20 Years of Leading Analysis

Welcome to the Twilight Zone, Crimea

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Most Crimeans probably do not realize it yet, but without a shot being fired and in the space of just a few days, Crimea has joined the list of European territories that live in the twilight zone of international sovereignty.

It is not a happy list. It begins with Northern Cyprus and in the former Soviet space extends to Nagorny Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria. In the Balkans, Kosovo has mostly come out of the shadows, being recognized by 107 states, but has still not taken up a seat at the United Nations. Republika Srpska and Chechnya have renounced their shadow status—for the time being at least.

Unlike the others, Crimea is simply being absorbed by another country, Russia. As an Armenian observed, it has gone further in a few days than Nagorny Karabakh has in 26 years.

But that will not make it any easier for the territory to have international legitimacy. Obviously those who want to stay part of Ukraine—Ukrainians, Tatars and European-looking Russians—will suffer the most. But Crimean Russians, who were partying in the streets of Simferopol will also soon discover that life is not so easy for them.

What happens to your bank account and what currency is it held in? Already there are reports of confusion.

Can your airports take international flights? How do you travel abroad and on what passport? These are problems that Abkhaz and Transnistrians know about through bitter experience.

And that is even before you try to deal with the issues of Ukrainian property rights and deliveries of electricity and water from mainland Ukraine.

The strangest aspect of the Crimean case is that this is not a situation born out of conflict. The other territories reached their sad, isolated status in large part because they had no other option in a time of bloodshed. In Crimea, the only fighting has begun after the Russian annexation. Its secession is taking place, as the Russians say, in an empty place, na pustom meste for no other reason than that President Putin has willed it so.

However, ominous precedents for conflict are all around. Natalia Mirimanova fears a repeat of Northern Ireland, in which a large minority felt it had been disenfranchised by an act of partition.

Gerard Toal is worried about the example of Bosnia, with President Vladimir Putin playing Slobodan Milosevic and Prime Minister of Crimea Sergei Aksyonov the role of Radovan Karadzic, deliberating tearing a hole through a multi-ethnic society.

The potential for violence in Crimea is surely less than in Bosnia. The tragedy is that this is a choice no one needed to take. Crimea had plenty of autonomy already and most people did not seek an either-or of Russia or Ukraine. They were quite contentedly living with both, until the Kremlin's Sword of Damocles descended this week.


Comments (13)

  • St. Barnabas
    "Radovan Karadzic, deliberating tearing a hole through a multi-ethnic society." No, Mr. de Waal, you are misinterpreting history again. Bad as he may be, Radovan Karadzic and other Serbs nationalists merely confirmed the aspirations of Bosnian Serbs to be united with Serbia that were known at least since 1908, when Austro-Hungary annexed Bosnia from the Ottoman Empire, and likely much earlier than that. Hence, the trigger that launched WWI - Gavrilo Princip's assassination of the Archduke, and Austro-Hungary's declaration of war on Serbia in 1914.
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  • abigail
    Let's not exaggerate the "terrible" problems of what passport to take when you travel etc.

    Britain has absolutely no right to preach to anyone after, first, opposing the reunification of Germany (Thatcher), and then participating in murderous attack on Serbia (thousands of civilians and military were murdered) to split off Kosovo i 1999.
    I agree with Putin saying 'it's nice that our partners suddenly remember about international law',
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  • Outthere
    Mr. de Waal, visit planet Earth as soon as possible!

    Could you explain, please, the international legitimacy of the Ukraine' current authorities? How is the overthrowing of an unpopular but democratically elected president is legitimate?

    Could you explain, please, your racist "European-looking Russians" term?

    Could you imagine that Crimeans will be using Russian passports for their foreign trips or would you rather deny all "non-European-looking Russians" the right to go anywhere abroad?


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    • Marius replies...
      Out here, you have unnecessarily gotten your knickers in a knot because of your inability to comprehend what is meant by European-looking Russians. It simply means those Russians ( in Crimea, to forestall further confusion) who look towards Europe rather than Russia. I hope that clears things up for you and that you can now search elsewhere for something to be outraged about.
    • Outhere replies...
      "Could you explain, please, the international legitimacy of the Ukraine' current authorities?"

      Authorities come and go. Whatever you think about the current Ukrainian government, it is an interim government. After next elections, you will get 100% legitimate government. Will Russia return Crimea to Ukraine then??

      Even if the current Ukrainian government is (was) unpopular or is (was) illegitimate, this is not a justification for the annexation of part of Ukraine.

      "Could you explain, please, your racist "European-looking Russians" term? "

      Calm down. "European-looking" means "looking towards Europe". There is nothing racist in it.
  • LG
    Crimea will be just fine. The travel issues are non issues, because the vast majority of Crimeans will and have begun to accept Russian citizenship.

    The viability of Ukraine as a nation state is already in doubt, particularly if we consider it is led by un-elected persons.
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  • TruthSoldier
    But another propagandist writer is what we have here!

    Let's see some articles on the United States interference in foreign countries to the tune of five billion dollars, or how America is now backing Nazis in a coup, and Al qaida in Syria. But for some reason when Russia stands up ultranationalist Nazis there that evil empire. You're just another tool!
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  • Outthere
    So, when US/EU/NATO break international law, occupy other countries and murder hundreds of thousands of people that's OK?

    Kosovo can break away, right?

    Yugoslavia can be bombed without any UN approval?

    Also, can you see the difference between Europe-looking and European-looking or is it too complicated?
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    • Outhere replies...
      "Kosovo can break away, right?"

      Who said that? Kosovo break away was not right. Just like Crimea. Moreover, Kosovo is not a precedens for Crimea:
      1) Did those countries who attacked Serbia annex part of Serbia? Did the USA or Germany annex Kosovo? Did Hungary, who was a NATO member at that time, abused Serbia's weakness and annexed parts of Vojvodina with Hungarian majority? No.
      2) Crimean crisi is not about "Crimean independence", but about "Crimean annexation" by Russia.
      3) In fact, Crimeans in their referendum rejected independence! They have rejected the option to return back to the 1992 which gave them independence. Instead, Crimeans woted for dependence (becoming part of Russia). Do you still think Kosovo was a precedens for Crimea??

      "So, when US/EU/NATO break international law, occupy other countries and murder hundreds of thousands of people that's OK?"

      No, I do not think everything the USA does is OK. It has been even criticised by its allies. Everyone knows that France opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion and the Afghanistan invasion. Germany famously opposed Lybia.

      But I do not understand one thing. If Putin is so frustrated with the USA, why did he punish Ukraine, the supposedly "brotherly nation"?? In his speech in he justified the Crimea annexation by referring to all the misdeeds by the West. So Crimea is revenge for Kosovo, Iraq and Lybia? He is frustrated with the USA. OK. But why did he (and all Russians in this forum) vent his anger at Ukrainian state? Did Ukraine attack Serbia? Did Ukraine murdered "hundreds of thousands of people"??

      Putin is just a frustrated little Napoleon. He is not very popular among his classmates. He is frustrated, because his classmates ("the West") act as they please, his classmates "lie" to him and ignore him and his interests. So he goes back home and vents his anger on his younger brother (Ukraine). He kicks him, calls him "Nazi" and steals his toys, arguing "these toys were mine before you were born".

      This is sad.
  • niku
    “Crimea had plenty of autonomy already and most people did not seek an either-or of Russia or Ukraine.”

    You are forgetting that the EU forced an “either-or of Russia or EU” choice, which Russia always warned against. Have you really forgotten the “civilization choice” rhetoric of the Western Maidan instigators?
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  • Freeman
    Kosovo is not over. Once the fascists in Brussels are gone, things will return to normal.
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    • LG replies...
      Yes, once NATO is disbanded Serbs will retake Kosovo. It is a truly artificial rump state that had its independence given to it instead of creating it on its own, like Karabakh for example. Did Russia or the West run a bombing campaign over Baku for several weeks in order for Azerbaijan to sue for a ceasefire? No! The blood of countless Armenians is what brought liberation to the people of Karabakh.
  • Outthere
    Your hypocrisy is only equal in depth to your ignorance.

    "Kosovo break away was not right. Just like Crimea." - Oh yeah, and just like Crimea, US and Co. denounced it and imposed sanctions, right? No, wait, last time I checked it was recognized by 108 countries around the world. So, was it "not right" or was "just like Crimea"?

    "No, I do not think everything the USA does is OK. It has been even criticised by its allies." - Sometimes I think that people like you are simply incapable of recognizing what exactly they are saying. Because of direct military actions of US and Co - allies - hundreds of thousands of civilians were murdered in the past several years, but, hey, we "criticised" ourselves. Russia's actions in Crimea prevented such pogroms and killings - let's condemn it as a barbaric move.

    Remind me, wasn’t it Barak O’Bomber, the Nobel peace prize winner, who just recently was about to pacify Syria with bombs and wasn’t it that “little Napoleon” who saved who knows how many lives?

    You, Mr. de Waal, and the likes would bleed for every single oppressed minority anywhere anytime unless those groups/peoples/regions are sided/protected by Russia.

    You are talking classic "but that's our bastard" rhetoric, but, again, can't even acknowledge this being brainwashed to the point where you believe anything coming out of “journalists” like the one presented here.

    I hate to defend Putin because I completely disagree with his internal policies regarding the Russian people. At the same time his external policy has been nothing but defense. You probably conveniently forgot that Russia (and Putin personally) was the first one to offer and provide unconditional and sincere help and support to US after 9/11 – at the time when US were actually scared to death and were preparing to the worst. As soon as the situation improved and Afghanistan fell everybody forgot about “our friend Vlad”. Furthermore, USA immediately withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and – as a token of appreciation - started planting various anti-Russian “revolutions” on Russia’s borders. And of course you never heard of firmest of the firmest guarantees given to much loved Gorby and much laughed at Yeltsin that NATO would never ever ever expand to the east. Ever.      

    “This is sad.”
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