WASHINGTON – Now that the predominantly ethnic-Russian residents of the Crimean Peninsula have voted to be annexed to Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who pushed the effort after the overthrow of the democratically elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, may be looking to take the rest of Ukraine because of its geo-strategic importance, according to Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
According to the official count, 95 percent of those who voted in the referendum on the Crimean Peninsula chose to rejoin Russia.
Washington regards the referendum as illegal. Europeans are torn, especially those in the southeast who rely on natural gas that flows from Russia through Ukraine. There are concerns that Ukraine’s troubles are similar to the violent breakup of Yugoslavia.
As a justification for a takeover of all Ukraine, Putin may cite the close ties between the ultra-nationalist Chechens and the Muslim Tatar minority in the Crimean Peninsula.
Regional specialists, however, believe that while this strategy may work in the short term for Putin, using the Chechen card could create greater problems in the long run for the Russian leader.
Yanukovych was pro-Russian and sought refuge in Moscow following demonstrations in the western portion of Ukraine, centering in the country’s capital of Kiev. The protests turned violent and, despite concessions Yanukovych agreed to undertake, demonstrators attacked government buildings, taking over the capital.
With Yanukovych’s flight to Moscow, the Ukrainian parliament, surrounded by armed ultra-nationalist fighters, voted to form a new government under the leadership of interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was in Washington last week to meet with President Barack Obama.
The demonstrators were primarily ultra-nationalists who took advantage of the split in Ukraine over Yanukovych’s decision not to join the European Union but to take up Putin’s offer of $15 billion and cuts in natural gas prices if Ukraine would instead join his Eurasian Union.
The ultra-nationalists, however, want neither to join the EU nor to be aligned with Russia.
In fact, they are anti-Russian to the point that the leader of one of the most prominent ultra-nationalist groups, the Ukrainian organization Pravy Sektor, or Right Sector, has called on Chechen Islamic leader Dokku Umarov, whose jihadists are battling Russians in Chechnya, to “ramp up your struggle.”
As WND recently reported, Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh also has links to neo-Nazis in Europe.
The developments prompted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to say that the ultra-nationalist threat is the reason to prepare to move Russian troops into Crimea. Lavrov is concerned not only about the anti-Russian stance but that Yarosh’s forces might move into Crimea and into eastern Ukraine, where ethnic-Russians also a majority.
“Chechen involvement in Ukraine would have given Russia an additional reason for criticizing the new Ukrainian authorities, accusing them of ties to ‘terrorists,’” according to Mairbek Vatchagaev of the Washington think-tank Jamestown Foundation.
Linking the Tatars and the ultranationalists to the Chechen jihadist Umarov, who is labeled as a terrorist by the U.N. and the U.S., has given Moscow a means to look at the threat to ethnic Russians throughout all of Ukraine.
However, the U.S. has backed the new interim government featuring ultra-nationalists, who occupy key government positions in the interim Western-oriented government and maintain Chechen ties.
“It is obvious that whatever the future scenario in Ukraine, Chechens will be drawn into the conflict,” Vatchagaev said. “Moscow will need to realize that this strategy risks making the region even worse, since it may provide the Chechens with yet another front after Syria for acting on their anti-Russian sentiment.”