Overview Ukraine – Geopolitical Commentary

Historic context

  • Russia believes Ukraine is part of Russia; Ukraine (parts of it) believe they are an independent nation with ties to Europe
  • The Crimean peninsular has been repeatedly colonised and occupied over the centuries
  • The Russian Empire annexed Crimea in 1783 after numerous wars with the Ottomon Empire
  • The Crimean War of 1853-56 was fought by the Ottomons, British and French against the Russians – the Russian prevailed and Crimea remained part of Russia
  • After the 1917 Russian revolution, Crimea became part of the USSR
  • In 1944, Stalin deported Crimea’s entire population of ethnic Tartars to Siberia!
  • In 1954, Nikita Krushchev (Soviet leader but ethnic Ukrainian) transferred the Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic
  • On the breakup of the USSR, Crimea remained part of Ukraine
  • Sevastapol is the largest Crimean city with strategic military importance. It currently serves as a Russian naval base under a 20-year lease signed in 1997; the lease was extended in a “gas deal” in 2010 for another 25 years with the option to extend again in 2042

Map of Ukraine



The Georgia Parallel

  • Georgia was established as a sovereign nation after the breakup of the USSR
  • The pro-West government elected in 2004 alienated relations with Russia
  • In April 2008, Russia formally “recognised” two small, breakaway Georgian provinces (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) as sovereign nations
  • Russia and Georgia accused each other of escalating tensions
  • The pro-West Georgian government ordered a full-scale military operation to retake control of South Ossetia in August 2008 giving Russia the excuse it needed to launch an invasion into Georgia
  • The 5 day war lead to hundreds of deaths and thousands of casualties
  • An uneasy cease-fire remains in place; Russian troops remain in the breakaway provinces

Russia has an historic precedence for “engineered” occupation
– it is currently acting within historic norms

 Russian Gas


  • In late January, the Ukraine asked Russia for a deferral in payments for gas
  • On March 1, Gazprom said they would consider cancelling Ukraine’s price discount
  • On Monday, Gazprom said there “may be” supply disruptions to Europe
  • Russia supplies 25-30% of Europe’s natural gas through Ukrainian based pipelines

 Extra Detail

  • Russian and China are “in agreement” over Ukraine – China came out with a very pro-Russian statement which was subsequently softened to fall in line with international norms on sovereign borders
  • A G8 meeting is scheduled in Sochi for June – there is talk of suspending preparations
  • In 1994, the United Kingdom and United States signed a treaty with Ukraine agreeing to come to it’s defence were it to be threatened . . . It would be very difficult for the UK or US to stand back should Russian troops invade
  • Ukraine owes Gazprom a reported $1.5bn in overdue payments
  • The US has agreed $1bn of aid to Ukraine; Russia is “offering” $2-3bn
  • Ukraine has only 4 months of gas supply stockpiled