Spitting in the face of Crimea’s 2.2 mn people

Crimeans celebrate reunion with Russia

Credit: New Statesman

By John Bonar

January 2018

This is my first blog of 2018 and my first blog on the Yes-to-Business web site!

Welcome 2018.

I am concerned about trade with Russia in the looming post-Brexit era.  The restrictions imposed by sanctions are a constraining factor on dealing and investing with this giant straddling 11 time zones from the European borders of Poland to the Asian borders with China, North Korea, Alaska and Japan.

When I asked a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomat before Christmas what could be done to get rid of sanctions, I was told, bluntly, “get the Russians to give back Crimea”.

So, Crimea becomes the key to Russian British relations just as it was back in 1853 when Britain launched a War against Russia in support of the Turks, allied with the French and Sardinians.

In February 2014, what the US and EU sees as a people’s revolution, overthrew the elected government of President Viktor Yanukovich. From Moscow the event was viewed as a US and EU funded anti-Russian coup d’état with right wing fascist elements involved. In Crimea and Sevastapol itself where a majority of the populations were ethnically Russian there were widespread fears that language and cultural practices would come under threat. With all haste the Crimeans took refuge behind the legal steps available to them. According to the now head of the Crimean Republic, Sergey Aksyonov, the Crimean authorities first appealed to the Kiev power holders for talks to confirm the autonomous status of the peninsula. These appeals were ignored he told me last November. “We were left with no option but to hold a referendum so the people could decide our future.”

Swiftly a referendum, said to have been modelled on the Scottish Independence referendum, was organised. The results for both Sevastopol and Crimea were an overwhelming vote by the combined total of 2,248.400 people for independence from Ukraine and reunification with Russia. The result was at least as emphatic as the referendum held in the Falkland Islands a year earlier where a population a tenth of size voted to remain a British territory.

Much is made by British politicians and media that the Crimean referendum was held under the barrel of Russian guns. The “green men” who were present in that fateful month manned checkpoints and guarded strategic locations were part of the Russian Sevastopol base defence forces and moved at the initiation of the Crimean elected civilian authorities. There was no sign of their presence near polling centres and their presence was welcomed by the local population who vied for selfies with the troops.

The referendum was generally recognised as fairly conducted by the international observers present on the day and subsequently endorsed as legitimate by several bodies including the association of public policy advocates accredited with the EU, ALLEP, who issued this statement, “The referendum conducted on March 16, 2014 with the attendance of more than 150 observers in connection with a coup d’état and the seizure of power in Kiev became the realization of the right of people to self-determination. Until March 16, 2014, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea existed in the form of autonomy within Ukraine, which had its own Constitution adopted on October 21, 1998. Article 48 of this Constitution, entitled Guarantees and Provision of Status and Powers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, presupposes that these guarantees are provided by democratic institutions of the society including the conduct of a referendum on any substantive question to the citizens.

In addition, it should be borne in mind that the preamble of the Ukrainian Constitution also refers to the recognition and ascertainment of the right of the Ukrainian peoples to self-determination. This Constitution also guarantees the people’s will through a referendum in accordance with Article 69, while the purpose of the referendum is defined as a manifestation of one of the forms of direct democracy.

The peoples of Crimea saw protection only in self-determination and reunification with the historical Motherland, where it was for about two hundred years (starting from April 8, 1783 after the Empress Ekaterina II signing the manifesto on accepting the Crimea peninsula into the Russian Empire).

The Crimeans faced with the conditions of the coup d’état implemented the right of the population to self-defense by creating self-defence forces with the participation of Cossacks, militia, together with a part of the local police. The number of militias was about 10,000.

In contradiction to the requirements of Part 4 of Article 17 of the Ukrainian Constitution on the prohibition of using the armed forces of the country to restrict the rights and freedoms of citizens, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence was preparing a landing of troops to disrupt the referendum.

There was no invasion by Russian troops.

The 19th Century Crimean War was costly in human life but what keeps recurring in discussions today is that Ukraine does not feature in it, was not part of the peace treaty and in fact Crimea was not surrendered by the defeated Russia who had ruled it since 1783.

Modern Ukraine, with its borders and demographic mosaic was a creation of Stalinist Soviet Union after World War II largely motivated by creating another state to claim a seat at the newly formed United Nations. The USSR claimed three seats in the international assembly – The Soviet Union, Ukraine and Belarussia when it was inaugurated in October 1945.

The break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 was driven by Russian leader Boris Yeltsin’s vicious rivalry with Gorbachev, President of the Soviet Union. Toasting Gorbachev’s demise was Yeltsin’s priority, not reclaiming Crimea as Russian from its administrative position within Ukraine, where it had been gifted by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954.

Sevastopol, where the Russo-Scot, Rear Admiral Thomas Mckenzie built the first city in 1783 is the home port of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its status, until 2014, was governed by a treaty between Russia and Ukraine. Under that Treaty Russia was permitted station up to 25,000 troops in Sevastopol to protect the base and its ancillary facilities.

So, when Britain leaves the EU, or when the EU lifts sanctions against Russia, I call on the government of the day not to take unilateral action against Russia.  The sooner Britain recognises Crimea as an inalienable part of Russia most recently endorsed by its own people the sooner Britain can get back to trading, investing and profiting from its relation with Russia including the Crimea.

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