The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Crimean Annexation It’s All About the Oil and Gas

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.

Published on May 19, 2014 9:18 am
  • rheddles

    They’ll get to that right after they deal with the Chinese in the South China Sea.

  • Andrew Allison

    It’s not all about the oil and gas! They’re simply a bonus benefit of the plum (Crimea) which the short-sided attempt to draw Ukraine in to the EU orbit dropped into Putin’s lap. The annexation of Crimea has been an immense feather in Putin’s cap withing Russia, enormously increasing his domestic popularity and support (and in case anybody hasn’t noticed, he doesn’t give a damn about what the rest of the world thinks)..

  • Agim Zabeli

    “Naval power can keep it that way.”

    Seriously? You and what navy? The Russians would take seriously a threat of naval action from the West? Maybe at other times they would. Why would they now?

  • Fat_Man

    Why would want to start a shooting match in the Black Sea with the Russians? What happens when they send a tank column to block the Bosporus? At its narrowest point, it is 700 meters wide.

  • Bretzky1

    Russia possessed Ukraine for hundreds of years prior to 1991 with little detriment to the US or the West. Its control over or possession of Ukraine today will have even less importance. We made a huge mistake in trying to involve ourselves in something that was of no concern to us; let’s not compound it by upping the ante.