Vladimir Putin made a triumphant appearance in the Russian Duma today, speaking to loud cheers and thunderous applause as he defended the Russian seizure of Crimea. Calling the 96.7% result from the plebescite on Sunday “an extremely convincing figure,” Putin at once hailed Crimean independence, and almost in the same breath exhorted the parliament to begin the process of its annexation into Russia:
President Vladimir Putin put the annexation of Crimea on a fast track Tuesday morning, ordering the drafting of an accession agreement between Crimea and Russia. …
Members of the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, taunted the West over financial sanctions that the United States, the European Union and Canada have put in place against several dozen individuals. Some of those on the lists, which are intended to punish officials involved in the Ukrainian crisis, said they were proud to be included.
The Duma drew up a draft response denouncing the sanctions Tuesday morning. Olga Batalina, of the ruling United Russia party, said in presenting the statement, “The U.S. has gotten so absorbed with playing the policy of double standards that it has stopped distinguishing black from white and patriots from fascists. They are so convinced of their own impunity that they allow themselves to pursue any stance just for the sake of it.”
Later, Putin talked about the Russian nature of Crimea in his speech to the Duma:
Putin, speaking to a joint session of Parliament in Moscow, also stressed the historical and cultural ties between Russia and Crimea, and said Crimea is an inalienable part of Russia.
“In our hearts we know Crimea has always been an inalienable part of Russia,” he said.
Crimean independence may be more complicated than the Crimeans or the Russians realize. CNN reports on the amount of economic support the peninsula gets from the rest of Ukraine:
A secession would mean transferring banks, public utilities and public transport from Ukraine to Russia in what would undoubtedly be a costly operation.
Crimea is entirely integrated into Ukraine’s mainland economy and infrastructure: 90% of its water, 80% of its electricity and roughly 65% of its gas comes from the rest of country. It also depends heavily on the Ukrainian mainland to balance its books. About 70% of Crimea’s $1.2 billion budget comes directly from Kiev.
That may end up being a relief to the new government in Kyiv, if still a bitter humiliation. The new Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, continues to strike a hopeful note for relations with Moscow, hoping to keep the rest of Ukraine’s territorial integrity intact. Yatsenyuk offered a speech — in Russian rather than Ukrainian — pledging not to seek NATO membership and to protect the ethnic-Russian populations in the east:
Yatsenyuk took office after mass demonstrations ousted a pro-Russian government. His quickly developing ties with the U.S. and Europe upset Russian officials and helped prompt a Russian push into Crimea.
Now, with Crimea apparently on the verge of becoming part of Russia, Yatsenyuk said he knows there are limits.
“Association with NATO is not on the agenda,” he said, offering the possibility of reforms that would give the country’s regions more power, something Moscow has suggested.“Despite the armed aggression of Russia against Ukraine, I will do everything possible not only to keep the peace but also to build a genuine partnership with Russia and good neighbor relations.”
Putin seemed to respond in kind, claiming that Russia wanted no further division of Ukraine:
President Vladimir Putin says that Crimea should be part of Russia.
At the same time, he said in a televised address to the nation Tuesday that Russia doesn’t want to move to other regions of Ukraine, saying that “we don’t want division of Ukraine.”
Putin said that Russia had to respond to what he described as a Western plot to take Ukraine into its sphere of influence. He said that protests that drove out Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych were encouraged by the West.
Once again, Putin used Kosovo as his precedent for recognizing Crimean independence:
In a televised address to the nation, he said Crimea’s vote Sunday to join Russia was in line with international law, reflecting its right for self-determination.
To back the claim, he pointed to Kosovo’s independence bid from Serbia – supported by the West and opposed by Russia – and said that Crimea’s secession from Ukraine repeats Ukraine’s own secession from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Ukraine may end up counting itself fortunate if it only loses Crimea in this exchange. On the other hand, the last country in Europe to demand pieces of other countries on the basis of ethnic self-determination didn’t stop at just one bite. We’ll see if Putin does, but if I were in other former Soviet republics, I wouldn’t bet on it.
Update: Well, that didn’t take long:
BREAKING: Russian, Crimean leaders sign treaty to make the territory part of Russia.
— The Associated Press (@AP) March 18, 2014
Did Putin even bother with a Duma vote?