When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, countries that had no been independent for over 100 years came into being. Regardless, all were looking for truly democratic governments as a replacement for the totalitarian government they had existed under. Old republics like Kazakhstan which was brought under Russian rule in 1867, had no residents who could remember their independence. Regardless of the circumstances, such republics necessarily undergo growing pains as they feel their way through independence. Crimea was annexed by Russia in 1783. Prior to that they had been a part of the Ottoman Empire. The predominant ethnic group in Crimea had been the Tatars. The Tatars were a Turkish speaking group who could trace their routes to Genghis Khan and the Mongols. By contrast, the largest percentage of Ukrainians are what used to be called the “Ruthenians,” predecessors to the Russians. And prior to its inclusion in the USSR, it had been rules by the Lithuanians, Poles, and Crimeans. It is difficult to understand the conditions that exist today without the historic background being included.
The Ukraine has been an autonomous and independent republic since 1991. Its borders, like that of many of its neighbors, were arbitrarily decided by 20th century definitions circa 1920. If all this sounds rather confusing then I have made my point. Border disputes right here in the United States have gone unresolved for hundreds of years. For example, New Jersey claims it is the rightful owner of the island upon which the Statue of Liberty stands. Similarly, a small island between New Hampshire and Maine, where significant portions of the Portsmouth Naval Yard exist, is in dispute between the two states. When you are at a distance from any of these locations, it can be very difficult to understand what all the fuss is about. This could not be more true about Crimea.
What is presently occurring in the Ukraine with Crimea is entirely an internal civil dispute. Unfortunately, President Putin has inserted himself into the dispute throwing it into even more turmoil. And his insertion of Russian troops into Crimea is clearly a violation of another country’s sovereignty. If, for example, Poland decided it had ancient rights to Kaliningrad, the old Polish city of Królewiec, President Putin would be beside himself in anger.
The U.S. options in this unfortunate dispute are actually rather limited. We can, and should, impose economic sanctions on Russia if it continues to keep troops inside Ukrainian borders. U.S. military options are, or should be, non-existent. The U.S. and other countries should flex their political and economic might in support of the Ukraine as much as possible. After that, the affairs with the Ukraine’s borders must be played out by its own people.