Though this is mostly an environmental economics blog, I would like to add a few points to the latest international conflict that is heading political agendas worldwide, namely the Crimea crisis. In general, the newspapers we read are full of opinions on what should be done, the way we have to treat to Russia and what we are to expect from the unfolding international conflict. However, the positions taken in these newspapers tend to be those of reporters that re-iterate what they have been reading elsewhere, copying political statements from politicians that are anything but expects on Crimea. I mean – who would really dare to say that he/she is well-versed in both international positions (Russia and the rest of world) that are currently in conflict?

The idea of this blog entry is thus to provide a view of the Russian perspective into the crisis in order to understand why the conflict is unfolding in the way it does and what we should expect. This Russian perspective comes from an internationally highly accredited Russian professor, Alexei Savvateev, who kindly responded to my Questions & Answers requests.

Q: I am writing to you with regards to some concern about the situation in Crimea.

A: Yes. I expected this e-mail ! And I will try to answer very extensively.

Also, if there are any other people in the West who WANT to know the truth about Russia, please don’t hesitate to circulate my answer ! Any repost is welcome (lj, vk, facebook etc).

So, what do we have:

1. Historically, Crimea was Russian and Soviet during approx 100 years.. Then, Khruschev gave the Crimea to Ukraine – for some reasons which I do not understand, but that looks to be absolutely innocent – having that Ukraine was a part of USSR.

2. After the collapse of the USSR, the Crimea lost connection with the historical motherland. Situation worsened and worsened there, and they literally lost the hope to be with Russia. One of my friends, who has birthday today (!!), was in Crimea in August and she was stressed by the living condition the people are in. She said “The best present to my birthday is Crimea!”. And this happened – YESTERDAY was the referendum (96 per cent for Russia!), and the present is ready – for today’s birthday !!!!!!!

Q: What is your opinion on Putin’s course here?

A: Putin is a very democratic leader. Yes, – I am not joking ! When he introduced the homophobic laws, this was only because 85 per cent of population were against gay-parades and alike – Russians are very traditional. This does not mean that Russians, on average, can abuse gays – not at all!

But “do not ask – do not tell” is the formula which works here very good. Putin reacted to the population request – not to institutionalize gay relations.

Crimea is the same. Many Russians were extremely angry that Putin did not introduce the army to solve the Ukrainian political crisis; and to the public he could hardly explain why he was silent. But as for Crimea, he understood finally that he was losing ratings and reputation, unless he acted very definitely.

And he started. He never run across the law – we can hold up to 25 000 soldiers there, and we did hold (roughly) 23 000 of them! He talked to Tatareans in Crimea, and their Parliament refused to say “Yes” to Russia; then, he talked to the very poor Tatareans, and they, on the contrary, voted FOR Russia in this referendum (Strictly speaking, this is my guess, having the results. It could be principally possible that many Tatareans refused to vote (or abstained); however, there are some cases where Tatareans really voted for Russia. In total, 96 per cent voted for Russia – could you imagine such a pronounced demonstration of the political will?)

He did a heroic thing – he saved Crimea from the war. People heard of these “trains of happiness” which were ready to be send by the fascistic Kiev authorities, and if Russia were not invaded, there would have been a big bloodshed.

Q: How should the West react and should this anyhow be Western concern?

A: No. This should not be Western concern. This is entirely an intra-Russian case, and the West should take it as it is.

Q: What do you think is going to happen and what is the common belief in Russia at the moment?

A: Russians are excited. This (consolidation with Crimea) will cost us a fortune, but nobody here counts money. Putin’s ratings are maximal ever in his time of “tsarstvo”.

So far the answers, thanks to Alexei for a Russian view into the Crimea crisis!

As far as I understand from this, Russians view Crimea as part of Russia. I do not support the view that, since Crimea had historically belonged to Russia, this should be the reason for Russia to annex Crimea again. Opinions like these lead to never-ending conflicts and continued bloodshed.  However, the inhabitants of Crimea, made up of 60% Russians, voted in the recent referendum with a 96% majority to join Russia. Democratically speaking, this result is astonishing and shows that Crimea’s inhabitants would prefer to belong to Russia. Plus, Russia is less concerned about the costs than about the territory (Sergei Guriev argues that Putin’s move weakens trust in Russia and reduces investments in the future:

Now, there are two issues: Was the referendum well-done, and is it internationally legitimate? My guess is that even if the referendum was re-done by Ukraine or any neutral, international body, the outcome would be the same. However, there are issues with international laws. Clearly, international laws must be upheld. Nevertheless, there is a conflict between international laws and democratic opinion.

While the international laws prohibit this annexing of Crimea and Ukraine argues that the referendum was unconstitutional, the democratic opinion on Crimea is overwhelmingly in favor of joining Russia. An important question, thus, is whether this overwhelming majority wish of the Crimean population should be realized and what are the costs?

I am neither a historian nor a lawyer, so the following questions come to mind: In contrast to Mainland China which should not be allowed to annex Taiwan as the majority of the Taiwanese population does not want to be part of China, should it not be the case that any country should be allowed to annex Crimea as long as this receives the full support of the Crimeans?

Obviously this raises additional questions: Imagine an ethnic minority of any country decides to hold a referendum on whether the part of the city or region they live in should become independent territory, or should be annexed to any particular country they deem useful to them. If democratic vote would then be the only decisive criterion and this ethnic minority would win the vote, then how would countries look like in the future? What would be the concept of a country?

Are the envisioned sanctions that the EU imposed against Russia likely to work? Most likely they are only a political statement that says something: Look, we are against what you do and we act accordingly! But honestly, this is likely to be useless. Especially considering the potential reverse impact of Russia stopping natural gas exports to Europe, or oil exports, etc. This is not an international conflict in which sanctions are going to have any useful impacts. In effect, they very seldomly have had any impact at all.

1) Crimea will become part of Russia.
2) There will be further sanctions and international discussions by USA and the EU, but these will be quietly stopped at some point.
3) Ukraine and Russia will have a very strained relationship in the next few years. At best, Russia will try to compensate Ukraine in some way or another (e.g. cheaper natural gas deliveries).
4) International laws need to be re-written and re-analyzed in order to incorporated further cases like these, and there will be further cases. E.g. Tibet claims that China is currently `exporting’ many Chinese to Tibet (a claim disputed by China) – if they hold the majority (as Tibet online claims) then a similar referendum could be undertaken by China in order to annex Tibet.

UPDATE (21 March 2014):An interesting discussion of why Russia gave Crimea to the Ukraine: