Getting to the nub of the matter the loss of Crimea had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with Obama. That’s not to say Obama’s foreign policy is doing much to deter such actions but given the event in Ukraine since November no matter who was president of the United States the Russian boss would have taken the same steps. So please don’t fall into the mire being spread by people with a hatred of Obama as Charles Krauthammer that but for Obama’s blunders Putin would not have moved on Crimea.
The majority in Crimea was always interested in returning it to Russia. As recently as the 2002 elections to Ukraine’s parliament (called the Rada) in Crimea the Communist Party of Ukraine which sought to be part of Russia received 34% of the vote; the party representing a pro-Russian anti-western stance about 12 1/2% of the vote; and the pro-Western vote was 9.77%. The rest of the vote was divided among various other groups.
The ethnic breakdown of its residents is estimated at 58% ethnic Russians, 24% Ethnic Ukrainians, 12% Tatars and 6% others.
Putin could have taken Crimea at any time he wanted during his 16 years in power but always preferred that it stay with Ukraine. It is estimated to cost Ukraine a billion dollars a year to keep it afloat. Then with its large Russian population, it was always a heavy vote, usually 75% or higher, in favor of a pro-Russian Party of the Regions led by people like Victor Yanukovych. Aside from that Russia has its Black Sea Fleet stationed there.
Why then did he take this on this burden which made the Western world take off its blinders and gained him very little. The simple reason is that someone said “NO” to him. When that happens Putin has a fit of pique.
Well maybe that is over simplifying it. What caused it was that Ukraine said no. Those familiar with Putin’s history knows this is not his first fit of pique when it comes to Ukraine. Back in 2006 some were mystified by Putin’s actions when he cut off fuel supplies to Ukraine on January 1 in the middle of the winter. Of course, doing this also cut off supplies to other countries in Europe.
It was noted: “There are two possible explanations for Putin’s actions. One is that he has allowed his broad strategic vision to be blurred by irritation at the rebelliousness of a former Soviet republic. That has been the case before with Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia and Ukraine at the time of its regime change 12 months ago. The Kremlin finds it very hard to shed its old imperial attitudes.” (my emphasis)
That explanation is the true reason for his irrational act of cutting off oil supplies. At the time Ukraine had a pro-Western president who had not been rolling over and giving in to his every Putin diktat. The other explanation was Putin wanted to take a shot across the bow of the Europe to remind it how much it depends on Russia’s gas.
It was noted: “Although there is real nervousness in Brussels about Yushchenko’s desire to join the union, there is great sympathy for Kiev’s determination to be more independent of Moscow.”
I’d suggest that after the 2006 action caused by Ukraine’s disobedience, Putin entered into a tacit understanding with the European Union (EU), perhaps mostly with Germany, that the EU would keep Ukraine at arm’s length. Then in 2010 with the election in Ukraine of pro-Russian president Yanukovich (who may be dead), Putin felt he could relax. The Putin Olympics became his obsession and with the planning for that event he became otherwise occupied.
Putin knew, of course, that Yanukovych was playing around with the EU. He figured he could pull him back with a jerk of the rope any time he wanted. Last November he learned that the EU was about to make some type of offer to Ukraine for closer association. He ordered Yanukovych to reject it. He also told him that he had to come into closer alliance with Russia.
Such back talk and disrespect from the EU was nothing something Putin could abide. But his hands were tied because of his investment in the Putin Olympics which were in the offing so he dared not remind the EU that his hands are on the levers controlling their gas supplies.
Then to top it off the protests began. Putin put pressure on Yanukovych to shut them down with heavy measures, Yanukovych had laws passed banning protests but after seeing the huge and overwhelming response of the Ukrainians after his forces murdered four protestors in January, protests grew into the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian standing in Maidan crying to be free from Putin’s tyrannical ways, he hesitated. Putin was feeling the sting of his rejection by the Ukrainian masses.
Anyone with a smidgen of knowledge knew Putin would respond as soon as the Olympics ended. As the Olympics were coming to an end , they ended on February 23, the violence at the behest of Putin by the pro-Russian Yanukovych forces increased. On February 20 snipers began to open fire on the demonstrators. Yanukovich was ready to use the army to crush the uprising. But the deputy head of the Ukrainian Army resigned in protest. Yanukovich seeing the anger at the horror his snipers had brought about and unable to depend on the army, fled Kiev for Eastern Ukraine and then to Moscow. On February 28 the Russian troops entered Crimea.
Nothing Obama or anyone else did could have stopped this. This was simply the acting out by a piqued autocrat trying to save face. Whether this mollified his hurt feelings remains to be seen. He is expecting the West will do nothing about this but that remains to be seen. Obama’s weakness did not cause it; but the question remains as what he will do about it.