Could this move by the Crimean parliament start a war between Ukraine and Russia, and perhaps involve Europe and Turkey? Or could it be a possible way out of an impasse that allows all sides to walk back from their positions? The legislators of the breakaway province voted to pursue independence if a scheduled referendum on Russian annexation passes as expected this week:
The Crimean parliament voted Tuesday that the Black Sea peninsula will declare itself an independent state if its residents agree to split off from Ukraine and join Russia in a referendum.
Crimea’s regional legislature on Tuesday adopted a “declaration of independence of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.” The document specified that Crimea will become an independent state if its residents vote on Sunday in favor of joining Russia in the referendum.
Western nations have said they will not recognize the vote as legitimate. But the move might be used as an attempt to ease tensions with Crimea existing as a self-proclaimed state without Russia moving quickly to incorporate it into its territory.
There is one potential wrinkle in this plan. When Turkey (then the Ottoman Empire) ceded sovereignty of the Crimean peninsula to Russia in the late 18th century, the treaty explicitly stated that Crimea would revert back to Ottoman control if it attempted to become an independent state:
In an article in last week’s Russian Pravda, it was noted that if Ukraine was divided, then the status of the Crimean Peninsula – returned to Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Kruschev, would be open to discussion, and that would include Turkey having a say in the future of Crimea.
The reference to this claim is the “Küçük Kaynarca” (Karlowitz I) signed 230 years ago. As per this agreement, signed by the Russian Tsarina Catherine II on April 19, 1783, the Crimean Peninsula was taken away from the dominion of the Ottomans and handed over to Russia. However, one of the most important provisions of this treaty was the debarment of independence for the Peninsula and outlawing its submission to a third party: Should any such attempt be made, then Crimea would automatically have to be returned to the sovereignty of Turkey.
When Ukraine appeared as an independent nation following the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, Turkey acquired the right to claim the Peninsula back based on the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca; however, this was not brought up by the Turgut Ozal administration of the time. Turkey was content with advocating for the rights of the Tatar minority living on the Crimean Peninsula.
Don’t bet that Turkey will intercede to enforce this treaty, which will be 231 years old next month. The Turks might be interested enough in the Tatar minority to force its way into negotiations using this as a lever. They’re not going to go to war with Russia to take back the peninsula, though. It still means that a declaration of independence might not be the easy solution to the Gordian knot developing on Crimea.
The US wants to get another nation involved, too — China, which has been rather quiet about all of these developments on the other side of the continent:
The Obama administration is stepping up its attempts to court China’s support for isolating Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine.
With official comments from China appearing studiously neutral since the Ukraine crisis began, President Barack Obama spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping late Sunday in a bid to get Beijing off the fence.
The call was their first known conversation since Russian forces took control of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow Crimea region. It came amid signals that Russian President Vladimir Putin was hardening his position on Crimea, which is due to vote on joining Russia in a referendum this weekend that the U.S. and its allies have vowed not to recognize.
In making his case, Obama appealed to China’s well-known and vehement opposition to outside intervention in other nations’ domestic affairs, according to a White House statement.
However, it remained unclear whether China would side with the U.S. and Europe or with Moscow, which has accused the West of sparking the crisis in Ukraine with inappropriate “meddling” in the internal affairs of the former Soviet republic. China is a frequent ally of Russia in the U.N. Security Council, where both wield veto power.
Bloomberg’s editors agree, but also note why China might view the situation as an opportunity rather than a problem:
In other matters affecting international stability, China hasacknowledged its responsibility to get involved. It has, for instance, agreed to chase pirates off the coast of Somalia even if they flee into territorial waters, and it has chosen not to obstruct some international sanctions against Iran and North Korea. Implicitly tolerating Putin’s adventurism now only reinforces fears about China’s behavior — especially among its neighbors, who already suspect that it aims to annex several islands and atolls across the East and South China Seas.
China ultimately shares the same goals in Ukraine as the rest of the world: to affirm the sanctity of international borders, avoid bloodshed and restore stability to global markets as quickly as possible. All would be accomplished much faster and more durably if China spoke out now against Putin’s aggression.
This sounds suspiciously to me like John Kerry’s impotent retort about “19th-century” thinking. Who says those are China’s goals? China wants to expand its empire at the expense of its neighbors, as its provocations against Japan has proven over the last couple of years. They may see Putin as a pioneer, a man who tests the West so that China can know just how far Obama and the EU can be pushed without getting a significant reaction. If those were China’s goals, Beijing’s leaders wouldn’t need Barack Obama to explain it to them, and they wouldn’t have to be pressured into more significant action in this crisis.