The Washington Post

Explaining the Crimea disagreement

There have been many stories in the news recently about Crimea. You may have never heard of it. After all, Crimea is more than 5,000 miles from Washington, and it’s not a place many Americans visit. KidsPost asked Tiffany Harness, an editor on The Washington Post foreign desk, to explain what’s going on there and why it has become a big story.

What is Crimea?

Crimea is a Black Sea peninsula that is connected to southern Ukraine, a country in Europe. Its history is complicated, but for a long time, Crimea was part of Russia. Then in 1954, it became part of Ukraine. The crisis today is about which country should control it now: Ukraine or Russia.

(Gene Thorp/The Washington Post)

Who lives there?

About 2 million people live in Crimea. Around 60 percent see themselves as ethnic Russians and speak Russian. The population also includes ethnic Ukrainians — they tend to feel closer to Ukraine — and a group called the Crimean Tatars.

The Tatars, who are mostly Muslim, suffered under Russian rule and were forced to leave Crimea in the 1940s. Some have returned; today there are about 300,000 Tatars in Crimea.

Why does Russia want Crimea?

Russia and Crimea have deep historical ties. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a recent speech that “everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride.”

Russia’s parliament voted to admit Crimea last week, and Putin signed a law to complete the process. But Russia had been moving to take the peninsula, and it took control of several Ukrainian military bases.

Ukraine is angry about the developments, but a lot of people wonder whether it can do anything.

There were problems before Ukraine and Russia started fighting over Crimea. Ukrainians were trying to decide whether they should be closer to Russia or to Europe. There were huge protests, and then last month, Ukraine’s president fled to Russia. The country’s new leaders signed an agreement with the European Union last week.

Do people in Crimea want to be part of Russia?

Yes. Most people in Crimea wanted to break away from Ukraine and join Russia. They voted about a week ago, and most people who participated said yes. The night of the vote, thousands of people ran out into the streets of Crimea’s capital to celebrate. But not everyone was happy, and some people didn’t vote because they think joining Russia is a bad idea.

If Crimeans voted to be part of Russia, why do some people think that’s not okay?

To many Ukrainians, it would be similar to a region of the United States voting to join another country. Plus, there are tens of thousands of people in Crimea, including the Tatars, who are afraid of becoming part of Russia.

Has the United States or Europe punished Russia for taking control of Crimea?

Yes. President Obama says that Crimea’s vote to leave Ukraine is “illegal” and that Russia’s annexation of Crimea is an “illegitimate move” — that means Russia had no right to do it. Obama announced punishments — which are called sanctions — against Russia and said more might be possible in the future.

European Union leaders have taken similar steps against Russia.

Is this the beginning of a bigger conflict?

It’s not clear what will happen next. But Russia is moving very quickly to take over Crimea, and on Monday, Ukraine said it was ordering its soldiers to leave.

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