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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ukraine crisis - Putin's side of the story

Crimean beach

Crimea is a beautiful part of Ukraine and a popular spot for tourists. It's also a part of the world most of us know nothing about, until recently.

From Putin's point of view, we were quick to support a coup of a democratically elected government.  Because of Russia's reputation and especially Putin's association with the KGB, we jumped to a conclusion that Russia was about to invade Ukraine.  Not true, says Putin.

Crimea has a long, complicated history.  It was part of Russia until Nikita Khruschev gave it to Ukraine in 1954.  In 1999 Russia received 81.7 per cent of the fleet's ships after paying the Ukrainian government $526.5 million US dollars.  The deal allowed the Russian Black Sea Fleet to stay in Crimea until 2017, later extended to 2042.  Naturally, the fleet is protected by armed forces.

Every year Moscow writes off $97.75 million US dollars of Kiev's debt for the right to use Ukranian waters and radio frequencies and to compensate for the Black Sea Fleet's environmental impact.

Over half the population of Crimea is Russian and they sought Russia's help when the Kiev government introduced a law abolishing the use of any language other than Ukranian.

Russia doesn't recognise the interim government in Kiev and believes Mr Yanukovych is the legitimate president. Putin defends his actions in Crimea as a direct response to a request for help from local citizens who see themselves as Russian.

The US says that by running away to Russia, the ousted president lost his legitimacy and opened the way to a new interim government ratified by Parliament.

Putin intends to punish Ukraine who is in dire economic shape, by cancelling a large discount on natural gas supplies starting in April.

Ukrainian officials say they need $35 billion in new loans and credits over the next two years to avoid default.  The US have offered 1 billion and the UN $15 billion, but it's still a long way short of the required amount.