The deteriorating situation in Ukraine has finally eclipsed into the military seizure of the Crimean Peninsula by Russian forces.  Various reports suggest at least 6,000 Spetsnaz have also been deployed to Crimea in the past few days, in addition to unconfirmed numbers of Russian regulars in support of what the Putin government is alleging is a quasi-peacekeeping/defense-of-citizens role in the Peninsula.

The Russian takeover of the Peninsula highlights a major geopolitical power play for Russia, and also further solidifies Putin’s ability to usurp the combined powers of Ukrainian sovereignty, the European Union, NATO, and even the US.

(Update 2 March: it is reported a Russian convoy carrying several hundred troops is moving on the regional capital of Crimea, and that the Ukrainian military has been fully mobilized.  Live updates on the situation can be viewed here.) 


According to various reporting, this takeover began when the “Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement alleging that a group of unidentified armed men from Kiev attempted to seize the Interior Ministry building…in response…[forcing] an appeal from the chairman of the Council of Ministers of Crimea to Vladimir Putin for assistance in ‘ensuring peace and tranquility’ in Crimea.”  What does this mean?  Putin’s role as genial Olympics host is over, and the EU, NATO, US, and people of Ukraine had better take notice.

Ukraine and Crimea, courtesy of the BBC

The Putin government cares about Ukraine and the Crimea because it is geopolitically critical to Russian interests, specifically when it comes to influencing and shaping Russia’s control over Europe’s energy sector, regional security , and strategic military positioning.  These geopolitical factors influencing Russian decision-making will prove very difficult for various European, NATO, or US-backed efforts to successfully counter, based on the level of influence Russia holds in the region.

Geopolitics at Work

For starters, Russia controls over half of Ukraine’s natural gas pipelines, and is able to regulate the natural gas supply from Russia into Ukraine as it sees fit.  These are the same pipelines that provide natural gas to multiple European countries as well, a fact that is far from lost on Putin, who has “twice curtailed supplies in disputes over politics, price, and late payments…cuts that rattled countries across Europe that depend on the Russian pipelines.”

This critical interest is one that further highlights the absolute imperative of Russian dominance in the Ukraine.  Russian control over the natural gas and its pipelines that feed Europe provide Putin with major political and economical leverage over the European community, thereby solidifying Russia’s position as a still-relevant global economic and political power on the world stage.