Who Has A Right To Crimea

Volodymyr G. Butkevych

From a position of force, or a position of right?

Historians are often fond of repeating that one cannot write today's history today. While this maybe so, if one considers history from an emotional, subjective viewpoint, it becomes less difficult to predict the future. The sole parameter for such an approach is the whim of the subject. such a principle is, unfortunately, socially quite productive and at the same time irresponsible. This subjective attitude towards the interpretation of fact is often misapplied to the situation in Ukraine. The former imperial center in Moscow and many of today's pseudo-democrats would still wish to see Ukraine remain an obedient vassal state.

It is not, however, marginally ironic that those who profess to be adherents of the principles of democracy and social justice are also those who are echoing the attitudes of their rulers. In the face of both veiled and open threats coming from Moscow it becomes clear that the present course taken by Ukraine is well justified, especially when, following the July 16, 1990 Declaration of Ukrainian Sovereignty, Moscow mayor G. Popov warned that such an act would result "in the separation of Crimea from Ukraine, in addition to many other consequences."

Ukraine had just declared itself an independent state on August 24, 1991, when Popov stated on August 27 on the Central Television Network: "If Ukraine continues to pursue the course of making this act a reality, without doubt the question will be raised regarding the borders separating Russia and Ukraine, and Russia will definitely come to the aid of its people in Ukraine." How can this be explained? An explanation was soon forthcoming from Russian president Boris Yeltsin's press secretary, P. Poshanov. He maintained that Ukraine should still remain within the structure of a single federation and that "in the case of a cessation of the present Union-based relations the RSFSR will reserve the right to raise the question of a review of common borders (between Russia and Ukraine)."

As Russian Secretary of State G. Burbulis later stated, "Russia cannot become a republic 'like the others...' Russia can and must become the sole heir of the USSR and all of its structures." [2] Furthermore, in order to clarify any confusion on the part of Ukraine, the explanation was offered that, "[p]resent-day Russia is not simply one of fifteen disenfranchised republics in an empire, but the fully legitimate leader of the former empire." [3] Should the point still remain unclear in the minds of Ukrainians, it was reinforced "Anti-Russian attitudes will not be met with silence on the part of the Russian leadership. We must take the example of the US. Must (Ukraine) be reminded of the American reaction when its citizens were maltreated in Grenada?" [4] This general tone was also quite evident in the attitude of Russian Information Minister M. Poltoranin, when he exclaimed "no discussion!" All of the above indicates that the prevailing thought in Russia is that the Russian Federation is the sole and rightful heir of the USSR.

Whether the dialogue involves the issue of creating a Ukrainian army or that of refusing to sign any all-encompassing agreement on a political union, Ukrainians are constantly being presented with the threat of changing their national borders or taking away Crimea. These threats are echoed even in Crimea by the Crimean parliament's Presidium, which is sympathetic to Moscow's centrist attitude. The Presidium issued a statement which was published in Izvestiia on October 17, 1991:

"Respecting the right of the people of Ukraine to self-determination, we concurrently hold that an equal level of respect must be accorded to the will of the people of Crimea, to their right to create their own statehood on the basis of a referendum, should this be called for by a change in the political situation."

If the above statement is indeed genuine, it is inevitable to conclude that the Chairman of the Crimean parliament, M. Bagrov, is calling for a necessary review of the legislation regarding the return of Crimea to Ukraine.

It must be recalled that any such intentions are regarded as violations according to international law and would involve international repercussions. Should any doubt be cast upon this, one need only turn to the UN Charter or the CSCE's Helsinki Final Act of August 1, 1975. Chapter III of the latter act specifically states:

"Member states consider as inviolable all borders of all states in Europe and thus will refrain in the present and the future from any and all encroachments on these borders. "They will also refrain from any actions or demands that are directed towards the seizure or usurpation of parts or of whole territories of any other member-state."

Chapter IV of the Final Act, "Territorial Integrity of States," reinforces the above with an explanation of additional prohibited actions or statements that may be directed towards the changing of borders or territorial integrity. Worthy of note is the fact that these chapters deal with the state borders of Europe, the USA and Canada, and not administrative-territorial demarcations that are the internal matters of individual states.

While claiming sole inheritance of the USSR, international obligations of the past must also be taken into account. Among others, the USSR was a signatory of the Bucharest Declaration of 1966 on the inviolability of state borders and territorial integrity, the Paris Charter of 1972, the Treaty on Principles of Cooperation between the USSR and France in 1971, a 1971 treaty with the Federal Republic of Germany and various joint communiques with the US, Italy, Austria, Denmark, and other countries. Also worth noting is a treaty signed by the RSFSR and Ukraine on August 18, 1990, which holds both signatories responsible for maintaining the inviolability of their contiguous borders. Each of the above documents categorises any action aimed at violating borders, propagating the idea of such action or supporting the proponents of such action as violations of international law. In addition, any media that are used to propagate such ideas are subject to responsibility under the UNESCO Declaration 'On the Basic Principles Regarding the Contribution of Mass Media to the Strengthening of Peace and international Understanding, the Development of Human Rights and the Fight Against Racism, Apartheid and the Promotion of War,' from November 28, 1978 and the December 16, 1952 Convention on International Law.

Secondly, in the midst of frequent assertions regarding Russia's right to Crimea it would greatly strengthen Russia's argument to produce at least one international or even national document where this right is legally supported. Should it be unable to produce such evidence, then international law relegates the matter to historical right. 'Historical right' refers to the justifiable acquisition of previously unclaimed territory.

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About The Author

Volodymyr G. Butkevych, a Ph.D. in juridical studies, currently heads the Ukrainian Institute of International Relations' Department of International Law. He is also the Vice-President of the (former Soviet) International Law Association. His studies have focused on the protection of human rights in the USSR and in Ukraine, as well as on the chasm between Soviet legal standards and international norms. In addition, Butkevych is the Chairman of the International Human Rights Conference's Organisational Committee. The Conference is held annually in Kyiv.

About the Editor

Eugene S. Kachmarsky, an M.A. in political science specialising in eastern Europe and the former USSR, is a graduate of the University of Toronto. He is currently the editor of the English-language monthly newspaper, Ukrainian Echo.

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Document URL: http://www.infoukes.com/history/crimea/page-02.html

Copyright © 1992 Volodymyr G. Butkevych

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Originally Composed: Tuesday August 20th 1996.
Date last modified: Friday March 21st 1997.