One of the more tiresome aspects of the mainstream media is the way they ignore history and treats all modern systems as though they were devoid of historical context. Nowhere is this more obviously the case then in the presentation of the current situation in Crimea. Western politicians and reporters seem completely bereft of historical context when discussing the current friction between Russia and Ukraine over the status of Crimea.
Worse than that, they consistently misrepresent the situation in Crimea, consistently referring to Russia’s “annexation” of the territory. The mainstream media, which astonishingly seems eager to see a war break out between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea (They also consistently misrepresent Russian support for the two Russian speaking breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk).
All students in the English-speaking world are raised on British history of fighting in various foreign wars. One of those is the Crimean war, fought between Russia and England (among others) between 1853 and 1856. The legend of Florence Nightingale known to every English language school child, emanates from that war.
Crimea at that time had been part of the Russian Empire since 1774 when Catherine the Great defeated the Ottoman empire and Crimea was part of the spoils of that war.
In 1921 Crimea became an autonomous socialist republic. That Republic was dissolved in 1945 when Crimea became an Oblest in the Russian Soviet republic. In 1954 the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev himself a Ukrainian, passed Crimea to Ukraine, where it remained until 2014, although from 1991 it was an autonomous republic within Ukraine. This latter fact is completely disregarded in western commentary on Crimea.
In 2014 there was a political uprising in Ukraine which resulted in the fleeing of the then president Yanukovich in February 2014 and his replacement by a junta. The Americans were heavily involved in that coup that took place at that time.
Following disagreements between the Crimean government and the political leadership in Kiev, it led to Crimea declaring itself independent from Ukraine on 17 March 2014. A referendum on re-joining Russia was subsequently held and received overwhelming popular support.
On 3 April 2014 Crimea became part of Russia once again. In June is adopted the Russian rouble as its currency and in May 2015 it switched its telephone code from Ukraine to Russia.
It is clear from this brief history that Crimea has been part of Russia since the 18th century and even during the 1954–2014 period when it was part of Ukraine, it retained significant independence. To refer to the change over from being a region of Ukraine to re-joining Russia as “annexation” by the latter is a complete distortion of the historical facts.
It is the right of regions under the United Nations Charter to freely decide whether or not they wish to remain part of the country to which they are attached. An historical precedent can be seen in the case of Kosovo that in 2008 declared its independence from Serbia.
In Kosovo’s case its declaration of independence from Serbia was referred to the International Court of Justice by the United Nations General Assembly. In July 2010 the court declared its opinion. By a vote of 10:4 it cleared that “the adoption of the declaration of independence of 17th February 2008 did not violate general international law because international law contains no prohibition on declarations of independence.”
It is difficult to see any difference between the situation in Kosovo and that of the Crimea. In Crimea’s case it has the added advantage of a long history as part of Russia, which its population voted overwhelmingly to re-join.
The difference in the treatment of the two situations by western countries is therefore a classic illustration of their hypocrisy. The animus towards Russia and the constant references to Russia’s “annexation” of Crimea tells one more about the hypocrisy of the West than it does about the reality of the situation for the people of Crimea.
Notwithstanding the legal position and the clearly expressed wishes of the people of Crimea to be once again a part of Russia, the president of Ukraine persists in making threats about forcibly re-joining Crimea to Ukraine. That is never going to happen, and any military action by Ukraine to give effect to its desire would inevitably result in a crushing military loss for Ukraine.
There is more at stake however, than Ukraine’s sense of having lost part of its territory. Crimea is an important Russian naval base, as it was for years preceding Crimea’s departure from Ukraine. It is no secret, yet rarely mentioned in western media accounts of the situation, that the Americans covet taking over the naval facilities from Russia in the event of Crimea returning to Ukraine.
That also is never going to happen, but the United States’ desire to both remove a major Russian military asset and to give themselves that asset is an important factor in fermenting the ongoing dispute.
It is difficult to see a peaceful resolution of this problem. The Ukrainian government is clearly not interested in settling the dispute in an amicable manner. They are ignoring the provisions of the Minsk agreement signed in February 2015, which was brokered by the presidents of France and Germany and was signed by Ukraine and representatives of the two breakaway republics and Russia. Ukraine has never followed the terms of the agreement and continues military actions against the two breakaway regions.
The experience with this agreement is a clear warning about the Ukrainian attitude toward any resolution of the issue with Crimea. The Ukrainians feel they have the support of the United States in confronting Russia over Crimea, although the depth of that support is an open question.
The Russians are clearly under no illusions about Ukrainian sincerity. Russian foreign minister Lavrov recently issued a blunt warning that any inappropriate Ukrainian action would be met with a decisive response. There is no reason to disbelieve him.
In the meantime, the Ukrainian economy continues its downward movement. Their president is now treated as little more than a joke and his statements widely disbelieved or ignored. It is frankly difficult to see any peaceful resolution of the problem.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.