The Crimean referendum to break away from Ukraine and join Russia has only been recognized by Russia. Every Western power denounces the referendum as an illegitimate expression of Putin’s will: it’s hard to check the ‘no’ box when the forces invading your country prompt you to check ‘yes’. When turnout in Sevastopol reaches 123 percent, something is amiss. However, it is difficult to challenge the results of the referendum when Ukrainian military forces withdraw from Crimea. A newly-signed treaty incorporating Crimea into maps of Russia seems to indicate that Putin will get his way with the peninsula.
However, it would be foolish to assume Crimea is the only region Russia is interested in assimilating. Officially, the Russo-Georgian War of 2008 was a Russian attempt to defend South Ossetia’s independence; in reality, it was a Russian incursion into sovereign Georgian territory. How does Putin justify his involvement in these nations?
His justifies involvement by citing Russian interests to protect ethnic Russians and Russophones. As the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine arprimarily Russian speaking, Putin asserts there is clear cause to defend Russian interests there. If Putin defines Russian interests by protecting Russophonic regions of bordering countries, then there ought to be serious concern over a growing Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe.
What states could Putin look to next? Russophonic nations are most logical: ethnic Russians who speak the mother tongue present the easiest means of invading other countries.
Moldova is one option. It has several significant conditions that Ukraine met. First, Moldova desires E.U. membership, and seeks to pay its way with a growing economy. Second, Russian influence over the nation was founded in the Soviet era. Third, Moldovan energy is almost entirely imported from Russia, making its economy largely dependent on the will of the Kremlin. Fourth and finally, a reasonable portion of the population is ethnic Russian, giving Putin the ability to justifiably intervention in its affairs. Knowing these conditions make it a prime target, the Moldovan government recently reaffirmed its independence from Russia, warning Putin to stay out. Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.], who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has recognized Moldova as a potential target as well.
Also of particular concern is Estonia, whose invasion would bring serious geopolitical consequences. Estonia is a member of NATO, and thus protected by the West. However, this likely does not extinguish Putin’s interest in the country, as Moscow expresses its concern about the treatment of ethnic Russians there. Belarus, a nation traditionally under the thumb of Russian power, is all but subservient to Russia’s desires in most cases already.
Crimea is a milestone for more than just Russia and Ukraine. It signifies a new era in Russian expansion, economically and militarily. Although Russia failed in Georgia, it has succeeded in the peninsula so well that it is scouting new targets. Without firm opposition, the Bear’s taste for red meat will only intensify. We must preserve our interests in the region, regardless of geopolitical cost, if only to keep Moscow from renewing its title as lord of Eastern Europe.
—Brennan Mancil is a freshman studying political science and international affairs
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