Why does Russia want Crimea?
March 3, 2014 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Beyond affinity with Crimea's Russian-speaking majority, what does Russia stand to gain, strategically speaking, from control in the region? Succinct explanation or links to good explanatory articles are much appreciated.

Russia's rationale has not been a focus of the breathless news coverage of the crisis, at least in the States.
posted by killdevil to Law & Government (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It's complicated, but among other things Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based in the Crimea on Ukrainean territory and the arrangement might not have lasted with the new administration.
posted by selfnoise at 9:02 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

My husband and I were talking the other day about how, if you look at Russia's history/foreign policy, an enormous chunk of it over the past few hundred years seems to be about creating a buffer of other countries to protect the Motherland.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:06 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

What Mrs. Pterodactyl said; also grabbing a warm-water port. Russia is obsessed with sea-access. This has been a factor in many, many of Russia's past conflicts.
posted by quincunx at 9:15 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

This may help: the BBC's Crimea profile
posted by Mister Bijou at 9:16 AM on March 3, 2014

Putin is nostalgic for the USSR and is trying to put it back together again. Ukraine was a key part of it; if he loses Ukraine, the whole project is a bust.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:20 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have no idea, but came across this PBS transcript, which seems potentially insightful.

STEPHEN COHEN: We hear the American view that Putin is a neo-imperialist and a Soviet leader and he’s trying to recreate the Soviet Union. He’s something fundamentally different. Remember he came to power 14 years ago and he inherited a collapsed state. Remember also that the Russian state has collapsed twice in the 20th century – in 1917 and again in 1991. Putin’s mission as he sees it, and as the Russian political elite sees it, is to restore Russian stability, greatness at home and that includes to secure Russia’s traditiona, historical security zones around Russia. First and foremost, that is Ukraine. So what Putin did when he mobilized his forces, was to say to the United States and to Europe, you are crossing my red line and I have no choice. And politically at home, and given the pro-Russian forces and sentiments in Eastern and Southern Ukraine bordering Russia, I don’t see that he had a choice.

posted by univac at 9:27 AM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

Crimea was part of Russia for hundreds of years. It was Khrushchev who lumped it in with Ukraine in the 1950s in a fairly arbitrary move at a time when that distinction in sovereignty didn't mean as much. Really, today, Crimea should be an independent state rather than be passed around between Russia and Ukraine.
posted by w0mbat at 9:52 AM on March 3, 2014

Energy delivery to western Europe and to southern Russia might have something to do with it. It's an old article, but those gas pipelines are still there.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:11 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Black Sea Fleet port must certainly be the most important factor.
posted by Dansaman at 10:35 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

> Putin is nostalgic for the USSR and is trying to put it back together again. Ukraine was a key part of it; if he loses Ukraine, the whole project is a bust.

If this is meant to imply that taking over the Crimea is only a first step in regaining Ukraine, it's nonsense. Putin has no interest in invading Ukraine and having another Afghanistan on his hands; he simply couldn't allow any threat to the Black Sea Fleet. It seems likely he wants to turn Crimea into a quasi-autonomous Russian puppet like Abkhazia, and if it works out that way, frankly nobody will care but the Ukrainians, and they can't do anything about it. Also, don't forget that Crimea is historically Russian (and Tatar); Khrushchev handed it to Ukraine in 1954 on a personal whim, but nobody thought at the time that would have real-world consequences.
posted by languagehat at 11:08 AM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

considering all the street protests in eastern ukraine, many people want to be in Russia or atleast not part of the interim government Russia's black sea fleet is a major part of its naval strategy and the only fleet close enough to the mediterranean. See the eastern question as why europe/west never wanted a russian base in the mediterranean.
posted by radsqd at 11:22 AM on March 3, 2014

Nthing that it's about the black sea, the neo imperialist stuff is just theatre.
posted by smoke at 1:34 PM on March 3, 2014

Strategically, Crimea is home to Russia's only warm water port; "without a naval base in Crimea Russia is finished as a global military power."

Forbes 5 "Things to Know"
posted by Ralph at 2:58 PM on March 3, 2014

Russia has wanted a warm-water port since Peter the Great - not just for the navy, but for trade.
posted by pompomtom at 2:58 PM on March 3, 2014

posted by tarvuz at 4:07 PM on March 3, 2014

Crimea was part of Russia for hundreds of years

Well - since 1783. Before that it was part of the Ottoman Empire
posted by IndigoJones at 4:43 PM on March 3, 2014

Relevant passage from The Crimean War: A History by Orlando Figes:
Catherine believed that Russia had to turn towards the south if it was to be a great power. It was not enough for it to export furs and timber through the Baltic ports, as in the days of medieval Muscovy. To compete with the European powers it had to develop trading outlets for the agricultural produce of its fertile southern lands and build up a naval presence in the warm-water ports of the Black Sea from which its ships could gain entry to the Mediterranean. Because of the odd geography of Russia, the Black Sea was crucial, not just to the military defence of the Russian Empire on its southern frontier with the Muslim world, but also to its viability as a power on the European continent. Without the Black Sea, Russia had no access to Europe by the sea, except via the Baltic, which could easily be blocked by the other northern powers in the event of a European conflict (as indeed it would be by the British during the Crimean War).
posted by languagehat at 5:29 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe framing would be helpful. I don't pretend to know even 1% of the geopolitics behind Ukraine's current struggles.

That said, here's an article, with excerpt below:
The gravest threat to this Obama-Putin collaboration has now emerged in Ukraine, where a coalition of U.S. neocon operatives and neocon holdovers within the State Department fanned the flames of unrest in Ukraine, contributing to the violent overthrow of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych and now to a military intervention by Russian troops in the Crimea, a region in southern Ukraine that historically was part of Russia.
—Robert Parry, "What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis"; 2 March 2014
Regarding framing: perhaps it's not so much "Russia wants Ukraine" as it is a vast international power play, the inner workings of which aren't immediately visible nor easily laid bare.

For what it's worth.
posted by simulacra at 6:49 PM on March 3, 2014

As well as the reasons already suggested, Putin could also be motivated by the fact that this sort of posturing plays well to the home crowd, whether or not he gets away with it.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:59 PM on March 5, 2014

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