Crimean Peninsula Conflict – Constructivism Perspective

Conflict over the Crimean peninsula between Ukraine and Russia Overview

In November 2013, President Yanukovich suspended preparations to sign trade cooperation and agreement with the European Union in Vilnius. The Ukrainian leader cited that the country could not afford to lose trade relations with Russia, which was against the deal (Harszenhorn, 2013). After this decision, massive protests broke out in the Ukraine. In February 2014, Yanukovich was removed from office, and an interim government took over.

In March 2014, a status referendum was held by the Crimean local government to determine whether the people wanted to join Russia or remain part of Ukraine. After the referendum, Crimea was declared independent from Ukraine, and a formal request by the governing councils was made to join Russia (Cecire, 2014). A few days later, The Russian government, The Supreme Council of Crimea and the Sevastopol city council signed a treaty and the Republic of Crimea was formally adopted into Russia.  

Russian troops invaded the Crimean peninsula and seized control over all essential government and military facilities and removed Ukrainian Troops from their base in Perevalne. Following the split, separatist forces fueled by intense military backing from Russia began initiating demonstrations in Donbas, Ukraine. These protests eventually escalated into armed conflict with the Ukrainian government. The European Union and the broader international community maintains that the Crimean referendum violated the Ukranian constitution, to which Crimea subscribed, and its separation from Ukraine is therefore illegitimate and unacceptable under international law.

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Constructivist perspective

The concept behind constructivism is that people act towards objects and other people based on the meaning that those people and objects represent (Tandilashvili, 2015). These meanings may be relatively stable, but they are not fixed and should not be taken as permanent. In international politics, these meanings determine how states will act towards certain actors.  In understanding the Ukraine-Russia conflict, constructivists would argue that historical interactions between these two nations have shaped societal beliefs and expectations in the two countries. Cultural and historical relations between Ukraine and Russia have left deep emotional associations between the two nations. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, its actions in Crimea are justifiable because Crimea has deeper cultural ties to Russia than it does to Ukraine. According to him, military action arose out of a moral obligation to protect Russian communities living Crimea from the Ukrainian Insurgency and a desire to uphold the Peninsula’s decision to rejoin Russia.

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The Ukrainian government, however, does not hold similar sentiments. Historically, Ukrainians have wanted a distinct cultural and linguistic identity, separate from Russia. A dream that was finally realized in 1992 when Ukraine gained independence from Russia. Thus, a desire by the Russian government to reclaim part of Ukrainian territory could only be met with hostility and armed escalation. After its independence from Russia Ukraine still maintained close economic and military ties with Russia.

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Constructivism allows in-depth analysis of the Russian-Ukraine conflict and the social constructs that have propagated escalation. At the core of the conflict lies a belief by Ukrainians that Ukraine should be extricated from its historical and cultural ties with Russia and a desire, by Russia, to curtail Ukraine’s autonomy and maintain these ties. The belief among Ukrainians that they have a distinct cultural and linguistic identity, separate from Russia is clearly in conflict with Russian sentiments that Ukraine and Russia are one people.

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