The international crisis emanating from the Ukraine putsch keeps escalating by the minute as world powers are forced to protect their interests and compatriots in the rapidly balkanizing country from the spiraling chaos.
158 years after the end of the Crimean war which was a conflict between Russia and a Western-Islamist alliance (some things never change…), NATO’s Nazi coup in Ukraine brings shades of the past to life once more.
Following yesterday’s mobilization of Russian troops to Ukraine’s borders, the Kremlin has made it clear that it intends to protect its assets in the strategic peninsula and fend off NATO from what it considers its back yard, similarly to the manner in which it stood its ground in the Georgian war of 2008. Crimea is populated by a majority of ethnic Russians who would like to secede from the new Kiev administration. In an extreme scenario Russia would even annex Crimea to maintain its black sea fleet in that area. While western invasion in the manner of the 19th century is not predicted to happen this time around, guerrilla and terrorism carried out by proxies are certainly on the table.
In yet another alarming development,the head of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menahem Margolin, has urged the Israeli government to send forces capable of protecting the Jewish community in Ukraine from the Nazi brutes who have been rampaging there ever since the previous regime collapsed. This reiterates the words of Kiev’s chief Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman who called Kiev Jews to flee the country immediately following the coup. There are some 200,00 Jews in Ukraine, so either option would be logistically,financially and diplomatically quite complicated. It’s not clear what course of action will be taken, but apparently most Jews (and ethnic Russians) will be able to relocate eastwards to the Russian controlled areas for safety – echoing a similar reality experienced during world war 2.
Will Putin Seize Crimea?
As the battle on Maidan ends with the defeat and humiliation of President Viktor Yanukovych, some observers have turned their attention to Ukraine’s Crimea region with the following question: If Ukraine turns toward the European Union and the West, will President Vladimir Putin move to seize Crimea?
While Crimea is situated far from the drama of Kiev, it stands out as the only region in Ukraine where Russians are in the majority, constituting about 60 percent of Crimea’s population. There is also a critical naval base at Sevastopol that the Russians lease from Ukraine. Sevastopol serves as the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and it gives the Russian Navy direct access to the Mediterranean Sea. Russia has signed a lease agreement with Ukraine that allows its fleet to remain at Sevastopol until 2042.
For two centuries, Crimea was part of Russia, and to many Russians it is only through a strange quirk of Soviet history that Crimea is not part of Russia today. On Feb. 19, 1954, the Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, gifted Crimea to Ukraine as a gesture of goodwill to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s merger with tsarist Russia. Not surprisingly, at the time, it did not occur to anyone that one day the Soviet Union might collapse and that Ukraine would again be an independent country.
Last week, one of Putin’s leading advisers, Vladislav Surkov, visited Crimea and met Crimean leader Anatoly Mogilev, Crimean legislative Speaker Vladimir Konstantinov, and Sevastopol Governor Vladimir Yatsuboi. The talks were followed up by a meeting in Moscow on Feb. 20 between Konstantinov and Sergei Naryshkin, the speaker of the State Duma.
Underscoring Russia’s interest in Crimea, an unidentified Russian government official told the Financial Times on Feb. 20 that Russia was willing to fight a war over Crimea if Ukraine started to disintegrate. “If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war,” the official said. “They will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia.”
This viewpoint seems to reflect Kremlin thinking. At a 2008 meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, Putin reportedly told Bush that Ukraine was an accident of history.
There is ample precedent, furthermore, to believe that if Putin and the Russian establishment believed that Ukraine was slipping permanently out of their grasp, then Russia would find a pretext to seize Crimea. Russia has made it amply clear that it considers the former Soviet Union to be a space where it sees itself having wide latitude for maneuver.
Russia has not hesitated to act militarily within the former Soviet Union, first in the self-proclaimed Transdnestr republic in 1992 and then in South Ossetia in 2008 during its brief war with Georgia. After the end of the war in Georgia, Russia became the only country in the world to officially recognize the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. While Russia does not officially recognize Transdnestr, it has a consulate there, many of Transdnestr’s citizens have Russian passports and the Russians provide a de-facto guarantee of Transdnestr remaining separate from Moldova.
If Ukraine turns decisively West, it may well find that it is forced to leave Crimea behind.
Israel urged to send forces to guard Ukrainian Jews
The head of a prominent European Jewish group requested Tuesday that the Israeli government urgently send security personnel to Ukraine in order to protect the Jewish communities there, which have been targeted during the political unrest gripping the country.
In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, the head of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menahem Margolin, urgently requested that Israel “send trained security guards to protect Jewish communities in Ukrainian cities and towns.”
Ukrainian Jewish communities throughout the country are seriously concerned and feel helpless in the face of a “growing wave of anti-Semitic attacks,” the letter stated, citing the recent examples of a Molotov cocktail thrown at a Chabad center in the eastern city of Zaporozhye, a threatening phone message left for a rabbi in Kryvyi Rih calling for him to leave the city, and anti-Semitic graffiti found in Kiev and other locations.
The reports indicate a “Jewish emergency,” according to the letter sent by the Brussels-based EJA head.
The recent Israeli Air Force fly-by over Auschwitz “conveyed a clear message that Israel will ensure the safety of Jews around the world, even in foreign countries,” the rabbi wrote, so “I urge you to take every possible measure, including the dispatch of security guards, to insure the safety of Jewish communities in Ukraine.”
Ukraine was gripped by intense violence and demonstrations last week as pro-European Union and pro-Russian demonstrators clashed in the streets, leading to an overthrow of the government and the release of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison.
During the crisis, various Jewish groups have tried to aid Ukraine’s Jewish population, which is estimated at between 350-400,000. The JDC sent a delegation to help elderly Jews affected by the turmoil, and, earlier this week, Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky announced that the agency would raise funds to increase security at Jewish institutions.