Whatever the news are and will be, whoever will have been the masked, uniformed people, the whole world looks and above all will look to the Crimea Peninsula and the South of Ukraine in the next days. It all depends how Putin will act or react – and it cannot be believed that what happened the last two days was a matter of some local commanders of the Russian Black Sea troops while he, Putin, did not know anything. He still tries to play the „good cop“, but nobody believes him anymore. Furthermore he might orchestrate a bigger operation than in Georgia, with Abkhasia and South Ossetia, in 2008, with revealing pictures repeating themselves in Crimea.
Since 1954, Crimea has been submitted by then Soviet Union to the Ukrainian authorities. In May 1992, the region was a punching ball between Russia, the Crimean parliament and Ukraine, with the result that it got a high degree of self-government. It became a kind of decentralised part of Ukraine, with an own constitution and a relatively high degree of self-government. While Russian President Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Kravchuk managed to divide the Soviet Black Sea fleet, Crimean Communists wanted an even more distinguished status of the Peninsula, which had at this time around 2 million of citizens (which decrease from year to year). The Crimean Parliament, however, anchored a clear phrase in the Constitution that the Peninsula was part of Ukraine.
Since this time there were numerous attempts in Crimea to be integrated into Russia and to leave Ukraine. In 2008, Russian passports have been given to Crimea residents, to create citizens to be protected then by Russia – at the same time when Russia did exactly the same in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were until then provinces of Georgia. Unlike Georgia’s Saakashvili however, the new Ukrainian government will not be torn into a provocation by Russia.
It was evident that „something“ had to happen in the Crimea Peninsula, in which southern part the Russian Black Sea fleet is based. Nothing against this fleet (and most Ukrainians could also live with this), but the Russian action seems to be a clear act of aggression, as another country has partly been occupied now, as Russia has made a no-flight zone over the Crimea, and as light tanks and an army staff of at least 2.000 has been sent to the peninsula to „protect“ (or take) local strategic institutions. Sure, the Crimea has been populated always by a majority of ethnic Russians, and there are ten thousands of Crimea Tatars who came only back to their former residences on Crimea recently, after they have been sent by Stalin in the mid-1940s to Siberia or Central Asia. This population group, of Muslim belief, is committed to live in Ukraine.
Since some street riots, without the loss of lives (except one casualty due to a heart attack), since 26.2.2014 in Simferopol, the Russian president Putin has ordered more than 150.000 Russian troops near the Ukrainian border on alert. Evidently, Russian forces have occupied parts of the Ukraine, which is, to put it mildly, illegal. This is indicated also by flights of helicoter gunships over the Crimea, and the persons which were partly masked and without uniform signs have been Russians, according to local population. Maybe the whole coup is what Moscow wants – but it will have to calculate now with heavy political and probably also economic replies:
1. The Ukraine could cancel the Black Sea Agreement regarding the navy bases in Ukraine. Maybe there is no effect upon this, but the claims could be pursued by international tribunals, and this would contribute to a growing isolation of Russia, which has – in 2014, and not any more in Soviet Union or before, when these things have been undertaken frequently – revived unilaterally a kind of Cold War. Another of course than the one which was held on an ideological basis, but a Cold War not of the old Soviet Union, but of „Soviet Union 2.0“, which evidently is Putin’s Russia today.
2. There will be a heavy consequnce for any country where the possible accession to Putin’s invention, the Eurasian Union and even the Eurasian Customs Union, is considered. The hit to Crimea will cost a lot of credibility, and from now on, the Kremlin is on the defensive regarding this project.
3. It will drive Ukraine much faster into the European Union than foreseen, and it will also set free thoughts about integrating Ukraine into NATO – and this above all from Ukraine.
4. It may bring a further drop of economic relations between the EU and Russia, and therefore contribute to an ever more stagnating economy of Russia – which is one of the biggest problems of the future. Putin cannot, today, calculate any more with the capacity to suffer of the Russian People.
5.In this context, I want to advocate the abolition of visas between the EU and Russia. Thus, Russians can see how Europeans live, how they think, how the EU and the Member States‘ governments and parliaments work. This, and millions of personal contacts and talks will have a long-term effect on Russia.
6. There will be a middle-term effect of free speech in the Crimea. Until now, the Peninsula has been led by Russian propaganda which is considerably different to the facts.
7. We are not anymore in talks between Yeltsin and Helmut Kohl – these times are over. There is an ex-KGB Boss now running the Kremlin, and he clearly wants to create somehow a superpower glory like in Soviet times. This is possibly followed with the same means as in Soviet times, namely with lies, like what Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov said to John Kerry two times during a phone talk these days: that the territorial integrity of Ukraine will not be touched. This means clearly, that there cannot be any more trust and reliance in Russian declarations.
It is evident that the sagas of „fascists“ etc. who „took now power in Kiev“ are nonsense; These are people who wanted to get rid of Yanukovich who marched his own „Berkut“ police units and his secret service against protesters, who did on the long term not accept Yanukovich’s way of retiring from the EU, of accruing personal fortunes and of having a rude leadership, with big deficits in the rule of law and heavy corruption. It has been no miracle that exaggerated expressions of nationalism could grow in this climate, but the Ukrainians are, like all other Europeans who do appreciate that they can live under European values, no fascists. The yet existing democratic deficits can be wiped out easily and in a fast way – this was shown e.g. by the Maidan Council etc.
8. There will be on the next EU summit on 20./21.3.2014 the new government of Ukraine coming to the EU heads of state and government to sign the Association Agreement with the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. This will induce, if not done already, payments of the EU, but wisely bound to reforms and to conditionality. Of course, this may bring problems for the Ukraine and its citizens as well, but only temporarily. The more open the UA government and parliament says this to its own people, the better. After all, this is a heritage from a Person who has cheated his people for millions and billions. It can be looked on the money laundering procedures not only in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, but probably also in other countries.
9. And last but not least, what Putin has done, arranged or accepted in Crimea must have a political, soft-power adequate reply. The EU is and will remain a soft power, in contrat to the Soviet Union 2.0 which is at present Russia – and where people who took part in anti-Putin protests 2 years ago were thrown up to 4 1/2 years to labour camp prison only one day after the Sotchi Winter Olympics ended. The power of weakness, or soft power, has always a longer breath than the weakness of power, or hard power. But above all, the EU has to follow now an articulate policy towards this kind of authoritarian, aggressive rulers in its environment. Doing nothing is no solution for the EU, and Putin and the UA government would be well advised, to settle the question of the Black Sea fleet – an Instrument of only regional and not of strategic importance – in a Guantanamo way, maybe with the rental agreement of a base on eternity“.
Chief Editor, European Union Foreign Affairs Journal