The present crisis in Ukraine centers on the legality of the referendum on March 16, 2014 called by Crimea’s Parliament to decide whether its voters wish to join the Russian Federation or remain in Ukraine with broader powers. This issue has important implications for the Philippines and other countries like Spain that are facing threats of secession.
The Parliament of Crimea, which is an autonomous Republic in Ukraine, had earlier voted at the beginning of March to become part of the Russian Federation.
Thereafter, the Head of Parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov, sent a request to President Vladimir Putin for Crimea to join the Russian Federation. The referendum was designed to legitimize the request.
Geography of Ukraine and Crimea
For an understanding of the complexity of this crisis, one has to look at the map and consider history. Crimea was a part of Russia since the eighteenth century when Catherine the Great annexed Crimea in 1783. Crimea remained a part of Russia until 1954 when the Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschchev, a Ukrainian, transferred Crimea to Ukraine as a gift to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s joining the Russian Empire. Crimea is populated mainly by Russian speakers and is the home of four Russian fleets in the Black Sea, from which Russia projects its power in the Mediterranean.
Ukraine was also a part of Russia, and has a complex history and a polyglot composition. Its Western part was added to the Ukraine Socialist Republic in 1939 when Hitler and Stalin divided Poland. Religionwise, the Western regions are largely Roman Catholic and Ukrainian speaking while the Eastern regions are mainly Russian Orthodox and Russian speaking. Kiev was the capital of the Kievan-Rus before the rise of Moscow. Because of Ukraine’s history and geography, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has advocated that the crisis in Ukraine should not be treated as a part of the East West confrontation but his advice is apparently not being followed.
The West’s position
The interim government of Ukraine has accused Russia of invading Crimea, and the West has called upon Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has called the referendum an “illegitimate decision.” US President Barack Obama has said that “Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine.”
The G7 has issued a statement that the referendum would have no legal effect and that the process is flawed because of its rushed nature and the deployment of Russian troops in the Crimea. The president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission joined in that statement. The G 7’s reasoning is evidently intended to distinguish the Crimean case from the case of Kosovo, when the USA and a number of EU countries first decided to recognize the independence of Kosovo against the objection of Serbia, although Kosovo was a province of Serbia. Russia and its allies objected to this act of secession. The Philippines and Spain have not recognized Kosovo’s independence.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman Didier Burkhalter also issued a Statement that the referendum, in its current form, contradicts Ukraine’s constitution and must be considered illegal. The OSCE is Europe’s security and democracy watchdog. As Ukraine’s constitution only permits national referendums, Burkhalter ruled out an OSCE observation of the referendum.
The West has called upon Russia to enter into a dialogue with Ukraine.
Russia has refused to dialogue with Ukraine, stating that it cannot accept the coup in Kiev as a “fait accompli” but there have been talks between Russia and the United States at the highest levels whereby both defend their respective positions on the basis of international law.
Russia alleges that the interim government of Ukraine has come to power through a coup by the “Right Sectors, a grouping of several far-right and nationalist factions, who were among the most radical and confrontational of the demonstrators in Kiev and who organized the self-defense brigades for the protest camp.” Russia accuses the interim authorities of illegally ousting the legally elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, whom Russia still recognizes as the legitimate president, although he may no longer have a political future. Russia also sees the West as having supported the “coup.” Previously, Russia had protested the NATO statement against the use of force in dispersing demonstrations in Kiev and accused NATO of interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs. A prominent Russian lawmaker tweeted, pointing out the inconsistencies between NATO’s reaction to the crackdown on protestors in Kiev and similar US violence in beating anti-NATO protestors in Chicago.
(Concluded tomorrow in Part II)