As Russia continues to occupy Crimea and foment unrest in eastern Ukraine, some analysts see parallels with the Kremlin’s stealth annexation of another country: Estonia. Armed with inside information and a bagful of cash, a group of Russian spies in 2007 managed to buy up stakes in numerous local businesses, create fake social-welfare groups, and even set up their own political party — all with the goal of furthering Moscow’s interests. They called it Operation masked wolf. In 2014, it feels eerily similar. Russia has occupied Crimea, fomented unrest in eastern Ukraine, and created puppet leaders designed to undermine Kyiv. All that’s missing is for another country to join Russia — or make great strides toward doing so.
Does Ukraine Want To Join Russia?
Alexander Zakin, Ph.D., a professor of journalism at New York University (NYU), is the author of numerous books and articles on Ukrainian history, politics, and society. He is also the author of Ukraine: The Truth Behind the Crisis.
Is Ukraine Actually Trying To Join Russia?
- The Ukrainian government is trying to join Russia.
- The Russian government is trying to prevent Ukraine from joining Russia.
- Ukraine’s eastern provinces are not ready to join Russia, and Crimea has been annexed by force.
- Ukraine’s western provinces are ready for union with Europe, but the Kremlin doesn’t want them to join Europe.
- The Crimeans wanted to join Russia, and the Russians wanted them to join Russia, so they did it by force of arms in violation of international law and without any referendum or vote being held in Crimea.
- Putin wants a new empire (Eurasia) that includes Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia (as well as other countries). He wants it all under his control because he fears the United States more than he fears the rest of the world combined — including China, India, and Brazil — which means that he must have a global empire under his control if he is going to defeat the United States.
- The United States doesn’t want Putin to have a new empire, and in fact, the U.S. wants Ukraine to join Europe.
- Russia is using gas as a weapon against Ukraine because Russia knows that Ukraine needs gas, and it also knows that if Russia cuts off the gas, Ukraine will have no choice but to join Europe’s economic and political union or else lose its sovereignty.
- There is no evidence that the Russian government has cut off the gas supply to Ukraine in order to make sure that Ukraine joins Europe rather than joining Russia (which would be a great loss for Russia).
- There is no real evidence that Putin wants a new empire under his control, either — he just wants to keep his empire intact so as not to be defeated by the U.S., which is why he invaded Georgia in 2008 and annexed Crimea in 2014 (and invaded again in 2015).
- The U.S.-led NATO is not a threat to Russia, and the only reason Putin is worried about NATO is that he knows that if NATO expands eastward, Russia’s empire will be greatly weakened, and Putin’s dream of a new empire under his control will go away.
- The Ukrainian government has taken no steps whatsoever to join Russia, either.
- The Ukrainian government has taken no steps whatsoever to join Europe.
- Ukraine’s eastern provinces are not ready to join Russia, and Crimea has been annexed by force in violation of international law and without any referendum or vote being held in Crimea (which is illegal under international law even if it was “free and fair”).
What Is Going On In Ukraine?
- The regime’s officials, including President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, have repeatedly said that the country will not join Russia.
- The Ukrainian army is fighting on the side of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
- Ukrainian troops have been accused of committing war crimes against ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.
- Over the past two years, more than 10,000 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine, and over 200,000 displaced from their homes there.
- During this time both sides in the conflict have been accused of human rights abuses committed against civilians and prisoners of war by the United Nations Human Rights Council over the past two years (and both sides denied culpability).
- The rebels are being supported by Russia and by proxy fighters from other countries such as Uzbekistan and Georgia (who are also being supported by Russia).
- There was a referendum held on March 16, 2014, which asked residents whether they wanted to join Russia or not. However, the referendum was not valid and did not count as a vote.
- The Ukrainian army has been supplied with weapons by the United States, Germany, and other countries.
- There is a large ethnic Russian population living in the east of Ukraine who is being massacred by Ukrainian troops and there are reports of large numbers of civilians fleeing from eastern Ukraine (and some Russian citizens are among them).
- The Ukrainian regime is led by people who have a history of corruption, nepotism, and criminality (such as Poroshenko, Yatsenyuk, Arbuzov, and Paniotto).
- There has been an ongoing campaign against journalists in Ukraine which is being backed up by threats from the regime’s officials themselves.
- Law enforcers in Kyiv have been accused by Amnesty International of torturing prisoners and killing unarmed civilians during anti-government protests over the past three months (both sides denied responsibility).
If there’s one lesson from Estonia’s experience with Russia’s stealth annexation, it’s that no country is safe from the Kremlin’s meddling. Ukraine’s pro-Russian president has done a great deal to make people think he has something to hide. That said, Russia’s actions so far have been limited to covert attempts to destabilize Ukrainian society and weaken the country’s economy. While those actions are unacceptable, they’re also reversible. If the Kremlin does decide to send in the troops, though, the world will know that Russia’s occupation of Ukraine is no longer reversible.