Opinion: Some facts about Ukraine and Crimea

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians in pro-Europe rallyGiven some of the comments being widely made about the crisis in Ukraine, particularly those defending or minimising the actions of Russia, I thought it would be worthwhile to point out some facts about the situation and counter some of the popular myths. They doesn’t necessarily establish that one side is completely right or wrong but they are worth bearing in mind.

The overthrow of Yanukovyh as President was done (mostly) constitutionally

Two hours after an EU brokered deal between Yanukovych and protesters he left the capital without formally informing anyone and was impeached as President by 328 MPS, including those from his own party, ten MPs short of the constitutionally required three quarters majority. This impeachment will require a ruling by the constitutional court on whether it was legal or not but did at least happen with the support of 73% of the MPs elected in the most recent Ukrainian elections.

The new government of Ukraine is not “fascist”

Despite being described as fascist by Russian media, the new interim Ukrainian government contains four ministers from the fascist Svoboda party out of twenty in total, compared to six Fatherland party ministers and eight non-partisan ministers with the government being backed by 250 MPs, including MPs who have split from Yanukovych’s former party.

It is fair, however, to say that fascist and far right groups were significant minorities in the EuroMaidan protests – although this also has to be contrasted with the neo-Nazi and fascist elements amongst pro-Russia protests in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine is not divided down the middle

Talk of Ukraine being divided between an eastern half that wants to join Russia and a western half that wants to join the EU is greatly exaggerated. The relatively common maps of the divide use the most recent presidential elections as proof of the divide, pointing to the fact that eastern Ukraine voted overwhelmingly for Yanukovych while western Ukraine voted overwhelmingly for his opponent.

This is a gross over-simplification though. There is definitely a political divide between the two halves of Ukraine and a linguistic one between the two thirds native Ukrainian speakers and the one third native Russian speakers but, even then, the vast majority of Ukrainians are fluent in Russian even if they don’t consider it their first language and in 2012 one survey found that 90% of western Ukrainians considered themselves a “patriot of Ukraine” with 70% of eastern Ukrainians sharing this view.

Divides have definitely widened recently, partly as a result of the protests and partly as a result of the very differing reporting of events in Ukrainian language and Russian language (and Kremlin controlled) media – but it’s very inaccurate to take a voting divide and automatically interpret it as a neat dividing line between European integration and union with Russia.

Crimea was not an arbitrary “gift” to Ukraine

Electricity, water and fuel for Crimea enter via its land connection with Ukraine – this was the primary reason for the Soviet-era administrative transfer of Crimea from the Russian SSR to the Ukrainian SSR and was balanced out by the transfer of ethnic Russian dominated districts of Ukraine to Russia at the same time. One of the major headaches facing Russia now is how to supply the new region which relied on Ukraine for 50% of its budget.

Crimea was not voting in favour of union with Russia prior to the crisis

In the most recent parliamentary elections in Crimea, 2010, parties in favour of unification of Crimea with Russia won 5 seats out of 100 in the parliament. The current government of Crimea which has organised the declaration of independence, referendum and application to join Russia only came to power after the parliament voted to install it following the occupation of the parliament building by pro-Russian armed men who are possibly Russian soldiers – this was not legal or constitutional at all.

And while the referendum just held in Crimea has produced an overwhelming majority in favour of union with Russia, it was held with just ten days-notice, was boycotted by the Ukrainian and Tatar communities, allowed Russian troops to vote in it but denied the vote to Ukrainian soldiers stationed in Crimea, was not independently supervised or verified, turned away international observers, only allowed one side to campaign in the referendum,  and was conducted while Crimea was under occupation by Russian troops.

* George Potter is a Vice-Chair of the Social Liberal Forum and a campaigner for Guildford Liberal Democrats, writing in a personal capacity.

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57 Comments

  • Eduardo Reyes 20th Mar '14 - 3:14pm

    Really good summary and insights. For various complex reasons I spent this morning reading Pravda – this was a good antidote to come back to.

  • Impeachment of the President, under the then-existing constitution (which, however, had been agreed to be abolished in favour of an earlier constitution) requires not a 3/4 but a 2/3 vote of the Rada, which the 328-0 vote easily surpassed. *Removal* of the President would have, under normal circumstances, followed a complex process involving the review of the case against him by the Constitutional Court, to be followed by another vote requiring a 3/4 majority. Circumstances were not, however, normal, as Mr Yanukovych, having absconded from the capital with several truckloads of goods, went missing for several days before turning up in Russia, where he colluded with Russian authorities to give them a pretext for their invasion of sovereign Ukrainian territory. Under such circumstances — creating a void in executive authority — authority necessarily reverted to the Verkhovna Rada as the remaining elected representative of the Ukrainian people.
    I do not know what the current state of the process against Mr Yanukovych is, but it seems unlikely that it would be terminated prior to the May elections.

  • This is good and exposes some of the myths perpetuated by others.

    One possible suggested addition would be something on Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of Tatars in 1944″and there gradual return.

    It is important to include the Crimes Tatar element to any understanding of the history of this area.

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/12/16/246716295/once-victims-of-stalin-ukraines-tatars-reassert-themselves

  • Good points, George.

    The Crimean referendum did have nonetheless the benefit of an apparent (to neutral observers) relatively strong base of popular support among the majority Russian speakers, in contrast with former Russian ploys of this nature such as the takeover of the Baltic states in 1940.

    Worryingly and much to the incredulity of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, there appear to remain several members of the Russian Duma who continue to this day to insist that the Baltic States freely voted for union with the USSR in 1940.

    After occupying these states , Stalin set-up sham elections with a single communist candidate selected by Moscow to establish puppet governments. The results of these elections had been calculated by Moscow well in advance, with no one being in a position to contest the count. The day after the elections it was announced that 92.8 percent of the voters had cast their ballot for the single pro-Communist slate in Estonia; 97.6 percent in Latvia; and 99.19 percent in Lithuania. By mistake the London representative of TASS reported the results prematurely the day before, while the elections were still in progress.

    When the new puppet parliaments convened the first order of business presented was a change of the structure of the state and incorporation into the USSR. Nothing about such a change had been made public before the elections. The then Soviet Foreign minister, Molotov said: “You must take a good look at reality and understand that in the future small nations will have to disappear. Lithuania, along with the other Baltic nations, including Finland, will have to join the glorious family of the Soviet Union.”

    The newly convened Latvian and Lithuanian parliaments each “unanimously” adopted a resolution asking the Supreme Soviet of the USSR to admit their countries (Latvia and Lithuania) into the Soviet Union, as equal Soviet Socialist Republics. But the Estonian Communists, having requested to be granted the semi-independent status of Outer Mongolia, yielded only after their request had been declined by Moscow.

  • Stuart Mitchell 20th Mar '14 - 7:08pm

    A good piece, though I’m a bit puzzled by your conclusion that the ousting of the President “was done (mostly) constitutionally” when in fact it hasn’t satisfied any of the criteria in the constitution at all – you even say as much. You also choose to ignore some of the other unsavoury things the new Ukraine government has done, such as the blatantly provocative anti-Russian language law they attempted to enact.

    The main problem with your article is that it completely glosses over the central issue of whether Crimea should get a say on its own future. We all know that last week’s referendum was a farce – that’s a given. But the Ukrainians are not just saying they don’t recognise this particular referendum; what they are saying is that there should never be any such referendum, ever. They’ve maintained this view consistently since they put a stop to the last attempted referendum in 1992, despite a referendum on several weaker questions in 1994 returning vast pro-autonomy and pro-Russian majorities. The UK, US and EU all seem to back this stance – hypocritically in the UK’s case given events in Scotland. I have yet to see a single apologist for the Ukraine government put up a defence of this blanket refusal to allow Crimea self-determination – though I keep asking.

    My own view is that everybody has been too hasty to take sides. As with Israel/Palestine, I see both sides here as being pretty much as bad as each other. I’d rather the West had attempted to normalise the situation from a more neutral position. Failure to do that has probably nixed any chance of the Crimeans getting a genuinely fair say on their future.

  • George, you might have also mentioned in your last paragraph that the referendum questions did not have an option for voting No to splitting with Ukraine. Autonomy or union with Russia were the only options. What a farce.

  • I’m frankly not sure why we should accept this article as facts, just because George says it is so?
    But here is a fact. Ukraine has a gas bill of about $1.8 billion, and it was due yesterday. And as a consequence, everyone in the EU needs to check down the sides of the sofa for that ‘escaped’ small change, to chip in for their heating bill, even though they are not even in the EU(!). Good luck with that. I seriously wonder if people have extrapolated the consequences of recent events, and understand the gravity of the next 18 months to 2 years?

  • All good points but the fact is it’s done and any attempts to reunify the Crimea with the Ukraine would cause more problems because the Russian majority living there don’t want it. Lets be honest the cold war never ended and we are supposed to take sides because it;s the old enemy. A few sanction are going to do nothing and reunification would just mean another bunch of people killing eachother over ethnic identities we don’t fully understand.

  • Fadel Galal 21st Mar '14 - 7:29am

    My question really is the legal status of a nation that has annexed illegally part of another, and whether there could be grounds for reviewing Russia’s membership in the UN Security Council to determine if it should be suspended at this stage. This is not necessarily about pressure but more about the legal implications of the breach of core principles of International Law and principles they represent.

  • Great article George.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Mar '14 - 10:02am

    George’s article seems to be based on “facts” – just very carefully chosen ones. There are much more negative facts he could have shared about the new Ukraine government, and about Ukraine’s treatment of Crimea since 1992, so good though the article is, it’s very blatantly biased.

    @Fadel Galal
    One needs only to look at China for a precedent of how a country which occupies another (Tibet) gets treated.

    UNSC membership? Check.
    Economic sanctions? No way. In fact most governments (including our own) are falling over themselves to get as economically involved with China as possible.

  • @Fadel Galal – “My question really is the legal status of a nation that has annexed illegally part of another”

    That has already been resolved: China and the forced annexation of Tibet, Israel and its forced occupation of Palestine…
    What these tell us is that in a few short years, the Russian re-occupation of Crimea will largely have been forgotten about as we resume our trade relationships.

  • The invasion of Tibet by China is one comparison. Another closer comparison, which continues day after day is Israeili military aggression towards neighbours.

    David Cameron was in Israel this month supporting a country which has been engaged In daily annexation of Palestine. The Israelis do this through military force and make no pretence of a referendum or popular support from Palestinians. Why does he not support Putin’s ‘Two State solution ‘ for the Ukraine? Why not sit around having ‘peace talks’ for the next 70 years whilst supporting Putin? Or maybe he could support Putin in building an enormous concrete wall down the middle of the Ukraine, stealing land in the process?

    Cameron continues to back Israel which is annexing Jerusalem, large parts of the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters, at gunpoint and without any suggestion that these territories have an ethnic or linguistic Israeli majority.

    William Hague, speaking in the House of Commons, talked about “tens of thousands of forces massed on their border by a neighbour that refuses to rule out further intervention against them”. He called it a land-grab with no respect for international law. But he was not talking about Israel, he was talking about the Ukraine.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Mar '14 - 1:25pm

    @Carl Gardner
    With respect that’s a phenomenally weak defence. Bad laws – and you don’t argue that it isn’t one – can and should be rewritten. The Ukraine constitution has been amended twice since it was written, and will doubtless be amended again this year (it already would have been had the President not fled the country). Besides, the constitution gives the right for Crimea to hold “local referendums”.

    What’s your excuse for the Ukrainians’ refusal to allow the planned referendum in 1992? You can’t invoke the constitution because the constitution didn’t exist until 1996. Instead, the Ukrainians used good old-fashioned threats and bullying to put a stop to it.

    Claiming that Russian actions have made a referendum impossible is a nonsensical argument, because a referendum was already impossible beforehand – and had been ever since the events if 1992 and the new constitution of 1996.

    If, as you argue, the constitution is the final word on these matters then Yanukovych is still President as his removal was illegal. Yet strangely, this is being dismissed as a mere technicality.

    “There’s no hypocrisy in the UK’s stance on this at all. Liberal Democrats will remember Michael Moore’s quite correct insistence that the Union is a matter reserved for Westminster, and that this year’s referendum in Scotland is taking place only because Westminster agreed to the arrangements.”

    In that case the UK government should be urging Ukraine to follow exactly the same approach with respect to Crimea. Instead they are doing the opposite, and are indeed hypocrites.

  • There are worse things then an snap-referendum to resolve political disagreements.

    Sudan endured 50 years of Civil War and the genocide of Darfur before a referendum was undertaken on independence for Southern Sudan. Many of the reasons cited for seeking secession were present in Ukraine: a lack of expertise by post-colonial political elites in governing their respective countries and managing natural resources; the impact of the Cold War where many African countries took sides, rendering sovereignty ineffective; tribal prejudices and preferential service that dominate African politics; failure of governments to provide basic freedoms such as guaranteeing full citizenship for all. Elsewhere in Africa, similar secessionist movements exist in East Sudan and Darfur, Nigeria and South Africa.

    Putin’s actions in Crimea have severely dented Russian influence in Ukraine and further estranged Russian relations with former soviet territories. The formal signing of an agreement today between the EU and Ukraine is to be followed by agreements with Georgia and Moldova in June of this year. Crimean exports to the EU will need to be routed through Ukraine to avoid punitive import tariffs. The Russian stock-market has fallen by 20% and their investment grading has been downgraded from stable to negative.

    On the plus side for Putin – it secures the strategic Black Sea Naval base and is popular with Russian nationalists, but Moscow has also seen sizeable demonstrations against Putin’s actions.

    If a stage-managed referendum in Crimea and show of Russian military force on the borders avoids civil war in Ukraine, I would take that in preference to the alternative. The placing of some cosmetic sanctions on Russian state functionaries acts as a formal rebuke and allows us to get on with the real work of integrating Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova into the EU and eventually the Nato military alliance.

  • Carl,

    legal hand-wringing won’t provide any solutions to this issue. Russian lawyers can argue the niceties of the case just as vociferously as western lawyers and there is no possibility of a UN resolution to settle the matter.

    Crimea is a major Russian military base and a large proportion of its population are employed in servicing those bases. It is in the economic interest of many Crimeans to throw their lot in with Russia. It would serve no purpose for the Ukrainian military to engage in a military conflict with a significant pro-Russian militia supported by Russian troops in these circumstances – legal right or not.

    Hawaii found itself in a similar situation when the native Monarchy and established government were overthrown by a small group of American businessmen in 1893 – aided by a company of US Marines and US warships. The Hawaiians had leased Pearl Harbour to the US Navy and the strategic importance of the base swayed the US congress in over-riding the legal impediments, supporting what had been a coup d’etat and the subsequent annexation of the Polynesian inhabited Islands that had been mapped and surveyed more than a century earlier by Captain Cook.

  • I’m suitably enriched by Joe Burkes history lessons, but we get no nearer to the issue that others have pointed out, insofar as Crimea was taken by a ballot box, whilst Gaza was stolen incrementally over 40 years with Israeli guns, tanks and overwhelming brute force, without a murmur of ‘sanctions’ by the international community. But of course we have long since entered the world where hypocrisy is the order of the day, and Washington gets, what Washington wants, as William Hague would no doubt agree, if he were free to say so.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Mar '14 - 6:48pm

    @Carl Gardner
    “I didn’t and don’t say Russian actions had made a referendum ‘impossible’.”

    What you actually said was this :-

    “You might say, Kiev should agree to this local referendum, or change the constitution, or something. My response is that I’d agree with you, if there had been no Russian intervention, and there were Ukrainian repression of a genuine popular movement in Crimea. But that’s not the reality. Even to discuss any future referendum now would clearly be capitulation to naked force.

    I’m glad you now agree with me that the Ukrainians should have granted Crimea a referendum (though that’s not what you were saying earlier). However, it’s clearly ludicrous to blame the recent actions of Russia for the fact that a fair referendum has not taken place, when you know full well that the sole barrier to a referendum since 1992 has been the determination of the Ukrainians not to allow it. They even wrote a new constitution in 1996 to make such a referendum illegal – an act which you previously cited as legitimate reason not to allow the Crimeans a referendum!

  • John Dunn,

    from an economist article this month:

    “… the campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, widely known as BDS, is turning mainstream. That, at any rate, is the fear of a growing number of Israelis. Some European pension funds have withdrawn investments; some large corporations have cancelled contracts; and the American secretary of state, John Kerry, rarely misses a chance to warn Israel that efforts to “delegitimise” and boycott it will increase if its government spurns his efforts to conclude a two-state settlement of its conflict with the Palestinians. Israel, says Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister, is approaching the same “tipping point” where South Africa found itself in opposition to the rest of the world in the dying days of apartheid. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” he told a conference of security boffins recently in Tel Aviv. “The world listens to us less and less.”

    BDS has begun to grab the attention of some of the world’s largest financial institutions. PGGM, a big Dutch pension fund, has liquidated its holdings in five Israeli banks (though the Netherlands’ largest has affirmed its investments). Norway’s finance ministry has announced that it is excluding Africa Israel Investments and its subsidiary, Danya Cebus, a big building firm, from a government pension fund.

    The campaign is drawing support from beyond northern Europe. Romania has forbidden its citizens from working for companies in the West Bank. More churches are backing BDS. An American academic association is boycotting Israeli lecturers. The debate turned viral after Scarlett Johansson, a Hollywood actor, quit her role as ambassador for Oxfam, a charity based in Britain, in order to keep her advertising contract with SodaStream, an Israeli drinks firm with a plant on the West Bank.”

  • Above all, David Cameron needs to man up, stop blathering on about equal pain spread over the EU and agree to financial sanctions, even if it hurts the City. I feel incredibly despondent that he’s coming under so little domestic pressure to do so. This really is up to the UK, because as Anders Aslund says here, the obvious next step is to focus on Russia’s London-based financial sector – and as he also says, there’s absolutely no point in going slowly in such an urgent situation as this. Please do whatever you can to put the pressure on ASAP.
    http://blogs.piie.com/realtime/?p=4256

  • another good article, in case anyone missed it. A bit tabloidy, but he’s right. “This is Britain’s growth business today: laundering oligarchs’ dirty billions.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/08/opinion/londons-laundry-business.html?_r=0

  • Stuart Mitchell 22nd Mar '14 - 8:46am

    @Carl Gardner
    That’s the second time you’ve denied saying something you did in fact say.

    But if you are now clarifying your position by saying that you think the Crimeans should not have a referendum, then fair enough. I don’t agree.

  • Carl,

    You state “There’s no need for any UN resolution to settle anything. What Russia has done is a plain case of illegal aggression. You say Russian lawyers can “argue the niceties”, but there are no niceties, and you’ve not tried to explain what they could possibly be.”

    As Libdems, we argued that the decision to invade Iraq required a UN resolution under International law and that UK participation in that war was a case of illegal aggression in the absence of an unambiguous authorisation of military action by the UN Security Council. The legal ‘niceties’ or justifications in that case are what turned out to be unsubstantiated allegations of contraventions of UN prohibitions on development and maintenance of weapons of mass destruction.

    The separation of Kosovo from Serbia was another case of political imperative and justifiable concern for human rights over-riding territorial integrity or legal ‘niceties’ without the explicit backing of a UN resolution.

    The ethnic make-up, political history and unsettled status of Crimea presents a strong case for self-determination as enshrined in the UN Charter. To simply ignore that fact and state “.. it is a plain case of illegal aggression and there are no niceties..” is not an argument that it is likely to sway any neutral observer.

    Russian actions do constitute a threat to the peace of Europe and the argument that that they have put forward to justify bypassing their obligation under the Budapest agreement to preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine is, in my view, an exceptionally weak one.

    Russian bellicosity and duplicity does not however warrant ignoring the expressed wishes of the populace of an autonomous region with long-standing ties to another country, as is the case with Crimea, for self-determination. Actions by the US and EU that seek to reverse the outcome of such a referendum on the grounds of a breach of International or Ukrainian constitutional law are futile, in my opinion.

    We can rightly criticise and sanction the Russian state and its apparatchiks for its opportunistic actions in Ukraine and Crimea – but it does not follow that the people of Crimea should be collectively punished or ostracised for seeking federation with Russia in preference to Ukraine.

  • Stuart Mitchell 22nd Mar '14 - 3:58pm

    @Carl Gardner
    I assure you it is not my intention to make anything up. My comments were an honest interpretation of what I thought you meant.

    I’m happy to give you the quotes which I may have misinterpreted.

    On the subject of Russian interference making a future referendum impossible :
    #1 “I’d agree with you [that Kiev should allow a local referendum], if there had been no Russian intervention… Even to discuss any future referendum now would clearly be capitulation to naked force.”
    #2 “I didn’t and don’t say Russian actions had made a referendum ‘impossible’.”

    On he subject of whether you agree that Kiev should have been amenable to a referendum at some point :
    #1 “You might say, Kiev should agree to this local referendum, or change the constitution, or something. My response is that I’d agree with you, if there had been no Russian intervention, and there were Ukrainian repression of a genuine popular movement in Crimea.”
    #2 “But I haven’t expressed any agreement [that Kiev should have given the Crimeans a referendum]”.

    I can only apologise if I misquoted you. For the avoidance of further doubt, where exactly do you stand on the issue of Crimean self-determination? For instance :-

    1) Do you think Kiev was right to stop the planed referendum in 1992?
    2) Do you think Kiev was right to enact a new constitution in 1996 that made any future referendum unlawful?
    3) Do you think Kiev should have changed this constitution at any point between 1996 and 2014 so that Crimea could have had a referendum?
    4) If the situation could be normalised, e.g. with full demilitarisation of Crimea, would you support a referendum in the future?

  • Stuart Mitchell 22nd Mar '14 - 4:10pm

    One more observation on the question of whether the referendum was “illegal”.

    Article 73 of the Ukraine constitution does NOT restrict Crimea’s right to hold local referendums. All article 73 actually says is :-

    “Alterations to the territory of Ukraine shall be resolved exclusively by the All-Ukrainian referendum.”

    So the referendum itself was not illegal. It’s the actions that were taken following the referendum that were illegal*. There was no constitutional impediment to the Crimeans holding some sort of non-binding referendum. Perhaps they missed a trick there, and should have had one much sooner – they might then be getting a ltitle more sympathy from those who are defending Ukraine.

    * Of course the Crimeans would argue that the constitution has effectively been annulled by the actions of Ukraine’s Parliament, which has clearly rode roughshod over the constitution.

  • I’m with JoeBourke. The impression given by almost all the media, whether pro or anti the Russian action, is that Russia has fixed a problem that Kiev has simply ignored and left to fester. We didn’t like that they didn’t consult us about how to fix it, and most of the rhetoric seems to focus on that absence of consultation.

    Our best way forward would therefore seem to be to start by checking whether they’ve really fixed it – do Crimeans really want to rejoin Russia? Most observers say they do. If so, we’re not in any kind of desperate situation like when a population is terrorised by an invader. Indeed, forcing Russia to de-annex would be counter to Crimean desires and so would make the situation worse rather than better.

    The leaked phone calls suggest incompetence of some of the Western diplomats and advisers, though to be fair everyone including Russia agrees that many Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs are crooks., which doesn’t make for easy diplomacy. Arguably our second step should be the exact opposite of what we are doing now. We should be working out how to better cooperate with Russia so that unilateral action shocks become less likely in future.

    All this would be predicated on the assumption that the Crimean electorate do really massively want to rejoin Russia. A second referendum doesn’t seem realistic, so we need to find out in some other way.

  • nvelope2003 22nd Mar '14 - 4:38pm

    The result of the referendum indicated overwhelming support for uniting Crimea with Russia but it seems that those who were opposed to it abstained from voting. Is there any evidence what percentage abstained for reasons other than being too lazy to vote ? The Russians might have created a Northern Ireland situation if there is a substantial discontented minority. There were plenty of pictures of delighted Russians after the result but it is not hard for the state to get those who favour a particular view to demonstrate even if they are only a minority. Maybe I am being too cynical ?

    I wonder what the result of a referendum would be in Northern East Prussia, which has been under Russian rule since 1945. Do not worry, it is not going to happen any time soon. And it will not happen either in Southern East Prussia, which has been ruled by Poland since 1945 along with various other bits of what was formerly Germany.

  • Imbroglio,

    I think you are right that a second referendum doesn’t seem realistic. We will probably have to rely on John Simpson and British holidaymakers to the Crimea to tell us how people feel on the ground.

    I also think it is important to recognise that the issue of Crimean separatism has not simply arisen in the past few weeks.. Separatism peaked in 1992-1994, when internal and external observers were talking of Crimea as the next international flashpoint. The Economist and New York Times articles were warning of a ‘long-running, acrimonious, possibly bloody and conceivably nuclear dispute over Crimea’.

    The Ukrainian SSR decided in mid-1991 to establish a new Crimean ASSR in response to a Crimean referendum in early 1991 (which had asked a question about Crimean autonomy ‘within the USSR’ rather than the Ukrainian SSR of which it had been part since 1954). By the time the Soviet Union had disintegrated, the principle of Crimean autonomy had been agreed to, but not its content or institutional outlook. The idea of autonomy framed the centre-regional struggle that followed. Two unilateral Crimean constitutions in 1992, envisaging different degrees of autonomy, galvanized the regional Russian movement. The elected Crimean president and leader of the Russian movement, Yurii Meshkov, played a key role in setting the political agenda in Crimea and Ukraine as a whole. Crimean separatism peaked in 1994 and led to a brief moment when Kiev lost control over regional politics and security. The current crisis in Crimea has been sparked by three months of protests and violent clashes in Ukraine. This is a region in which the potential for real conflict has been simmering ever since the break-up of the USSR.

  • nvelope 2003,

    as far as I recall all ethnic Germans were deported from NE Prussia by Stalin in 1945. I believe the enclave of Kaliningrad is almost entirely ethnic Russian with a small community of Poles from other parts of the old Soviet Union.

    At the 1945 Potsdam Conference following the German defeat in World War II, Poland’s borders were reorganized at the insistence of the Soviet Union, which occupied the entire area. Territories east of the Oder-Neisse line, including Danzig, were put under Polish administration. The Potsdam Conference did not discuss the future of the territories that were part of western Poland before the war, including the corridor. It automatically became part of the reborn state in 1945. German residents were expelled to the Soviet occupation zone, which later became East Germany

  • @ Joe Bourke
    Again, your history lessons are all fine and dandy, but how does it explain or qualify the sheer hypocrisy and duplicity that we see in the West?

  • Carl,

    I take it you have a legal background and a background in International law. You will be aware that the ICJ has ruled that a unilateral declaration of independence, such as that undertaken by the Crimean Parliament, does not constitute a breach of International Law.

    The Crimean Parliament’s request to Russia for intervention on the grounds of self-defence would no doubt be unlawful under Ukrainian law i.e. beyond the parliament’s competence under the Ukrainian constitution, but that is probably an internal matter and not an issue on which the UN security council would appear to have competence or jurisdiction..

    The Russian actions may be a breach of international law – they are certainly a breach of their commitments and obligations under the Budapest Memorandum. But, as we started out – in the absence of either a UN security council resolution or a clear rejection of federation with Russia by the Crimean populace , I don’t see contested arguments about international or constitutional law providing any useful solutions to this dispute or presenting any possibility of overturning the result of the Crimean referendum.

    Neither the Ukrainian military forces or civilian populace in Crimea have offered any meaningful resistance or even significant protest to the Russian occupation of the peninsula. Indeed many of the Ukrainian servicemen from Crimea seemed to have switched allegiance. If that is the choice of the great majority of Crimean’s, then we have to respect their wishes and focus on the future of Ukraine without the Crimean peninsula as part of its territory.

  • Does it make any practical sense to apply sanctions given that UK investment in Russia is significantly higher than vice versa?

    If UK based shareholders lose their investments, will the UK government reimburse their potential £46 billion losses?

  • Stuart Mitchell 23rd Mar '14 - 12:15pm

    @Carl Gardner
    I believe your quotes speak for themselves and am happy to say no more on that.

    “Article 73 clearly governs what referendums can be held on questions about altering the territory of Ukraine. ”

    No it doesn’t. Article 73 (which I quoted in full earlier) merely governs under what circumstances the territory of Ukraine could be altered. In Scotland, if the referendum comes out in favour of independence, Scotland will not become independent overnight – it would be only the first stage in a process.

    As for your claim that Ukraine has not repressed previous moves for independence, this is clearly untrue because Ukraine put a very firm stop to an attempted referendum in 1992.

    “I have no stance on your questions 1 to 4. In my view they’re irrelevant to the current situation.”

    That’s an interesting take on it – ignore all history and pretend that the current situation has suddenly materialised out of thin air. I believe Crimean history – particularly since 1992 – has a great bearing on the current situation.

    “On question 5, no.”

    Since I only asked four questions, can I assume that by question 5 you actually mean question 4? In which case I note that you do not believe Crimeans should ever be permitted self-determination, and I disagree with you profoundly.

  • jedibeeftrix 23rd Mar '14 - 1:42pm

    @ Valerie T – “Above all, David Cameron needs to man up, stop blathering on about equal pain spread over the EU and agree to financial sanctions, even if it hurts the City.”

    If you want to point a finger over the weakness of sanction proposals look to Germany, not Britain.

    Two points more generally:
    1. This is Putin’s glorious “up yours” to west in response for Kosovo. Set precedents, live with the consequences, that’s the way the game is played in the big bad world.
    2. On the subject of that big bad world, do you people begin to understand why meeting the NATO 2.0% of GDP threshold is important now? It says: we take this seriously.

  • Carl,

    when it comes to international law, how is ‘secession’ distinguished from ‘annexation’. It can’t be simply the use of force by a sponsor state. The secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971 was only accomplished ultimately with the intervention of Indian forces in the conflict and was widely recognised as a legitimate secession by the International community, notwithstanding the recognised territorial claims of Pakistan.

    The separation of Kosovo from Serbia was achieved by Nato bombing of Serbian forces and support for the KLA military contingent on the grounds of a humanitarian intervention, but without the authorisation of a UN resolution.

    After the Sevastopol and Crimean parliament voted to join Russia, the people were offered two choices on the status of Crimea. The referendum was held by the legislature of Crimea as well as by the local government of Sevastopol and asked the people of these regions to decide whether they want to rejoin the Russian Federation , or if they want to restore the 1992 Crimean Constitution maintaining Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine. A return to the 1992 constitution would have been translated into greater authority in the semi-autonomous peninsular, including full sovereign powers to establish relations with other states. However, there was no option of maintaining the status quo.

    Crimean independence was effected by Russian military intervention in contravention of their agreement to protect Ukrainian territorial integrity, but the decision on whether to rejoin Russia or remain within the Ukrainian Federation was made by popular vote – albeit a highly flawed process. as we would see it. That’s not a question of accepting what Russia has done – rather it is a recognition that, if this is in fact what the majority of people in Crimea wan’t, then the principle of self-determination should take precedence and neither Ukraine or the International community should seek to reverse it. Russia would very likely be unable to hold this territory against the wishes of the local populace.

  • Stuart Mitchell 25th Mar '14 - 8:59pm

    @Carl Gardner
    “Please stop doing that ‘straw man’ thing. What I’ve written about is not whether Crimeans should ‘ever’ be permitted self-determination. What I’ve been discussing is the illegality of this clearly sham ‘referendum’ under military occupation, about annexation by that occupying power.”

    Sorry Carl, but that’s not right. I asked you – pretty unambiguously I thought – if you would support a referendum at any point in the future if the current (clearly) unsatisfactory situation could be removed. You answered – equally unambiguously – No.

    SM – “If the situation could be normalised, e.g. with full demilitarisation of Crimea, would you support a referendum in the future?”
    CG – “No. The only just and lawful solution is for Russia to abandon its claim to Crimea, and for it to be restored to Ukraine.”

    If you DIDN’T mean you reject the idea of a referendum in the future, what DID you mean? Would you like to see a referendum in Crimea, at any future time, or not?

  • Joe Bourke:
    Re my comment about East (and West) Prussia.Yes you are right and it just shows how Russia has dealt with people they do not want when they take control of ever more additions to their already vast territories. The sheer cruelty and wickedness of Russia’s behaviour towards majorities, let alone minorities like the Tatars, must make those who live in adjoining states terrified for their future, especially where there is a significant Russian minority, most of whom settled there while the territory was under Russian/USSR occupation.
    Sadly from past experience there is practically nothing anyone can do about it, in the light of what happened after WWII when the USSR initially sided with Nazi Germany, now conveniently forgotten.

  • jedibeeftrix – yes, I could look to Germany, and Germany has a role to play too, but Russian oligarchs are more dependent on the UK financial markets. So no passing the buck.

  • Hello, Why have you decided that Russia had deployed troops in the Crimea? They were there and were warships very long time. Was the agreement between Ukraine and Russia on this issue, instead, Russia was doing a discount on gas. The people of Crimea themselves wrote in blogs, asked for help from Russia! Asked by the media! We ordinary citizens of the Russian Federation may not look at it calmly, when relatives To the%And I want to add that Russian is not a nationality, Russian is a state of mind, it is a life style and a unique culture that is built on sincerity and honesty in relation between people. I Tatar by nationality. But I am Russian! I hope you will understand me thank you for your attention.

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Apr '14 - 7:14pm

    @Carl
    Why don’t you just tell me whether you think Crimeans should ever be permitted self-determination or not?

    The only inference it is possible to draw from your comments so far is that you believe they should not. If I have misunderstood you, and you would in fact like to see Crimeans get a fair referendum (of the kind both the Ukrainians and Russians have shamefully denied them), then please just say so!

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