Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yushchenko, could not have put it more starkly. Condemning Russia’s decision to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia’s two separatist regions, Yushchenko warned yesterday: “Any nation could be next.”
In fact, Yushchenko was articulating what is now a commonplace in diplomatic circles: that having successfully “done” Georgia, the Kremlin might now turn its attention to Ukraine – and in particular its Russian-speaking region of Crimea.
France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said the same thing. “It is very dangerous … there are other objectives that one can suppose are objectives for Russia, in particular the Crimea, Ukraine and Moldova,” Kouchner said.
(Article continues below)
In reality, the similarities between Ukraine and Georgia, and the Crimea and South Ossetia, are largely superficial. Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula, has a strong ethnic Russian majority. It became part of Ukraine during Soviet times, when it was transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954.
Unlike South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which launched separatist wars in the 1990s, Crimea has been a successful part of the Ukrainian state. “It is very pro-Russian, especially in Sevastopol. But it doesn’t see itself as being against Ukraine,” Igor Shevliakov, from the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kiev, said.