On Sunday, March 16, it became apparent that Nikita Khrushchev made a grave mistake when he reapportioned the Soviet Republics in 1954 and included the Crimean Peninsula as part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The mistake was repeated when the Soviet Union broke up and, even though Crimea is considered an autonomous republic, it is primarily populated by Russians. Now, 97 percent of the voting Crimean population want to go home to the mother country, Russia.
The truth is that it has never made sense for Crimea to be aligned with Ukraine. Until 1954, The Crimean Peninsula had never been part of Ukraine. Over the course of it's 2,000 year history Crimea has been host to 20 different conquering nations until Catherine the Great annexed it into the Russian Empire in 1783. Crimea was then was ping-ponged around the Russian system from war to war for a couple hundred years. When it became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic nobody much cared where the boundaries were drawn because the power was centralized in Moscow. It seemed a convenient place to park Crimea.
The Crimean Russians, or Russian Crimeans, have never been interested in aligning with NATO or the EU. As recently as 2006, the Crimean parliament declared Crimea a "NATO-free territory," ultimately forcing U.S. Marines and NATO forces to cancel military exercises and withdraw from the peninsula. In 2009 Russians in Crimea were issued Russian passports, and even though the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko made a stink, there hasn't been an effort to populate Crimea with Ukrainians to counteract the influx of Russians. If the Ukrainians really wanted to hold onto Crimea, perhaps they should have made an effort to populate Crimea with Ukrainians.
So is it any big surprise that the Russian population in Crimea, ticked off by Kiev's decision to align with the European Union, now wants to go home?
Let's pretend Mexico was a thriving industrialized nation and that over time Mexicans and Central Americans began to move back to the northern states and ancestral stomping grounds of Alta California, New Mexico, Arizona and southwest Texas. Let's pretend that they eventually far outnumbered the Americans that had invaded and won their territory, and that Spanish had become more common than English. Let's also pretend that, even though the Spanish speaking population was in the majority, the Americans continued to govern for the benefit of the English speaking population, and many began to think it unfair. So they held a vote and 97% of the people wanted to be annexed by Mexico.
Of course that's pretty difficult to imagine given the state that Mexico is in these days. But the principle is the same. When is it okay to give the inhabitants of a region the right to self-determination, and when must the sovereignty of the ruling nation be preserved? If the Crimeans decided they didn't want to align with either nation and in effect became a completely independent state, would the government in Kiev object? Would Moscow object? I think we can probably assume they would both object and the losers would be the people of Crimea, regardless of what language they spoke.
Naturally, Western nations are appalled by Moscow's strong arm tactics, but if this were any other country besides Russia -- with the exception of North Korea and China -- a government stepping in to protect their people, especially if those people had been disenfranchised by their own government, would be perfectly acceptable.
If anything, the United States has a responsibility to side with the will of the people and the right of self-determination, rather than to try and uphold the sovereignty of government that never should have had anything to do with Crimea in the first place. Ideally we would want Crimea to be an independent democratic state, especially since their government is technically autonomous and has about as much in common with Kiev as it does with Istanbul, which are about the same distance away.
I have a feeling another version of the Domino Theory is just around the corner. Look out, Latvia! Heads up, Estonia! The Russians are coming!