TENSIONS in the Ukraine reached boiling point this week after
President Putin signed a law that decreed that Crimea was Russian
The law was expected to come into force this week, after being
ratified by the constitutional court in Moscow, and approved by the
Russian parliament, the Duma. It follows the disputed referendum on
Sunday, in which residents of the peninsula voted to secede from
"In people's hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an
inseparable part of Russia," President Putin told Russian and
Crimean parliamentarians on Tuesday. He said that the decision by
Nikita Khrushchev to give Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 was to "win the
support of the Ukrainian political establishment, or to atone for
the mass repressions of the 1930s.
"This decision was made inclear violation of the constitutional
norms that were in place even then. The decision was made behind
the scenes. Naturally, in a totalitarian state, nobody bothered to
ask the citizens of Crimea and Sevastopol."
Mr Putin said that the decision was treated as a formality
because "the territory was transferred within the boundaries of a
single state. Back then, it was impossible to imagine that Ukraine
and Russia may split up and become two separate states."
He said that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, "It was
only when Crimea ended up as part of a different country that
Russia realised that it was not simply robbed, it was
Within minutes of his speech, skirmishes broke out at military
bases on the peninsula, which had been blockaded by Russian forces
for weeks. Initial reports suggested that Russian troops were
seeking to take the military bases by force, but these proved to be
inaccurate. One Ukrainian soldier was killed; another is in
hospital after being attacked.
In Britain, the situation in the Ukraine was the subject of
emergency debates in both the Commons and the Lords. The Foreign
Secretary, William Hague, described the "crisis" as "the most
serious test of European security in the 21st century so far".
He condemned President Putin's speech, saying: "No amount of
sham and perverse democratic process or skewed historical
references can make up for the fact that this is an incursion into
a sovereign state, and a land-grab of part of its territory, with
no respect for the law of that country or for international
The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, said that it
was "the most significant security threat on the European continent
in decades", and a "real threat to Ukrainian sovereignty and
The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, gave peers a potted
history of Christianity in the Crimea, and the divisions within
Ukraine's Churches, before turning to the events of the uprising in
Kiev that sparked the current situation. He described the protests
in Independence Square as a "uniquely ecumenical and interfaith
Religious communities in Ukraine had "been extremely supportive
of the political aspirations of the demonstrators", and many
religious organisations in the country were members of European
bodies, including the Conference of European Churches, and the
Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe.
The "barriers of mistrust" between different Churches had
"started to erode" since the crisis began, and "some religious
leaders [have] actually started talking to one another".
Dr Smith said that if the Kiev and Moscow Patriarchates of the
Ukrainian Orthodox Churches were able to "reconcile differences and
unite in one Church" (News, 14
March), it would "redraw the map of Orthodoxy, as "Ukraine is
the second-largest Orthodox country after Russia. The critical
distance that has already emerged between the Ukrainian Orthodox
Church and the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow is
Western governments are increasing their pressure on Moscow. The
Council of Europe is expected to sign a security and co-operation
agreement with Ukraine today; and will also discuss a third-tier of
sanctions against Russia. These are expected to include the
cancellation of an EU-Russia summit.
Preparations for this year's meeting of the G8 - which was due
to take place in Sochi - have been suspended. The G7 will meet
informally next week in The Hague and could announce plans for an
alternative G7 summit outside Russia.
Should Russia be allowed to keep Crimea?