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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Crimea: mythical threats and actual problems

Viktor YUSHCHENKO: Ukraine’s air, sea, and land space will never be used against Russia
14 July, 2009 - 00:00
Photo by Mykola LAZARENKO

Even before Russia’s large-scope military exercise Caucasus ‘09 many people had serious worries, expressed sensational forecasts, and drew parallels with last year’s events. Shortly before the end of Caucasus ‘08 the five-day war between Russia and Georgia broke out, whereupon Russian annexed South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Andrei Illarionov, head of the Institute for Economic Analysis, told a press conference that July 2009 might see a replay of the Russia’s August 2008 scenario in the South Caucasus. He also believes that US President Obama’s visit to Russia (July 6–8, 2009) can be used to demonstrate to the world that Russia is discussing with the United States a new phase of hostilities [in the Caucasus].

This year’s military exercises cause concern among Ukraine’s political analysts, as did last year’s war in Georgia. Some believe that there is a threat of Russian army’s repeated invasion of Georgia for the purpose of getting control over the strategically important oil pipeline. Others fear that the Crimea is in for a replay of the South Ossetian and Abkhaz scenario; that the Kremlin may come up with legal grounds for taking the Crimea away from Ukraine.

During the Ukrainian Navy Day festivities, President Viktor Yushchenko declared that the Ukrainian people would always uphold neighborly relations with Russia. His official website quotes him as saying, “I hope that this policy will meet with understanding and respect.”

President Yushchenko went on to say that official Kyiv would see to it that there would be no risks involved with regard to Russia’s national security: “Ukraine guarantees that no foreign soldier, from any bloc or country, will ever be on its territory. Ukraine’s air, sea, and land space will never be used against Russia.”

Yushchenko said he would instruct Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies to investigate all programs and projects being carried out by Russia in Ukraine. He explained that there may be “parallel projects aimed against the Ukrainian state… such projects should be approached uniformly while demonstrating a consolidated stand, national solidarity, and the awareness that such projects are directed against you, your families and children…” President Yushchenko is convinced that “wise politicians, regardless of whether they represent big powers or small countries, must see to it that there is mutual understanding, neighborly relations, with the ethnic policy on each side geared to uphold equality, friendship, and understanding.”

However, there are political analysts in Ukraine who believe that Russia is working on a Crimea annexation scenario. In what follows we offer Oleksandr TERLIUK’s compilation of what he believes are possible Crimean scenarios, along with comments from Ukrainian and Russian experts and Mykyta Kasianenko’s piece on the Crimea’s inner problems. Unless resolved, these problems will have grave consequences on a scope surpassing by far that of any foreign threat to Ukraine. In fact, President Viktor Yushchenko flew to the Crimea to try and find solutions to these problems.


Ukrainian presidents have always played the most important role in the life and death of the Crimean Autonomy. First, there was the Autonomous Soviet Republic of the Crimea in 1921–44, followed by the 1991–92 autonomy established by a referendum. President Leonid Kravchuk played the key role in its organization. However, the autonomous unit existed for a couple of months and was reorganized (under Kravchuk) first into the Republic of the Crimea and then the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea, which had nothing to do with the peninsula’s status before the Second World War.

Owing to Kravchuk, the Republic of the Crimea nearly ceased to exist in the spring of 1994 when the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine canceled the constitution and over 40 bills passed by the Supreme Council in Simferopol. Kravchuk let the Crimea live without a president and constitution, thus securing long-lasting headaches for his successors.

Under President Leonid Kuchma, the Crimea became known officially as the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea (ACR) and received a new constitution that still causes debates among lawyers who specialize in legislation, while it remains an unsolved issue in Ukrainian legislation. It cannot be resolved by any of the proposed amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine, including Viktor Yushchenko’s draft. Outlined below are several legal dilemmas, including the tax-collecting procedures, taxation system, personnel appointments, property rights, and the limits of authority—there are discrepancies in the treatment of all of these issues in the Crimean Constitution and the laws of Ukraine. As a result, various legal and business entities often act as they see fit.


It is hard to say whether it was President Yushchenko’s mistake, slip of the tongue, or a statement reflecting his conviction when he addressed the audience made up of ranking bureaucrats and told them that “a public servant is a lackey of business.” On hearing this, quite a few respected members of the Crimean cabinet, who had just made some progress in dealing with business representatives as their equals, had the shivers, visualizing themselves as errand boys being ordered around by the Crimean Mafia dons. Needless to say, the Crimean media, which are always on the lookout for such slips, raised the issue of what the Ukrainian president meant exactly: the rule of lackeys or lackey-like authorities?

Yushchenko said the Crimea needed breakthrough projects for its progress, ones that would be based on new technologies. Also, he is actively promoting the Crimea on the international market. Brussels is to host a conference on Crimean economic progress in mid-July, he said.

Yushchenko went on to say that he had made arrangements with the European Commission, specifically with the Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and that during this meeting the investment projects launched there and then in the Crimea will be on the EU agenda because the Crimea may well top its Eastern Partnership regional development list.

Along the lines of the European neighborhood policy, Ukraine proposed a separate Crimea economic development program to the EU, and it will be considered before long. Other such projects are being analyzed by the European Investment Bank, EBRD, and the World Bank. President Yushchenko said this would make it possible to attract national as well as foreign businesses to the development of this territory: “All of Europe is interested in the Crimea… All problems faced by the investors in the implementation of this or that investment projects should be eliminated.”

President Yushchenko pointed out that the Crimea has vast recreation potential owing to its unique medical resorts, not to be found anywhere else in Europe. At the presentation of the projects, President Yushchenko proposed complete denationalization of the Crimea’s recreation and resort facilities. “The [government-run] resorts are not functioning in the Crimea. Let me say again that the longer we hold back this sector and keep it under the government’s management, the worse recession this country will plunge into.”

The Ukrainian head of state evidently has a point there, but this is nothing new to the people in the Crimea. The problem most likely lies elsewhere. The Ukrainian state has a mere handful of resorts. These belong to various agencies, which are not transferring them for privatization. The problems vary: no buyers, no legal framework, or no way to solve the land title issue.

In fact, these [government-run] resorts do not play the decisive role in the recreation business. The worst threat for the local resort business is the absence of duly adopted upper-level bureaucratic procedures that regulate the use of all such resort facilities. As it is, most of the Crimean beaches are fenced off by private owners, barring vacationers’ access to the beach. Out of several thousand privately owned resorts, only several hundred are officially registered as such, while the rest are in the shadow. What impedes the development of quality resort facilities is precisely this lack of regulation.

Doubtlessly, the Crimea was grateful to President Yushchenko for upholding its interests on the international arena, but there is also the irksome presidential draft constitution that curbs its powers. Yushchenko refutes this, but in his draft he replaced Chapter X with several articles in the chapter on local self-government. “In my draft I proceeded from the assumption that the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea should at least be fixed in its current status,” said President Yushchenko.

However, the Crimea’s current status is already fixed in the legislation. Second, this status does not satisfy the Russians, Ukrainians, and Crimean Tatars. Needless to say, this isn’t the kind of reform the Crimea needs today, with three ethnic groups demanding that their state powers to be expanded. Moreover, an autonomous republic, if it already exists, is a kind of state rather than self-government entity—this knowledge is one of the basics of state building. The only reason the Crimea remains silent about President Yushchenko’s draft constitution is that no one believes this bill will be passed by parliament. Otherwise, international organizations will be there to defend the Crimean Autonomy—some of them will campaign for its Russian nature, while others will call for its transformation into a Crimean Tatar state.

Crimean political analysts have serious doubts about President Yushchenko’s idea of including Sevastopol within the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea. To begin with, this happened in the early years of the renewed autonomy, and we all remember the Sevastopol members formed a powerful separatist center in the Crimea’s parliament. Second, placing a city whose seaport accommodates a foreign fleet under the Crimean parliament’s jurisdiction means that this parliament must be authorized to make decisions on foreign policy issues, such as the status of the Russian fleet and the terms and conditions of its deployment, but this would run counter to Ukraine’s national sovereignty — the more so that few if any Crimean MPs have the professional and international experience to cope with such matters. Most of them represent agencies where the exclusive language of communication is Russian, so it is easy to guess what kind of resolutions they will pass.

Also, if this kind of City Council existed in Sevastopol and were under the Crimean parliament’s jurisdiction, there would be no public confrontation in Sevastopol, just as there would be no such administration. President Yushchenko, obviously, has never attended a session of the Crimean parliament or that of the Sevastopol City Council. Kravchuk and Kuchma attended some, so they had the opposite ideas and they carried them out differently. Obviously, the Sevastopol clause in Yushchenko’s draft is the stumbling block that will wreck the president’s project.

In the Crimea Yushchenko voiced concern for Ukraine in general and the Crimea in particular. He said countries are perishing these days not because they are occupied by foreign armies (it would be interesting to know if he remembers Georgia’s experience), but because these countries “lose their attributes,” which lie in the foundation of the state. “These attributes are simple: our unity, our territory, its integrity, and the integrity of its borders. Third, this is our language. Fourth, this is our culture. Fifth, this is our history, without which no nation can exist… A state is not a tumbleweed that can live in someone else’s history while forgetting its own history, talk about culture without respect for its own roots, and view its history through its neighbor’s, rather than its own, eyes,” he said.

The Ukrainian president said the right things, something Ukrainians understand and agree with. However, he was speaking before the predominantly Russian-speaking audience in the Crimea and did not explain why all these attributes should be respected by ethnic Russians residing in Ukraine. The problem with the Crimea is that, being aware of their territorial (i.e., essentially Russian) autonomy, most of its ethnic Russian residents refuse to accept precisely these attributes of the Ukrainian state—its language, culture, history, and even the national flag and anthem.


Yushchenko must be aware that in the Crimea he will not enjoy either electoral, ideological, or organizational success. He visited the peninsula in 2005, as a full-fledged head of state, and witnessed rather disillusioning realities, which he did not understand and refused to accept. As a result, the Crimea never saw the reforms it expected from the new head of state.

Although there were no fundamental reforms during Yushchenko’s presidency across entire Ukraine, the Crimea is currently the most unreformed part of Ukraine where people are waiting for any reforms with anxiety and trepidation, simply because all such reforms are unpredictable. After this visit of the president to the Crimea, it became obvious that no reforms will take place before the forthcoming presidential elections, in particular regarding the Crimea’s autonomy and the peninsula as a whole, so the Crimeans could heave a sigh of relief.

The Crimea is basically the Party of Regions’ electoral ground, yet every election campaign is a struggle for 300,000–400,000 Ukrainian and 200,000–230,000 Crimean Tatar votes. Last time they voted for NS-NU on the national level and for the NRU–Crimean Tatar Bloc on the level of the Crimea.

That is why one could sense keen anticipation in the tense atmosphere reigning at Yushchenko’s meeting with the Crimean Majlis leadership. Yushchenko was testing the ground, trying to see whether the Crimean Tatars could once again trust Our Ukraine, considering that this party had done nothing for their good. Mustafa Jemilev was taking stock and considering his options: keeping with Our Ukraine and NRU or changing partners to set up a bloc with another pro-Ukrainian and more effective political force.

Yushchenko and Jemilev are not likely to have broached the subject (there is still time left), but both have doubtlessly studied each other closely. Yushchenko must have regretted more than once that he has paid so little attention to the Crimea and the Crimean Tatars during his presidency. Moreover, at his first meeting with the Crimean Tatar Majlis leadership he suggested that they revoke their declaration on national sovereignty, something the Crimean Tatars couln’t do by definition. This kind of proposal could be made only by a person who was unfamiliar with the Crimea’s realities and history. Although the age-old history of relations between Ukrainians and the Crimean Tatars has seen worse things, it is clear now that 2004–10 will not mark an especially effective period in our relationships since Ukraine regained its independence.

President Kuchma founded the Council of Crimean Tatar Representatives attached to the president as a way to legalize the Crimean Majlis and form the legal framework in order to find ways to solve the problem of Crimean Tatar integration into Ukrainian society. He met with the Crimean Tatar community 13 times, in the presence of local authorities and activists, and issued a total of 110 directives (90 percent of which, however, remained on paper, according to Jemilev).

In contrast to this, Yushchenko met with the Crimean parliament for the second time. The first time was at the Palace of Bakhchisaray, in a semiofficial atmosphere, and the head of state was made welcome in the Divan Room, essentially in keeping with khanate traditions. Most likely, Yushchenko failed to find a common language with the Majlis and did not think it necessary to use Council of Crimean Tatar Representatives as a powerful political lever in the Crimea—or maybe he failed to appreciate its potential.

This time Yushchenko’s meeting with the Crimean Tatars also left much to be desired. Initially, he suggested having a meeting with the Crimean Tatar Council members and “certain other” Crimean Tatar NGO representatives. This could only mean organizations that are in opposition to the Majlis. Jemilev proposed two other formats: a meeting with the Council members (i.e., the Majlis) only or with “all the other” Crimean Tatar organizations.

Yushchenko insisted on his format, so Jemilev declared that “the Majlis would refrain from meeting the president.” After that Yushchenko made a conciliatory move by agreeing to meet with the Council members only and instructing the chief of the SBU to open a criminal case connected with deportation of the Crimean Tatars.

In order to avoid scandals, the meeting with the Majlis took place in small room and involved only the core of the Crimean Tatar Council, several ministers of Ukraine, and the leadership of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea. Yushchenko said he approved of the convention of the World Congress of the Crimean Tatars and its choice of Refat Chubarov as president.

As usual at meetings with presidents, Jemilev raised the pressing integration issues. He thanked President Yushchenko for his order to open a criminal case with regard to the Crimean Tatar deportation and listed the most pressing current issues. These include a law to restore the rights of the deportees, allocation of parcels of land, reviving the system of education, cultural facilities, restoring place names, allocation of land for a major mosque in Simferopol, and granting the national status to the Bakhchisaray National Historical and Cultural Preserve.

Jemilev pointed out that 108 million hryvnias were earmarked in 2009 for the state-run resettlement program of the Crimean Tatars. However, what was actually received was 3.5 million. This amount was increased to 35 million after a meeting with the Ukrainian prime minister. Crimean Speaker Anatolii Hrytsenko offered a brief and precise report on the measures being implemented by the Crimean parliament and government to accommodate Crimean Tatar repatriates, including designating land plots for their settlement, corresponding legal procedures, and filling in the register of the deportees.

For reasons best known to himself, Yushchenko considered himself only an arbiter between the Crimean government and the Crimean Tatars, the two “sides of the conflict,” and tried to talk both into an amicable settlement and the signing of “a harmonized document,” so they could subsequently monitor its implementation. This was hardly an effective solution, considering that most of the legal problems, including the restoration of rights, cannot be solved in the Crimea and require political, administrative, legal, and financial decisions on the state level, analysts say.

Summing up his Crimean visit, Yushchenko said he would issue directives, including the one regarding budget appropriations for the 2010 Crimean Tatar Deportee Accommodation Program. “As President of Ukraine, I am prepared to assume my share of responsibility and will urge the government to push the necessary bills through parliament to solve this problem,” he said.

In conclusion, President Yushchenko said he was sure that the problems relating to the Crimean Tatars could be resolved more effectively if all sides showed a greater degree of coordination: “You have no enemies in coping with these problems; you have a number of partners,” he said with conviction.

By Mykyta KASIANENKO, Simferopol