Crimea has long been the apple of the eye for a certain kind of Russian nationalist. Charles King wrote in our pages in 2009 that Moscow’s mayor Yuri Luzhkov has spent tens of millions of dollars on developing Crimea as a destination for both Russian tourists and Russian capital, and on stoking a feeling of nostalgia among Crimea’s residents for its past as part of Russia.
But as the New York Times noted over the weekend, these kinds of sentimental attachments obscure a hard-nosed logic which must have emboldened Vladimir Putin to quickly annex the territory in March:
When Russia seized Crimea in March, it acquired not just the Crimean landmass but also a maritime zone more than three times its size with the rights to underwater resources potentially worth trillions of dollars.
Russia portrayed the takeover as reclamation of its rightful territory, drawing no attention to the oil and gas rush that had recently been heating up in the Black Sea. But the move also extended Russia’s maritime boundaries, quietly giving Russia dominion over vast oil and gas reserves while dealing a crippling blow to Ukraine’s hopes for energy independence.
Russia did so under an international accord that gives nations sovereignty over areas up to 230 miles from their shorelines. It had tried, unsuccessfully, to gain access to energy resources in the same territory in a pact with Ukraine less than two years earlier.
One thing the West should do is keep Russia from exploiting these resources. With the annexation of Crimea not widely recognized in the international community, the sea bed still belongs to Ukraine under international law. Naval power can keep it that way.