Conquering the Crimea: Chapter 1
Congratulations, Russia, you seem to have taken over Crimea in about two weeks! Not a blitzkrieg in the classic sense, but then the Olympics were just ending in Sochi, and you wanted to bask in the glory of winning the most medals. Now, with a heightened sense of Russian nationalism, you can conquer Crimea.
Well, the map above seems to indicate “Mission Accomplished.” Yes, former U.S. President George W. Bush was associated with that phrase, after an initial American victory over Iraqi forces in 2003. But occupying a region is a lot more costly than the initial conquest. A few geographic points to consider:
Yes, we have all heard the propaganda that Crimea is mostly ethnic Russian, but these figures are based on a dated 2001 census. The Sevastopol city-region (eastern limit shown on the map with a red line) is estimated to be 70% ethnic Russian. The rest of Crimea is maybe half Russian, with more than 500,000 Ukrainians and 260,000 Crimean Tatars, out of a total population of 1.99 million people. So, are you planning to win the ethnic minorities over or make them refugees? Remember, if you treat them badly, then you could have a massive insurgency on your hands.
Various reports state that Serbian “Chetnik” fighters are in Crimea to help their Russian brothers. You should keep the Serbians away from Crimean Tatar communities, because Serbians did not endear themselves to ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999. Both Tatars and Albanians tend to be Muslim, which evidently does not go over well with some Serbian nationalists.
The Geo-Military Situation
Yes, you have disarmed most of the Ukrainian soldiers in the Crimea, but now what do you do? If you hurt them, there is a much larger Ukrainian army to the north. Also, there are still the Ukrainian sailors on more than a dozen warships, who are still quite armed. If you are too decisive in getting rid of the Ukrainian military, then neighboring countries may get a bit anxious, increase their defense budgets, and aim missiles at you.
The Larger Geopolitical Situation
The referendum on March 16 focuses on union with Russia and restoring the 1992 constitution. As the billboard image below shows, you are giving Crimeans a chance to vote between a Nazi-like Ukrainian government and a glorious Russian government. Seems easy.
However, any annexation of the Crimea would violate the 1997 Friendship Treaty you signed with Ukraine. It is not very friendly to invade and annex the territory of a nearby country. Plus, the U.S. and the European Union would use the information, diplomatic, economic, and even military tools of foreign policy against you. This could hurt over time. Yes, China is an ally, but most of your trade is with Europe.
This Chapter is Still Being Written
While it is nice to reclaim the Crimea and have Catherine the Great smile down upon you, the harsh realities of 21st century geopolitics make military conquest difficult. Yes, you got away with it (at the time of the 2008 Olympics) against Georgia; but Georgia was the aggressor when it invaded South Ossetia, and it clearly underestimated Russian resolve.
You have put quite a scare into the Ukrainians and the world community. Perhaps, the best result is to bargain for greater access or autonomy in the Sevastopol region. Maybe you could negotiate sovereign rights to your military bases in the Crimea. How this will end is largely up to you.