control the diversity of actors in Crimea. Ultimately, both sides have an interest in regional stability.
The Ukrainian state is currently being put to its biggest test since independence. Hopefully, Crimea will remain a case that teaches us about conflict-prevention. The foundations for politically addressing the various dimensions of the ‘Crimea question’ are in place. This includes the possibility of redefining Crimea’s autonomy status within the constitutional parameters set by the Ukrainian and Crimean constitutions.
Professorial Fellow, Nuffield College, University of Oxford
Find The Crimea Question: Identity, Transition, and Conflict by Gwendolyn Sasse at HUP.
February 24, 2014. Harvard University.
Why is Kyiv Burning? The Turn to Violence in Ukraine’s Protest Movement and Its Political and Geostrategic Implications
Timothy J. Colton, Department of Government; Jarek Domanski, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs; George G. Grabowicz, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures; Nadiya Kravets, Ukrainian Research Institute; Olga Onuch, Ukrainian Research Institute; Thomas Simons, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.
Revolution, pro-EU demonstration, mass protest, fight for genuine independence, birth of a modern European nation, geopolitical earthquake—all of these characterizations have been applied at one time or another to the momentous events unfolding before our eyes over the past three months in Ukraine.
We all feel the need to make sense of the onslaught of dramatic and rapidly changing news from Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine, not only for its effect on the country but also for its long-term global implications.
For this reason, on February 24, 2014, HURI held a roundtable discussion on the issue, inviting scholars, political scientists, and experts on Eastern European diplomacy to explore the nature and possible outcomes of the current Ukrainian crisis. In view of the fluidity of the situation in Ukraine the organizers of the roundtable had to rethink and change the title of the event several times.
The first speaker, Dr. Olga Onuch, a graduate of the University of Oxford and a current Shklar Fellow at HURI, spoke about the Maidan as a moment of mass mobilization. She presented abundant data on the chronology of the mass protests, as well as the sociological portraits of its participants, their age, ethnic background, linguistic preferences, and political affiliation.
George Grabowicz, the Dmytro Čyževs´kyi Professor of Ukrainian Literature, who was in Kyiv in November 2013, shared his opinion of the values represented in the Maidan, and spoke of the unifying effect that these events exerted on all their participants. He also showed two short but unforgettable videos of the recent fighting in and around Independence Square in Kyiv.
Dr. Nadiya Kravets, a graduate of the University of Oxford and currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Davis Center at Harvard, focused attention on the domestic policy of the Yanukovych regime and the enormous tasks facing the new Ukrainian government.
The next speaker, Jarek Domański, is a specialist in international affairs who has worked at the Directorate General of External Relations of the European Commission in Brussels. He served as a political officer in the European Union's delegation to Ukraine and currently is a fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. He shared his insights into the state of European Union-Ukrainian relations, the challenges both sides are facing, and the geopolitical implications of Ukraine's eventual accession to the EU.
Thomas W. Simons, Jr., is a visiting scholar at Harvard's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and a veteran American diplomat, whose thirty-five-year career has included service in Warsaw, Moscow, and Budapest. Dr. Simons offered his view of the events unfolding in Kyiv and his perspective on the Ukrainian position vis-à-vis the US, the EU, and Russia.
The last speaker, Timothy J. Colton, is the Morris and Anna Feldberg Professor of Government and Russian Studies and the chair of the Department of Government at Harvard University. Prof. Colton, a renowned expert on contemporary Russia, discussed the Russian attitude toward the Euromaidan and a number of possible scenarios, given the volatile situation in Ukraine and the looming possibility of an economic and financial meltdown.
This roundtable discussion was unique in that neither the speakers nor the audience claimed to have a final say on the matter. However, there was a consensus that it would ultimately be up to the Ukrainian people to choose the right path for their country.
On January 25–29, HURI hosted Serhiy Leshchenko, one of today’s most celebrated Ukrainian investigative journalists and a deputy editor-in-chief of Ukraїns´ka Pravda, a leading online publication in Ukraine. Mr. Leshchenko helped to launch the Ukrainian free-speech movement “Stop Censorship!” and participated in “Chesno” (‘Truthfully’), a campaign calling for transparency and accountability in the Ukrainian parliament. In 2011 Poland’s Foundation of Reporters recognized Mr. Leshchenko as the “best journalist in the countries of the Eastern Partnership (EaP of the European Union)” and in 2012, he was awarded a John Smith Fellowship, with residence in London and Edinburgh. Most recently, in 2013, he was awarded a Press Prize by the Norwegian Fritt Ord Foundation and the German ZEIT Foundation (ZEIT-Stiftung). Leshchenko is currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, based in Washington DC. The object of Leshchenko’s investigative reporting is corruption among Ukrainian government officials and oligarchs. He criticizes the country’s ruling elites for their gross criminality and their opposition to Ukraine’s integration into the EU, even as they themselves choose Europe as a place to live, conduct business, and enroll their children in exclusive private schools.
Leshchenko’s visit to the Boston area was tightly scheduled with events, meetings, and presentations. It began at the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Christ the King, where he spoke to the members of the local Ukrainian community about the Euromaidan and other events unfolding now in Ukraine.
On Monday, January 27, he gave a talk at HURI entitled “Global Warning: Hot Winter in Ukraine. The Maidan Protests and Their Impact,” at which he presented a brief overview of the ongoing Ukrainian fight for democracy and the establishment of the rule of law. He also shared his vision for how the West could help Ukraine to solve this acute political crisis. Not surprisingly, this topic generated great interest, drawing an overflow crowd.
Leshchenko gave a summary of recent events in Ukraine, stating that contrary to numerous misconceptions and misrepresentations surrounding the protests, this revolution was not about proverbial divisions between eastern and western Ukraine exploited by a few “radical extremists,” nor was it about the ambitions of a “power-hungry” opposition. It was instead a wide-spread, popular uprising of Ukrainians of all ethnic, social, and religious backgrounds against the current regime.
During this presentation Leshchenko’s discussant was Dr. Nadia Diuk, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, who serves as vice president at the National Endowment for Democracy (Programs for Europe, Eurasia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean). According to Dr. Diuk, what we are now witnessing in Ukraine is the birth of a new civic and political nation.
Leshchenko also presented his new book The American Saga of Pavlo Lazarenko: Investigating Corruption Charges and Judicial Proceedings. The book is based on investigations conducted by U.S. law enforcement agencies into money laundering by the former Ukrainian prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko. The investigations resulted in Mr. Lazarenko’s conviction and sentencing to nine years of imprisonment by a Californian court.
During his visit Leshchenko participated in numerous meetings and informal discussions with members of the Harvard community. He met with the Harvard Ukrainian Student Society as well as with political scientists Margarita Balmaceda and Oksana Shevel, and Timothy Colton, the current chairman of the Government Department of Harvard University and former director of the Davis Center.
Despite his busy schedule, Leshchenko continued to post on his blog at Ukraїns´ka Pravda. His most recent articles describe the expensive real estate holdings abroad of various Ukrainian oligarchs, and follow money trails leading from Ukraine into accounts in places like London and Vienna. Leshchenko adds his voice to those who call on the US and the EU to impose targeted sanctions on corrupt Ukrainian elites and their immediate families as a means of discouraging the government from further crackdowns on protesters. Leshchenko believes, as do many, that such action by the West would send a powerful message showing solidarity with the Ukrainian people and support for its efforts to build a free, democratic, and prosperous new Ukraine.
Improve your Ukrainian, deepen your knowledge of Ukrainian culture, history, politics and literature, or couple our course with a class offered through the Harvard Summer School.
Application deadline for students also applying for financial aid has been extended to March 12.
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