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General News of Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Source: Cameroon Tribune

Point of No Return

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The March 16, 2014 vote by the people of Crimea to join Russia is a milestone in international relations.

A chapter has been opened in International Relations following the vote yesterday, March 16, 2014 by the people of the defunct Ukrainian Autonomous Republic of Crimea and residents of the city of Sevastopol to unite their territories with the neighbouring Russia Federation. After weeks of threats by the West of the consequences of such a move, the die has now been cast and the impact of the referendum will, expectedly, be there for a long time to come.

Relations With The West

The US and the European Union have brandished sanctions against Russia beginning today, March 17, 2014, for accepting to implement Crimea's 'yes' vote on joining it. Such measures include visa bans and asset freezes aimed at Russian officials. The US has already enacted financial sanctions and plans to widen the measures. Russia, on the other hand, is not expected to lie low. Thus, the friction it will cause in relations between the two sides. This strain in relations is not expected to dissipate any soon.

Russia-Ukraine Relations

The future of relations between Russia and the new authorities in Kiev will largely be dependent on how they respond to Moscow's call for an all-inclusive Ukrainian government after the February 2014 overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych. The coup leaders in Kiev have also promised to sign a trade deal with the EU that was rejected last year by former President Yanukovych. How they continue to relate with Russia, Ukraine's largest trading partner nation, will determine how soon the tension is dissipated.

Impact On Ukrainian Crisis

Crimea and Sevastopol have formally seceded from Ukraine, but Kiev's woes are not over yet. Rival protests have been going on for days in eastern Ukraine where ethnic Russians are in the majority. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, on March 4, 2014, warned that his country reserved the right to use force to defend Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine. "We retain the right to use all available means to protect those people. We believe this would be absolutely legitimate. This is our last resort," he said. Russian troops have been massing and drilling on the Ukrainian border in readiness for any eventuality. On the other hand, Ukraine has created a new National Guard to safeguard its frontiers.

Change Of Geo-strategy

Crimea has finally returned to Russia from which it was willfully and freely handed over to Ukraine on February 19, 1954 by then Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev. The decision was taken on the 300th anniversary of Ukraine's union with Russia. For now, the choice of the Crimean people and Russia's acceptance of it, seems irreversible. Crimea, a rugged strategic peninsula jutting out into the Black Sea, has hosted Russia's Black Sea Fleet since 1783 on the southern tip of the island in what is today the city of Sevastopol. The port has been crucial for the Russian Navy over the years - providing quick access to the eastern Mediterranean, Balkans and Middle East.

Regional Military Balance

President Putin, a former KGB colonel who once described the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century, has repeatedly complained against the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO. A 2010 agreement with Ukraine extended Moscow's lease on Sevastopol Port until 2042 in exchange for a 30 per cent reduction in the price of Russian gas on which Ukraine depends for much of its energy needs. Now, the agreement is of little use. With Crimea once more becoming Russian, Moscow can now proceed to do whatever it wishes with the territory in defence of its interests.

Crimea's Strategic Importance

With an area of 26,000 square kilometres and just over 2 million people, Crimea is located at a strategic crossroads between Europe and Asia. The peninsula has throughout its long history been highly coveted by various interests. Consequently, it has been occupied by ancient Greeks, Romans, Goths, Huns, Ottomans, Mongols, Venetians and Nazi Germans, who sought control over the Black Sea.

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