Friday, 7 March 2014

Thomas de Waal on the difference between Crimea and South Ossetia

Interesting article in Politico by Thomas de Waal, author of books on the Caucasus and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He starts by making the same point as the Russian Dilettante, tracing the parallels between the current crisis and Vassily Aksyonov's 1981 novel The Island of Crimea.

De Waal then compares and contrasts the situation in Crimea and South Ossetia:

In August 2008, South Ossetians’ fears vis-à-vis Tbilisi seemed to be borne out when President Mikheil Saakashvili foolishly ordered his troops to capture the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali. That of course was exactly the pretext Russia needed to stage an invasion.

In Crimea, there are no excuses. There has been no provocation, no shooting. Russians already ran a local parliament with autonomous powers. Russian is the main language of communication. 
The dangers are also bigger. Crimea has a substantial population still on the ground that does not want to be part of Russia or merely more autonomy within Ukraine. There are maybe half a million Ukrainians, out of a total population of 2.4 million people, with loyalty to Kyiv. There are also 250,000 Crimean Tatars, whose resentment of Moscow runs deep after Stalin’s mass deportation of them to Central Asia in 1944. They are not only loyal to Ukraine but can call on support from a strong diaspora community in Turkey.

Thankfully there is no recent tradition of political violence in Crimea. But there is pervasive organized crime, which could end up being just as dangerous. Over the last week observers have reported seeing freelance security personnel, working for oligarchs, alongside regular troops outside Ukrainian bases in what one Western analyst has described as Russian “state-private sector synergy. These unstable local dynamics could give some home-grown bosses a lot more leverage than we would want to see in an international crisis zone.
De Waal concludes that there could be a mini civil war between Russians, Ukrainians and Tatars in the Crimea. In other words, Russia may soon acquire its own version of Ulster.


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