Crimea: What to Expect from Ukraine and the West

The West, above all the United States, would like for a rival country to have no reputation at all. They do not want to have any rivals, or at the worst, they want their rivals to be absolutely loyal to them.

On March 16, Crimeans attended a referendum on the status of their region, at which 96.77% of them voted for joining Russia. Moscow immediately set in motion the procedure for incorporating the peninsula. Valdai Discussion Club experts Alexei Mukhin , President of the Center for Political Information, political analyst Sergei Mikheyev and Alexei Fenenko , Leading Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of International Security Studies, comment on the referendum results, Russia’s moves, possible consequences for Russia and Ukraine, Western refusal to recognize the referendum results and many other related issues.

Sergei Mikheyev believes that Russia should not worry about the West's refusal to recognize the results of the Crimean referendum. “Russia’s foreign policy stance has changed: the policy of endless concessions to the detriment of its national interests has fortunately come to an end,” he said. “In the 1990s, we did not have any foreign policy stance. We ceded national interests one after another, destroying the country.”

The West, above all the United States, would like for a rival country to have no reputation at all. They do not want to have any rivals, or at the worst, they want their rivals to be absolutely loyal to them. When problems in Ukraine came to a head, the West urged Russia to take its stance of the 1990s, that is, to forget about its interests and cede yet another part of its zone of influence by accepting the overthrow of a legitimate president by anti-Russian forces and neo-fascist groups.

Instead, Russia has stood up to show that it “has interests, primarily along the perimeter of the Russian borders in the post-Soviet space, and that it will protect these interests,” Mikheyev said. According to him, Russia will be showered with dirt, as in the case of South Ossetia, but common sense will ultimately take the upper hand.

The main thing is that the Crimeans’ nearly unanimous vote for joining Russia has restored historical justice, the political analyst said.
As for the situation in Ukraine and its future, Mikheyev believes that Ukraine is tottering on the edge of dissolution, mostly because of the country's ultra-patriots, who have seized power shouting “Glory to Ukraine!” and who, together with their Western partners, precipitated the current critical situation. The expert said that the presidential elections scheduled for May 25 would be held in a high-strung atmosphere, with elements of harsh political pressure. The Kiev authorities are already trying to physically remove all possible election rivals. According to Mikheyev, “the new Ukrainian authorities’ actions cannot be described as systematic policy.”

Regarding Western sanctions against Russia over Crimea and who will stand to suffer from them, the first to be hit will be Germany, he said. Americans want to weaken Germany, which is playing first fiddle in the EU, and also to strengthen some of their other allies, in particular Britain. But Washington’s ultimate goal is to prevent its weakening role in Europe and Russia’s rapprochement with Europe, primarily Germany.

Sanctions, if they are implemented, will be designed to help the West save face, Alexei Mukhin said. The West has made so many advances and its rhetoric has been so radical that it cannot back off, just as Russia cannot reverse the results of the Crimean referendum. “I think that those Western countries that called for economic and other sanctions against Russia will be maneuvering now,” Mukhin said.

The West is shouting that the Crimean referendum was held “under threats of violence and intimidation.” But everyone knows that this is a lie and that Russia did not dispatch its troops to the peninsula.

Are the accession of Crimea and Russia’s stance worth the reputation risk, considering Russia’s desire to improve its image abroad? “If we keep thinking what impression our actions will make abroad, we will not advance much further in our development,” Mukhin said. The West has broadly hinted that might is right. Russia should not blindly follow this principle on the foreign policy stage, but firmly protect its stance and principles while acting within the framework of international law. Mukhin believes that what happened in Crimea was logical, and that Russia has successfully made this opinion public knowledge. “I don’t see any major risks or loss of image for Russia,” he said. In fact, the image that some liberally minded experts have been promoting is largely artificial and was designed to fit the standards which the West has been forcing on Russia.

“We have passed a certain point in the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, beyond which a war is highly unlikely,” Mukhin said. “This is because passions are running very high and in this affected state the Kiev authorities can spur the conflict to a new level. But I sincerely hope that this will not happen.” In fact, disintegration processes are rapidly developing in Ukraine, and politicians have been unable to stop them, the expert said.

The integration of Ukraine’s Security Service with Right Sector has had an openly negative effect and could be highly destructive for the country and its economy.

As for the May 25 elections, Russia’s recognition of the new authorities created at these elections, or its refusal to recognize them, will directly depend on the format and legitimacy of the elections.

Alexei Fenenko said that the West's refusal to recognize the results of the Crimean referendum is nothing new in international practice. There have been many precedents. For example, the West did not recognize East Germany until 1973, and the United States never recognized the incorporation of the Baltic countries into the Soviet Union before World War II. Non-recognition does not actually amount to confrontation.

As for the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the Crimean referendum, it fully complied with the guidelines on the recognition of new states in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union, which the European Commission drafted in December 1991, Fenenko said. These guidelines stipulate full compliance with international treaties, the primacy of the Helsinki Final Act, the inviolability of new administrative borders, peaceful settlement of disputes and guarantees of the rights of minorities. As can be seen from the new Crimean leadership’s talks with Crimean Tartars, they are acting in compliance with all of these principles.

As for Kiev’s policy, the new Ukrainian authorities are disunited and do not have a concrete policy, goal or concept for overcoming the crisis. We see a battle between several forces there: relatively moderate forces, the nationalist sector and oligarchic groups. They do not have a common program.

Ukraine will not regain Crimea, as both Kiev and Washington know, Fenenko said. But further developments can take one of several directions. One possibility is a battle for southeastern Ukraine, where people can cite the example of Crimea to demand federalization, if not accession to Russia, the expert said. They can demand the creation of a South-Eastern Autonomous Republic with its capital in Kharkiv, in accordance with the decision made by the Donetsk regional council in 2004. Kiev can make a show of punishing Kharkiv, thereby provoking serious unrest, to which Russia will have to react.

Fenenko said that London, Washington and Brussels can start considering the possibility of Ukraine splitting into several states, and which parts they would control. The expert believes that Ukraine has already split. In the past three years, US experts wrote that there would not be a second Yalta conference with Russia, but practice shows that they will eventually have to sit down at the same table with Russia to discuss outstanding issues. The main thing is to prevent the enactment of the Yugoslav scenario in Ukraine, Fenenko said. In general, the fate of Ukraine will not be decided in Kiev, but in Moscow, Washington, Brussels and other European capitals.

Fenenko believes that with Crimea joining Russia, Ukraine has only one positive solution left: to become a federal state as soon as possible. This can make Ukraine a better balanced state, guaranteed by international agreements. Otherwise, an uncontrollable disintegration process could begin in Ukraine, which is unlikely to survive as a unitary state.

Alexei Mukhin, Sergei Mikheyev and Alexei Fenenko expressed their views at a recent RIA Novosti roundtable, The Right to a Choice: The Results of the Crimean Referendum. The discussion was also attended by Alexander Shirov, deputy director of the Institute of Economic Forecasting, Russian Academy of Sciences, and Alexei Moiseyev, Dean, International Law Department, Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Vice President, Russian Association of International Law, and expert at the Russian International Affairs Council.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.