If you’ve looked at a newspaper in the last few weeks, you will have seen the terrible events going on in Crimea.
The peninsula, which is generally regarded to be a part of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, has been taken over by Russian soldiers.
Although they haven’t yet met resistance and shots have not been fired, western powers have scrambled their diplomats to try to defuse the situation, which has left economic markets nervous and local residents scared about their future.
The history – why Crimea?
After the revolution in Ukraine, which saw the pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych overthrown by a wave of protests in the capital Kiev (led by a curious mix of pro-EU campaigners and far-right militants), Russia moved its troops swiftly into position on the peninsula.
Taking key airports and military bases, the Kremlin talked of its need to protect Russians in the area, despite it being firmly within Ukraine’s borders.
While many were surprised at this move, some experts pointed to Russia’s history in Crimea as a contributing factor for the superpower’s attempt to regain the peninsula.
Ukraine and Russia were both part of the Soviet Union, but regional administrative hierarchies existed that demarcated Ukraine as a separate entity from its larger neighbour. But when Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev, born in eastern Ukraine, gave the previously Russian Crimea to Ukraine in the 1950s, many raised their eyebrows.
While this is described by Alan Phillips, former Moscow bureau chief of the Daily Telegraph who wrote in the London Evening Standard, as a “meaningless gesture”, it remained in Ukrainian hands after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Ever since then, it’s largely ethnic Russian population has complained of harassment by Ukrainian authorities who, at one point, sought a ban on the use of non-Ukrainian languages in government buildings.
The peninsula’s Russian-speaking population protested against this legislation and it never made its way into law, but the situation illustrates the tensions faced in Crimea.
Russians and Ukrainians are not the only ethnic groups to live on the peninsula. A large number of Crimean Tatars also stake a claim to the land.
The mainly Sunni Muslim group fought alongside the Soviet Union during the second world war against Germany, but the existence of a Tatar regiment in the Nazi forces left it stigmatised among Moscow’s elites.
All Crimean Tatars were deported from their homeland by the Soviet Union, mainly to Uzbekistan and other regions, with some reports indicating nearly half of those moved died of disease or malnutrition before the policy was removed by Mikhail Gorbachev decades later.
Today, around 250,000 Tatars, or around ten per cent of Crimea’s population, live on the peninsula, but locals still complain of suppression by Ukrainian authorities that have regularly been accused of racism and corruption.
What could happen next?
The situation in Crimea is changing rapidly. Nobody, not even our world leaders, know what will happen next.
It seems likely that Russia will avoid further incursions into Ukraine, as doing so would risk further damage to its economy, but the superpower’s close ties to Crimea make further autonomy from Kiev, if not all-out annexation, a possibility.
Russia still operates its main Naval base in the Black Sea in the Crimean city of Sevastopol – as per a long-standing agreement – and will likely continue this in the coming months and years, no matter what the outcome of the latest conflict.
Nato looks unlikely to get involved, as Ukraine is not a member state and does not have the right to invoke Article 5, which would require war to be declared against Russia.
While the future of Crimea remains unclear, what is plainly obvious is the dissolving boundaries of pre-existing international borders. It’s becoming increasingly common for us to travel – or even settle – across the world and, as the social makeup of countries becomes more diverse and complex, so too does the geopolitical landscape.
But there is one thing that unites us all. Language. We all speak to each other and, with translation and interpretation services becoming more widely available, it is becoming easier than ever for businesses to transcend these borders and expand into new markets.