Millennium Post

Tale of two sovereigns

People who live in glass houses must not throw stones. It is rather odd that imperialist west which annexed half the world’s sovereign territories in earlier centuries should gang up to try to stall Crimea’s legal right to determine what is good for itself and its people – to stay with Ukraine or rejoin Russia of which it was a part until recently. As usual, leading the cowboys of the west is the United States, which annexed one after another independent territories, including Texas, Hawaiian Islands and Alaska. The last two didn’t even share a border with the US. Hawaiians and Alaskans held no referendum to willfully join the US. They were simply colonised. Ironically, the US is leading the original G-7 to throw its eighth member, Russia, a late invitee after it fully shed its communist robe, out of the exclusive rich nations’ club as the latter has welcomed Crimean people’s decision to return to where they belonged for decades, Russia.

The US and its western allies have been most unreasonable about respecting Crimea’s desire to demerge with Ukraine to regain its old identity. First of all, where was Ukraine before 1991? Wasn’t it a legal constituent of the then Soviet Union (USSR). Ukraine was one of the 15 constituent republics of USSR from its very inception in 1922. It was also the first to part company with Russia in 1991, following continuous diplomatic instigation from western spy agencies, especially since the early 1980s, leading to the disintegration of the entire Soviet Union within weeks under a USSR constitutional provision of ‘the right to secede’ from the federation by its member republics. No one complained, not even the Russian government. Historically, Crimea was known as Russian Crimea till 1954.

The behaviour of the G-7 leaders, led by US President Barack Obama, over what otherwise deserved to be treated as a non-issue is simply shocking, as also totally irresponsible. It is believed that they are even indulging in communal politics using Crimea’s minority Muslims, Tatars, who constitute about 12 per cent of tiny 26, autonomous state’s 2.4-million population. Minority Tatar tribesmen are not happy with the idea of returning to the Russian fold. In the wake of the World War II, it is said that Crimean Tatars were forcibly dispatched to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin. However, they were allowed to return to Russian Crimea after the war.

One only hopes a US indulgence to Tatar leaders don’t lead to a communal flare up in the Crimean state, which was declared as a Russian state on 18 March, following a merger treaty signed between the Crimean Parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Europe could do without another Kosovo-type ethnic violence and bloodshed. The G-7 leaders have called an emergency meeting in the Netherlands, next week, to take full stock of the situation even as the European Union, parts of which are heavily dependent on gas supply from Russia, announced new economic sanctions against Russia.

The west is also conveniently losing sight of the fact that Crimea, until its parliament endorsed the state’s secessionfrom Ukraine, was an autonomous parliamentary republic within Ukraine and was governed by its own constitution in accordance with Ukraine’s laws. The capital and administrative seat of the former Republic is the city of Simferopol, located in the center of the peninsula. Interestingly, some 58 per cent of Crimea’s population are ethnic Russians and 24 per cent comprising ethnic Ukrainians.

Crimea’s decision to secede may or may not have been manipulated by Russia, but the action is fully consistent with international law upholding the autonomous state’s right to govern itself. However, the US and its European allies feel that the referendum vote violated Ukraine’s newly ‘re-forged’ constitution. And, as a more diplomatic consequence, it amounts to a veiled attempt by Russia to expand its borders to the Black Sea peninsula using a threat of force. Moscow, on the other hand, asserts that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in an illegal coup, which ended Ukraine’s constitutional authority. President Putin believed Crimeans have the right to decide how they want to be governed going forward.

The diplomatic standoff between the US and Russia over Crimea’s voluntary merger with Russia is somewhat reminiscent of tension from the Cold War period. ‘We’ll continue to make clear to Russia that further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world,’ President Barack Obama had reportedly said after Crimean parliament voted for the secessionon 17 March. The US and Europe have imposed travel bans and have reportedly frozen assets of senior Russian and Crimean officials. The US has gone a step further by banning entry and freezing all U.S. assets held by any Russian government official or people with close financial ties to 11 people, including advisers to Putin. The US action is certain to further embitter the relations between the two countries with the possibility of Russia taking similar unpleasant counter moves with the potential of making the on going US effort to disengage from West Asia more challenging.

Significantly, Putin had recently spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on phone explaining that the Crimean referendum was in accordance with international law and Article 1 of the U.N. Charter regarding the principle of self-determination. Russia had pledged to respect the choice of the Crimean people. It was said that the situation in Crimea is akin to Kosovo’s breakaway from Serbia in 2008. The German chancellor shares a good understanding with President Putin and Russia, a major source of energy for Western Europe’s biggest economic powerhouse. Angel’s practical assessment of the situation could be of help to Russia and the region to defuse the tension.

Annexation of a sovereign territory is war. An unforced constitutional secessionof a state or region through the process of peaceful referendum, though may not be always desirable for geo-political or strategic reasons, is very much legal. In the case of Crimea, the most important thing is that its constitution provides for such an action. Crimea’s secessionfrom Ukraine should not be interpreted as its accession by Russia. It is only a reunion with Russia. It is different.


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