News / Europe

What Prompted Putin's Annexation of Crimea?

FILE - Russia's President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federation Council in Moscow's Kremlin, March 18, 2014.
FILE - Russia's President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federation Council in Moscow's Kremlin, March 18, 2014.
While Russia’s annexation of Crimea has been described by Western nations as illegal and illegitimate, longtime Russian watchers say there is compelling history and motives behind it.

Columbia University professor Robert Legvold said for Russian President Vladimir Putin, the annexation is a question of legacy.

“From his point of view, it would be a far more substantial legacy than the Sochi Olympics, which everybody has been talking about as something that he wanted to be his legacy,” said Legvold. “But to have brought Crimea back into the historical place that it has had in the fold of Mother Russia, I think he sees this as probably the single most important thing that he will accomplish as president.”

Legvold said Putin believes by annexing Crimea, he rectifies what he sees as the historical injustice of 1954, when then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the peninsula from Russia to Ukraine, then a Soviet republic.

Putin defends Russians

Wilson Center analyst Matthew Rojansky said by taking over Crimea, Putin has destroyed the image of Russia as being a responsible partner on the international stage.

“But there is another image that he may care much, much more about, and that is his image at home as not only defender of the Russian people, which certainly the argument about defending Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine would help,” said Rojansky, “but also as a defender of a greater Russia, of a vision of Russia which is more powerful and bigger and which is taken seriously, perhaps more out of fear than love.”

Putin sees Russia as strong power

Brent Scowcroft was national security adviser to two U.S. presidents, Gerald Ford (1974-77) and George H.W. Bush (1989-93). Before Crimea’s annexation, Scowcroft told VOA Putin wants Russia to be seen as a strong power.

“Putin nurses a grudge, because what he says is that at the end of the Cold War, when Russia was flat on its back, we walked all over them. And we did it because they were weak. Technically he has a point,” said Scowcroft. “We pushed the borders of NATO right into the former Soviet Union. We denounced the ABM [anti-ballistic missile] treaty and so on and so forth. We didn’t do it to weaken the Russians; we did it because we thought it was useful. But - that gnaws at him.”

The United States and its Western allies have imposed economic sanctions on Russian officials as a result of Crimea’s annexation. Russia responded by placing travel restrictions on U.S. officials.

US-Russia cooperation in the balance

Columbia University’s Legvold said the crisis over Crimea could affect U.S.-Russia cooperation in such areas as Iran and, to a lesser extent, Syria.

“In Syria, they have been a problem all along the way. They helped in an important way on chemical weapons,” said Legvold. “But the notion that somehow we can find common ground for achieving a political outcome grows more remote, because again, the Russians have no desire to seem like a cooperative partner when they are defining us - not merely as misguided in our policy - but even malevolent in our policy; that is, beginning to think of us as an adversary, not simply a difficult interlocutor.”

Legvold and others believe if tensions rise between the United States and Russia over Ukraine and other issues, it could reignite a new Cold War.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jeff
March 27, 2014 10:40 AM
Taking by by force of arms must have been well planned in advance by the Russian Government. No military commander could have unilaterally authorized this on his own initiative. A dateline would illustrate how quickly this was action-ed. Russia acts independently of the UN and the world when it is in their best
interest. The West should have realized this by now.

by: Igor from: Russia
March 26, 2014 10:46 PM
The West, especially the USA destroyed their own image as being a responsible partners on the international stage long ago when they attacked and invaded Iraq, Afganistan, Lybia, former Yugoslavia and many other coutries despite the opposition of international community.
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
March 27, 2014 10:51 AM
Hey Igor, Putin is using (the NATO rules), for intervening in Georgia, Crimea, and Ukraine, or wherever? The NATO rules for invading Yugoslavia (Serbia), were for "Humanitarian reasons" to save Albanian lives, and take land from the Serbs to form the independent state of Kosovo? NOW Putin and Russia are using the exact same (NATO rules), to intervene in Georgia, Crimea, and Ukraine, for "Humanitarian reasons" to save innocent Russians in those countries?
BLAME NATO? ... and the (NATO rules?)

by: Lev Havryliv from: Sydney, Australia
March 26, 2014 8:48 PM
Putin and his supporters suffer from a psychological post-imperial syndrome. That is an inability to accept that formerly Russian-controlled countries should and deserve to decide their own destiny.

Claims of protection of Russian-speakers have no basis, and are a smokescreen for the ideology of a "greater Russia" ie. an expanded Russian empire.
In Response

by: Jim Miller from: Virginia
March 27, 2014 6:47 AM
You make a wonderful point here. My wife is from Lithuania and we visit her family every two or three years during the summer months. They have no love for Russia, calling them occupiers right up front. Permit me to share an anecdote that I believe will help define what you noted in your message. We were visiting the seaside resort town of Palanga and strolling the boardwalk. Two ladies were walking in front of us and, although I don't understand the language, I recognized it to be Russian. Listening to them, my wife became gruff and muttered something quite unpleasant. I asked what was wrong and she said "Russians!" I asked what they said. She said the one lady asked the other how she liked Palanga. She replied that it was alright but there were too many Lithuanians there. Keep in mind Palanga is Lithuanian. My wife described the attitude as one of "Big Brother" that she had grown up with while they were in the Soviet Union. These folks are fiercely independent despite the fact they are only 3.75 million in number. So yes, the Russians can't accept that folks don't want to be controlled by them.

by: DaveInSacramento from: Sacramento, Ca
March 26, 2014 6:18 PM
As Russia, is the largest country on the planet with extremely limited ocean access, is it possible that Mr. Putin is interested in Ukraine for sea port access for trade and defense?

That would make sense to me, considering they have little more than St Petersburg to the North and Vladivostok to the East
In Response

by: Cranksy from: USA
March 27, 2014 12:32 PM
I have the same question. It seems to me the discussion in the article and comments are misdirected to legacy and ego.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More