Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Putin And Predispositions In The Crimean Crisis


Julia Ioffe covers this region for The New Republic, and she joins me now. Julia, can you talk about how Crimea relates to the rest of Ukraine? It's not like it's Ukraine's heartland. It's semi-autonomous. It has its own parliament.

JULIA IOFFE: Mm-hmm. You know, for the first few decades of Soviet rule, the Crimea was part of the Russian Socialist Republic. It has a lot more Russian speakers and ethnic Russians than even, you know, the Russian speaking parts of Eastern and Southern Ukraine. And in part that's because as part of an agreement, Russia has been allowed to keep its Black Sea fleet there. And so a lot of Russian service members don't live on a base. They live in town.

So it is a lot more Russian than the rest of Ukraine. However, there's also a large ethnic Tatar population there. This ethnic group has been there for centuries, much longer than the Russians. And they were displaced by Joseph Stalin. In this fight, they've tended to align more with the new government in Kiev, the pro-western government in Kiev.

RATH: You mentioned the massive pre-existing Russian military presence in Crimea. It doesn't seem like Ukrainian forces there are much of a match for them, and there didn't seem to be much resistance as they took over. But still, is there a strategic risk here for Vladimir Putin?

IOFFE: It's important to delineate what's a risk for Putin and what we think is a risk for Putin. So we think that pulling out of the G-8, threatening geopolitical isolation and economic isolation, maybe even imposing sanctions or kicking Russia out of the G-20 or the G-8 that this will frighten Putin. In fact, the most recent reincarnation of Putin thrives on this. This is the image of the world that he has broadcasts to his citizens since he's returned to the presidency two years ago.

So if that's how you see the world, the west turning on you and imposing sanctions and isolating you and kicking you out of world organizations, it plays right into that narrative.

RATH: And do you think that view is shared by the typical Russian? Is that how the situation in Ukraine is being viewed by the average person?

IOFFE: You know, we often talk in Cold War tropes here. But really, if you look at what's been happening for the last two years, it's been Vladimir Putin that's been cranking up the Cold War rhetoric. And in many ways, this is the ultimate Cold War trope that we may live in a country that's falling apart, and the ruble may be falling in value. And our economy is stagnating.

But we live in a great nation - a historically great nation. The leaders of other countries tremble before us. And they're inferior to us spiritually, culturally, militarily. This is how they see it. They don't - I don't think the average person who marched through Moscow today, you know, carrying signs saying that the Crimea is Russia, I don't think they're thinking, oh, you know, what's going to happen to my job if, you know, half the world imposes sanctions on my country? I think right now, it's at a pretty visceral patriotic level.

RATH: Julia Ioffe is the senior editor at The New Republic. Julia, thank you.

IOFFE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.