In an article for Penguin News, distinguished political and scientific Bulgarian author Dr Lyubomir Ivanov (*) discusses the Crimean conflict and its parallel with the Falklands.The Argentine President Cristina Kirchner praised the recent Crimean status referendum as, “one of the famous referendums of self-determination.”
She also drew a parallel with the 2013 Falklands sovereignty referendum complaining that, for the West, “the referendum for self-determination in Crimea is bad, but the referendum for self-determination for the Kelpers is good.” Indeed, there are some obvious differences between the two referendums.
To begin with, the Crimean one had no legal validity under the then applicable law in that territory (Ukrainian Law), while the Falklands one was held in compliance with the law applicable on the Islands (Falklands Law). Furthermore, the former took place along with a Russian military operation that subdued the Ukrainian armed forces dislocated in Crimea.
To cap it all, the application of self-determination principle to Crimea is questionable, given that international law would grant that right to a people which the Crimean Russian community – unlike the Falkland Islanders – is not.
Nevertheless, let us assume that in both cases the referendum results reflected the prevailing attitudes respectively in Crimea and the Falklands. Then where the two referendums differ further is in their follow-ups. In the former case, Russia referred to the referendum results in order to unilaterally change the status quo and annex a territory that until then had been administered by Ukraine and recognized by Russia as a sovereign Ukrainian territory by treaty. Britain did nothing of the sort. The essential parallel between the Falklands and Crimea lies in two aspects conveniently overlooked by President Cristina Kirchner.
First, both Argentina and Russia stand no chance if their pretensions were submitted to the International Court of Justice.
And second, while Russia had the ample military power to take over Crimea in disregard of international law, Argentina has no such capabilities as attested by the Falklands War.
So President Cristina Kirchner has chosen to acclaim President Putin’s action, hoping that Russia would return the favor and support the Argentine claim. However, Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov has stated that Crimea means to Russia more than the Falklands do to Britain, effectively placing Russia in the position of Britain rather than that of Argentina. Indeed, when that mattered most back in 1982, Russia refrained from vetoing the UN Security Council Resolution 502 which demanded the removal of the Argentine troops from the Falklands.
The present Ukrainian crisis is widely perceived to be setting the stage for a replay of the Cold War, with possible hotter conflicts spilling out in the region. Looking at the possible outcome, there are those who foresee Russia gaining the upper hand this time, and emerging triumphant through the annexation of territories with significant Russian population in areas like eastern Ukraine or northern Kazakhstan.
On the other hand, there are those who believe that a protracted standoff between the West and Russia is not such a bad thing after all, that it would end up with the West victorious once again, prompting a regime change in Moscow and possible disintegration of the Russian Federation fuelled by ethnic and religious division.
However, in a world where both the West and Russia face a range of common challenges in the field of security, each of them has the leverage to turn the other party’s victory sour, with the collateral effect of enhancing the stature of third powers such as China. As for the possible breakup of Ukraine or Russia, that runs the risk of getting out of control and slipping into a Yugoslav style imbroglio of gigantic proportions rather than following the ‘civilized divorce’ example of Czechoslovakia or the Soviet Union.
Could these worrisome scenarios be mitigated, given that the territorial aspect is essential to the present crisis? The key lies in the Crimean issue which is far from
being settled. Indeed, it would be unrealistic to expect that in the foreseeable future Ukraine might be prepared to relinquish her rights over Crimea, unless some substantial territorial compensations were made available. The question therefore is, might it be possible to resolve that issue by a negotiated exchange of Ukrainian and Russian territories?
And if Crimea were to be recognized as Russian in the process, then what might be the respective Russian territories suitable for a transfer to Ukraine?
Ceding to Ukraine some Russian districts adjacent to the common border won’t do, for these are populated mostly by ethnic Russians. Fortunately, however, the Russian Federation enjoys the possession of a variety of uninhabited or virtually so territories that might qualify. For instance, one could consider the polar archipelagos of Novaya Zemlya, Severnaya Zemlya and New Siberian Islands, or rather appropriate parts of them comparable in size to Crimea.
Taking into account the sensitivity of that particular region for Russia’s strategic defense on the one hand, and Ukraine’s possible EU and NATO membership on the other, the territory to be ceded to Ukraine could be demilitarized by treaty too.
Finally, the value of the swapped entities could be balanced by an appropriate delimitation of Crimea’s vast maritime exclusive economic zone rich in fish, gas and possibly oil. Once agreed, the overall package could be put on nationwide referendums in both Russia and Ukraine.
An agreed swap along these lines would be in perfect compliance with international law, arguably delivering a truly win-win solution benefiting all the parties involved, and curbing the Crimean conflict’s potential to boost irredentist and separatist agendas in Ukraine, elsewhere in Europe and indeed worldwide. Such a solution may well seem unrealistic but then, just few months ago, so seemed the idea of Russia annexing a sizable chunk of Ukrainian territory.
If this avenue of opportunity is to be explored, then probably the diplomatic initiative ought to come from Russia as all the territories in question are presently controlled by that country. If not, then President Putin’s pledge that “our relations with Ukraine, with the fraternal Ukrainian people have always been and will remain of foremost importance for us” would sound rather hollow.
That recurrently repeated pledge, however, is indicative of the real vulnerability of Putin’s regime. It’s not the economic sanctions that would be but a convenient excuse for the pending troubles of Russia’s structurally deficient economy anyway, and it’s not the prospect of seeing Ukraine and Georgia in NATO.
It’s the fear that a success story of Ukraine’s accession to the European Union – like that of Poland for instance --, might appear attractive to the Russians as well. (Penguin News)
(*) Dr. Lyubomir Ivanov is a graduate of the St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia with MS degree (1977) and PhD (1980) in mathematics he has been an Associate Professor at the Institute of Mathematics and Informatics, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences since 1988. Professor Ivanov was Parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1991-92) and Member of Parliament and co-author of the new Bulgarian Constitution (1990-91).
He is also the founding president of the Manfred Wörner Foundation since 1994. Chairman of the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria (2001-09), and proponent of a global role and enlargement of the Atlantic Alliance. Coordinator, Marshall Memorial Fellowship Program for Bulgaria of the German Marshall Fund–US (1997-2002). Participant in the National Round Table for Transition to Democracy (1990), member of the National Coordinating.
Council of the Union of Democratic Forces (1990-91). Principal sponsor of both the 1990 parliamentary decision for Bulgaria to join the European Union and the 1991 parliamentary decision for Bulgaria to participate in the Allied liberation of Kuwait.
Professor Ivanov is the author of scientific and popular books and papers on foreign and security policy, Falklands and Kosovo self-determination, history, immigration policy, mathematics, linguistics and Antarctic science.