Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

Proposal: compromise in Crimea

How do you solve a problem like Crimea? The optimistic answer is that Russia’s annexation was wrong, that the sanctions are right and that the West should continue putting pressure on Russia until it grudgingly relents and returns Crimea to Ukraine. The pessimistic answer is that Russia’s annexation was wrong, but that this is seemingly what Crimeans want and that Russia won’t return Crimea to Ukraine, so we had best — grudgingly — accept it.

I believe there might be room for compromise.

Crimea has never been very Ukrainian. As Russians like to point out, it only became part of Ukraine by personal fiat of Khrushchev and most of its inhabitants don’t identify as Ukrainian. In this light, proclamations of Crimea as Ukrainian soil that must be restored ring hollow.

On the other hand, Russia’s campaign to frame Crimea as quintessentially Russian is imperialistic and colonial. If Crimea has a Russian majority now, then only because of successive waves of ethnic cleansing of its Tatar (and Jewish) population by the Tsars, Stalin, Hitler and again Stalin. Since annexation, Russia has suppressed the rights of anyone who disagrees with its Russianness, including most of the remaining Tatars.

Crimea is not just Ukrainian, not just Russian, and first and foremost Crimean. Therefore, the West should offer to recognise Crimea as an independent state and lift sanctions, if it adopts a constitution that enshrines power sharing between Tatars and Russians on all levels, as well as protection of Ukraine’s cultural and economic interests. In addition, this agreement should be contingent on Russia’s active cooperation towards the reintegration of the Donbass into Ukraine.

Both sides would profit from this compromise. Resolving the Donbass conflict is Ukraine’s principal medium-term concern. Crimea would become less of a financial burden for Russia, while it would retain a degree of control, allowing it to keep its naval base in Sevastopol. Both sides would be able to present Crimean independence as partial vindication.

Filed under: Crimea, Donbass, Russia, Ukraine,

Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Lugansk, Donetsk: the demerits of mutual recognition

On 13 May, President of the Donetsk People’s Republic Alexander Zakharchenko announced that it formally recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On 28 January South Ossetia had already received recognition from Lugansk. This follows last year’s decision by South Ossetia to recognise Lugansk (18 June) and Donetsk (27 June). The People’s Council of Lugansk was to consider recognition of Abkhazia on 13 March, but that has so far not materialised.

Somewhat paradoxically, the formal statements of recognition by Lugansk and Donetsk are not very complimentary, because when a new state is formed (the position Lugansk and Donetsk consider themselves to be in) it does not as a matter of principle recognise the independence of established states. So if they had wanted to do Abkhazia and South Ossetia a favour, Lugansk and Donetsk should have simply treated their independence as self-evident.

There is a remarkable asymmetry between Abkhazia and South Ossetia in this matter. While South Ossetia has pushed ahead, agreeing to establish full diplomatic relations, opening representative offices in Lugansk and Donetsk on 16 April and receiving representative offices of Lugansk and Donetsk on 28 April, Abkhazia has so far resisted recognising either Lugansk or Donetsk.

Abkhazia’s reticence, waiting for the situation to stabilise and following Russia’s lead (which does not appear close to recognition), seems more prudent than South Ossetia’s eagerness. It is quite unfortunate for Abkhazia and South Ossetia that the narrative of Russia creating and controlling separatist movements and actively starting and prolonging wars and sustained violence, concocted as an explanation — mostly false and wholly unhelpful — for Georgia’s conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is true in respect to Ukraine, Lugansk and Donetsk. Unsurprisingly, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are now often compared to the Ukrainian conflict. They may be best advised not to further strengthen this association, and limit their contacts with Lugansk and Donetsk to humanitarian and cultural support.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Donbass, South Ossetia, The Great Recognition Game

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