What’s next in Sevastopol…
HELSINKI-Despite observers declaring the election to be ‘free and fair’ Ukrainian Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko is set to contest her loss in last Sunday’s presidential elections.
More instability is exactly what Ukraine does not need, but Tymoshenko must feel that continuing her hard fighting life is worth what it may do to the country’s already non-existent faith in politicians.
Now that the election is over I am eager to continue my work on the ethnic Russian population in the ‘flashpoint’ city of Sevastopol and the Crimean Peninsula.
This is a story that looks vastly different depending on the generation you are talking to. Along with profiling more of the older generation, many of whom arrived in Sevastopol to serve in the Russian Black Sea Fleet and the younger generation, who are far more pluralistic in their view of Russia and Europe, I want to know if the ethnic Russians in Crimea feel more secure and willing to integrate with Ukraine now that Viktor Yanukovych, who is more pro-Russia than Tymoshenko, has taken the presidency.
After Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia there was so much in the media about Sevastopol and Crimea becoming the next ‘flashpoint.’
During my first visit in October 2008 I wondered what all the fuss was about. Russia gains next to nothing by invading Crimea. The population is already largely loyal to the Kremlin. Yet the idea that Ukraine might somehow lose Crimea has persisted
Now, however, among theories that right wing parties are growing across Europe and Russia, Sevastopol persists in being a place that could only too easily be set off to serve the purposes of politicians in Moscow and/or Kyiv, if manipulated correctly.
Before left for Sevastopol I interviewed Andreas Umland, editor of the book series Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society and author of several recent articles on Ukraine and Sevastopol.
Though there wasn’t the space to include Umland in my current article on Sevastopol, he brought up some extremely interesting points that I wanted to share, which coincide with my belief that Crimea is a peaceful place and it would take outside forces for the peninsula to become the ‘flashpoint’ it has been dubbed.
According to Umland, clashes between the different ethnic groups were expected in Crimea in the early nineties after the fall of the Soviet Union. There has been some confrontations, but no one has been killed so far.
The answer is that Ukrainians and Russians are so similar, almost the same people with the same religion and common believes. The domestic situation is completely different from the one that led to the 2008 war in Georgia.
Yet, there is a growing number of right-wing nationalist parties in both Ukraine and Russia that could benefit from the tension in Sevastopol.
While these groups are not active currently, Umland said. “You can see these people in the clashes in Sevastopol for instance. It hasn’t yet come to violent clashes. It is quite easy to see how if it comes to a violent clash how ultra-nationalists in Kyiv and Moscow would benefit from it. Because it would stir up public opinion. There would be a bidding war between patriots who would then argue who is the greatest patriot of Ukraine or of Russia.”
While in Sevastopol I was also told that more hardcore Russian nationalists are becoming more active, though they are lacking leadership and organization.
As it stands at the moment Viktor Yanukovych will most likely extent the Black Sea Fleet’s lease on Sevastopol harbor. If this is enough for the former Soviet naval families to feel connected to Russia is something I will have to return to Crimea to find out.