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Why Putin thinks Crimea belongs to Russia

In a speech in Moscow Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin used the term “reunification” in reference to his country’s absorption of Crimea. Russia has a long history on the peninsula, and about three quarters of people in Crimea speak Russian as their first language, as shown in the map above from Russian Sphinx (used by permission). The proportion of native Russian speakers is even higher in the city of Sevastopol, which joins the Russian Federation as a separate entity under the treaty Putin signed today with Crimean leaders. There are also many Russian speakers in other areas along Ukraine’s eastern border, although Putin disclaimed any intention of annexing those regions in his speech.

Many of these people would be very happy to become legally as well as culturally Russian, and there were celebrations in the streets of Sevastopol on Tuesday. Yet there are also many Crimeans who are not Russian and who oppose to the treaty, including the Tartars, the Muslim group oppressed under Soviet rule who boycotted the weekend’s vote on absorption into Russia. There are probably Russian speakers who oppose annexation, too. It is hard to know even whether a majority of Crimeans support the treaty, since the election results were absurdly lopsided, suggesting fraud.

The United States, the United Kingdom and other Western countries have objected strongly to the annexation, and the United States has imposed sanctions on several Russian oligarchs (although critics say these won’t be adequate to deter Putin). Click below to keep reading about the U.S. response.

Max Ehrenfreund | March 18, 2014 at 5:11 pm
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