Staunton, Nov. 23 – When Putin carried out the Anschluss of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, he justified his action by saying that Crimea had long been a “sacred” part of the Russian world and that he was simply reversing the criminal decision of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to give this “Russian” region to Ukraine.
Many Russians and all too many in the West accepted and continue to accept that notion, arguing that whatever may be the fate of other parts of Ukraine, Kyiv must not challenge Moscow on Crimea. But two more recent developments have left such claims and such arguments in tatters, Vitaly Portnikov says.
On the one hand, when Putin declared that he was annexing portions of the Donbass, the Kremlin leader made no distinction between what he was doing there and what he did in Crimea, showing that both were nothing more than imperial land grabs, the Ukrainian commentator says (ru.krymr.com/a/krym-voyna-rossiya-putin-sakralnost-portnikov/32144779.html).
And on the other, when Ukrainian forces pushed back the Russian invaders and retook Kherson, they showed that they could defeat Russian forces on Ukrainian territory and forced Russian occupation officials in Crimea to take steps to defend their earlier conquest, yet another way in which Crimea and the Donbass are the same.
According to Portnikov, “it has become obvious that the ‘sacredness’ [of Crimea Putin likes to assert and many in the West accept] was only a pathetic excuse” because the Kremlin leader planned to annex more of Ukraine and has tried to do so. But his defeat at Kherson shows that this is not irreversible, whatever he or others think.
Russian occupation doesn’t give people security and isn’t eternal, the Ukrainian commentator continues. Instead, Putin’s occupation of Crimea “brought war and fear to the peninsula and was the first step in a war against all of Ukraine. It wasn’t ‘sacred’ at all, and Putin did not seek to make it safe.”
Instead, it was “simply the first victim of resurgent Russian militarism.” But Kherson shows that that militarism can and must be defeated, including in Ukraine’s Crimea.