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Russia’s Eastern War: Part Two?

The crisis in the Crimea has already raised the price of Russian oil by $2 a barrel, as of Monday creating havoc on some energy markets. And this is only the beginning of what could turn onto a long and complicated crisis pitting the former Cold War foes into a new hot conflict.  Oh yes, and the Russian rouble is the losing value to the US dollar.

The uncertainty prevailing in Ukraine and subsequently the uncertainty in the Crimea, a strategic peninsula situated at the southern tip of the country, could send oil prices soaring upwards some more if the current crisis continues at its current momentum. And that is the good news.

Over the weekend Russia’s parliament approved President Vladimir Putin’s request to send Russian troops to Crimea, a region that was part of Russia for the good part of 200 years.  The territory was returned to Ukraine in1954, by then Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev, who as it turns out was Ukrainian. However, the region remains heavily populated by Russians, providing Moscow with a good reason to intervene in order to protect the people from what Moscow describes as neo-Nazis.

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In the US the government waves the terrorist threat to justify its military interventions in foreign lands, the Russians meanwhile have their own version that raises as much fear as jihadi terrorists do in the West. Memories of Ukrainian collaboration with Nazi Germany have still not faded away.

Some Russian troops have already taken up positions around a number of strategic locations in Crimea, meanwhile in the capital, Kiev, a number of Western leaders, including the British Foreign Secretary William Hague and the US Secretary of State John Kerry flew in to the Ukrainian capital Monday to reassure Kiev of their support.

 All this does not bide well as the jungle drums are beating tonight to the tune of the dangers of a military confrontation. The Ukrainian military is of course nowhere nearly as armed, manned and combat experienced as the Russians are.

Russia has 766,000 active military personnel; Ukraine 160,000.

Russia has 3,082, combat planes; Ukraine, 400.  Russia has 973 helicopters; Ukraine, 93. Russia has 15,500 tanks; Ukraine, 4,112. Russia has 352 ships, Ukraine, 25. In fact, Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based in Sevastopol, in Crimea, a port that remains of vital importance to Russia.  Could all this insane talk of war actually lead Russia and the West towards a new war in Crimea?      
The Crimean War of 1853-1856 was a war that began not out of any great pre-planning or strategic reasoning but more due to the incompetence of the concerned leadership of the time. There are good chances that history is about to repeat itself.

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If in the West the Crimean War may be remembered for the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade, when British forces led by Lord Cardigan undertook a direct frontal assault against a Russian artillery battery in the Battle of Balaclava, a disastrous affair that was immortalized in a poem written by Alfred Lord Tennyson, to the Russians the Crimean War of 1853-56 better known as the Eastern War, is a reminder of the importance that this former Russian territory remains a region close to Moscow’s heart.

The war transformed much of the region. As the battlefields moved around and armies waltzed across large sections of lands, populations were forced to move simply to avoid getting caught in the crossfire. Others were frightened away by nationalist movements who were incited by the war, the present-day states of Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, and regions such as Crimea and the Caucasus all changed significantly due to this conflict.

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail this time.

By Claude Salhani

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