Russia’s annexation of Crimea will likely damage its core interest: its political relationship with Ukraine, which it wants to keep far from Europe. So, for Europe, the most important priority now is to help to ensure stability and prosperity in the rest of Ukraine.
MADRID – Even Mikhail Gorbachev, who presided over the dissolution of the Soviet Union with scarcely a shot fired, has proclaimed his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea. The people of Crimea, he says, have corrected a historic Soviet error.
Gorbachev’s sentiment is widely shared in Russia. After the Soviet Union’s disintegration in 1991, Russia went from superpower to backwater. Three ex-Soviet republics joined the European Union and NATO, asserting their desire not only for democracy and prosperity, but also to avoid being part of Russia ever again. By moving to annex Crimea, Putin, supported massively – thus far – by domestic public opinion, seems to be ending the post-imperial frustration of the past two decades.
Since 1991, however, Russia explicitly recognized the territorial integrity of Ukraine on several occasions. Such recognition was part of the 1992 Yalta Agreement, which divided the Black Sea fleet, and of the 1997 leasing contract that allowed the fleet to remain in Sevastopol. Ukraine’s territorial integrity was also recognized in the 1994 denuclearization agreement, signed by the United Kingdom, Russia, and the United States, and again in April 2011, when then-President Viktor Yanukovych extended the Sevastopol lease.