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March 10, 2014

Crimean call for vote on splitting from Ukraine prompts international opposition


The breakup of Ukraine recently moved a step closer to reality. The parliament in Crimea, a peninsula that extends south of Ukraine, scheduled a vote on whether it will stay part of Ukraine or return to Russia. That action drew a swift response, as the U.S. and its European partners announced sanctions against Russia.

Ukraine’s most prolonged and deadly crisis since its post-Soviet independence began as a protest against the government dropping plans to forge closer trade ties with the European Union and has since spurred a global standoff between Russia and Western powers. The crisis stems from more than 20 years of weak governance, a lopsided economy dominated by oligarchs, heavy reliance on Russia and sharp differences between Ukraine’s linguistically, religiously and ethnically distinct eastern and western halves. After the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in February, Russia moved to take control of the Crimean Peninsula, signaling Moscow’s intent to retain its sphere of influence and raising serious questions about the ability of the state’s new leaders to provide stability and a path to meaningful reforms.

The Crimean Peninsula is home to minority ethnic Tatars, who are delighted about the new authorities, but the majority ethnic Russians support efforts to strengthen ties with Russian and possibly leaving Ukraine altogether.

Crimea is an autonomous republic of Ukraine with its own parliament and laws that permit the use of the Russian language in everyday life and empower local representatives to levy taxes. However, the parliament’s acts can be vetoed by the central Ukrainian government in Kiev. Since the ouster of Yanukovych in February 2014, Crimea’s parliament has asserted greater autonomy and voted for a March 16 referendum to decide whether Crimea should become part of Russia or remain a part of Ukraine, but with enhanced local powers.

Warm up questions
  1. Where is Ukraine? How close is it to Russia?
  2. What do you know about the crisis that is playing out between Russia and Ukraine?
  3. Where and what is Crimea?
  4. What is a civil war?
Discussion questions
  1. What kinds of steps can the U.S. and its European allies do to discourage Crimea from breaking off from Ukraine? If you were in charge, what would you do?
  2. If Crimea does vote to split from Ukraine, do you think the situation will deteriorate? What do you think will happen?

Source: Background Briefing: What you should know about the Ukraine crisis by Robert McMahon, editor at the Council on Foreign Relations

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