Way back in 1999, when NATO was revving up the bombers headed for Serbia, the Russians were pleading with the west not to act militarily against Serbia. It was a blatant violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity for a very flimsy reason and it would be a dreadful precedent in future. I bet even then the Russians were thinking of where the Kosovo precedent, set despite Russia’s strenuous opposition, could be used to Russia’s advantage in future. I’m sure one of those places was Ukraine.
Today I watched a press conference in Simferopol by Rustam Temirgaliev, a man who is obviously by name and demeanor someone derived from the Golden Horde of the Mongols. He is the Deputy Chairman of the Crimean Council of Ministers. He began his presentation by asking the press why the West refuses to recognize Crimea’s decision to break from Ukraine, but had no problem recognizing Kosovo’s independence. This, he argued, is a double standard. Temirgaliev also insisted that the post-1991 agreement establishing Ukraine as a nation guaranteed to the people the right to reject an illegal government established by force in Kiev. (I’m sure western Ukrainians had Russia in mind; the Russian part had NATO in mind.) As there had been an unconstitutional seizure of power in Kiev, Crimea would now exercise the right to defend itself (by secession and incorporation into the Russian Federation). Furthermore, he argued, Crimea asserts the same right to self-determination that was used by the US and EU to partition Serbia and wrest Kosovo from the country. In Crimea, the people now wish, as a result of events in Kiev, to become a subject of the Russian Federation. In that respect, everything is being carried out now to establish the administrative changes that will take place in all fields (banking, currency, police, etc.) The number of flights with western Ukraine have been greatly reduced (by both sides, no doubt) although there are still a couple of flights. Crimea’s civil aviation is being taken under control by Russia’s aviation system.
He also spoke about the Crimean Tatar problem, noting that an official guarantee has been issued that the Tatar language is co-official with Russian, that they have full rights and are guaranteed proportional representation in the legislature, that they can practice freely their culture and religion without interference. (Note: I’m sure there are other goodies thrown in under the table that might guarantee as well the cooperation of the key Tatar authorities in this transition. We will see how that goes. But that’s tomorrow’s problems.) He was later asked about the rights of the Ukrainians in Crimea, shouldn’t they have the same rights as the Tatars? The Deputy Chairman launched immediately into statistics about Crimean population which have changed slightly with dips in both the Ukrainian and Russian populations but the Russians have 60 percent and 22 percent Tatars and 16 percent Ukrainian. I didn’t hear the rest on that question but I’d guess the gist was that there aren’t enough Ukrainians to be treated like the Tatars (and the unspoken would be “Ukrainian will be an official language when hell freezes over”).
Temirgaliev says that there will be international monitors of the election in Crimea and says that the mission members will travel to Crimea via Russia as Ukraine will not allow them to use Ukraine as a transit point (and there is a point where Russia and Crimea are extremely close). He also makes known that the OSCE was asked to send monitors and refused to do so because doing so would recognize Crimea’s referendum. Of course, it is entirely up to the OSCE governments whether they can participate or not — there is no law that says being there to witness and report means we accept you. But that would be the position taken. That way there is no inconvenient evidence in your hands to show the election was actually free and fair, leaving you a future issue to use in this power struggle.
There is much more of a more mundane but urgent nature (shortages, banking, money, the bureaucracy) but the main points of his press conference internationally are those stated above. It is significant and worth noting because it is the first time I am aware of that the Kosovo precedent is being openly asserted in regard to Ukraine. The Russian legal argument will be very tight and it will be a very tough thing for the EU and US to prove that there is any difference between the precedents set and results of US/EU/NATO action in Serbia and what is underway in Crimea. The ethnic question will be dominant, of course, because self-determination is dominant. And there is no question who the majority is in these areas of Ukraine.
I’ve been reading a lot of hawkish commentary lately from people who think that the answer to Russia is to become even more threatening than we already are. The assumption here is very macho: we’re bigger than they are; we’re better than they are: come on, we dare you. But somebody needs to beat some sense into them. Russia is dead serious. NATO is never going to regain Crimea or the eastern part of Ukraine. If it comes to war and the West starts to push Russia, Russia will push back however necessary. All of this for a country of charming people of viciously anti-Semitic sentiment and the potential for the EU and NATO’s biggest nightmare ever. But it isn’t for Ukraine at all, or we’d be pushing national neutrality for Ukraine, not membership in NATO and the EU. It is for power, because NATO and the EU have become the world’s new imperialists. They see no borders to their authority or their right to the use of power. It is all going to boomerang.