Is Ukraine's Crimea the Next Flash Point With Russia?

Ukraine fears that Moscow may try to use its military power to reclaim the strategic peninsula.

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As with Georgia, there is the prospect of U.S. involvement. The head of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council is in Washington this week for talks. And Vice President Cheney is traveling next week to meet with leaders in both Ukraine and Georgia, visits that may embolden Russia's hard-liners. In the wake of Russia's move into Georgia, he declared that "Russian aggression must not go unanswered."

Parliamentarians from United Russia, Russia's ruling and virtually only party, see Yushchenko as acting at the bidding of the United States—some going so far as to cite the perceived influence of Cheney even before his trip was announced. "It's not democracy when a president carries out the orders of a vice president of another country," said Sergei Markov, a United Russia deputy.

Analysts have suggested that Yushchenko is bolstering the specter of a rampaging enemy to boost his own rock-bottom popularity ratings. And considering the common historic and ethnic origins of Ukrainians and Russians—closer than Russians and Georgians—ordinary Russians would have a hard time coming to terms with a war on Ukraine, says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs. "An armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine would be a catastrophe. The two peoples are so close that, from a moral point of view, it's horrifying."