Scenes of Russian troops taking control of Crimea might well lead one to believe that Russian leader Vladimir Putin holds most, if not all the cards in the unfolding Russian-Ukrainian crisis. Yet the Russian leader’s Crimea gambit should be seen as a reflection not of his strength, but of his feelings of insecurity.
At its easternmost tip, the border between the Crimean peninsula and Russia runs through a channel, where a forty-minute ferry ride connects the Ukrainian city of Kerch to the Russian side. In recent days, travelers to Kerch have been met by soldiers toting automatic weapons who don’t seem inclined to leave anytime soon.
While leaders of the Euromaidan movement strive to consolidate their authority, not all Ukrainian citizens are buying into the new order in Kyiv. In particular, Russian-speakers in Crimea, which only became a part of Ukraine in 1954, have become the focus of international attention for their defiance of the new authorities in Kyiv.
Sergei Nigoyan, a 20-year-old ethnic Armenian born in Ukraine, was the first Euromaidan activist to fall. His death back in late January created a challenge for leaders of the sizable Armenian community in Ukraine: as the revolution unfolds, Armenians are generally eager to be seen as loyal and neutral.
A few decades ago, they were sent abroad to fulfill an “internationalist” duty. Today, Afghan war veterans in Ukraine are answering a domestic call, and are playing a prominent role in keeping the Maidan movement going in Kiev.