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Ukraine and the Crimean Problem - Issue #41

Tom Merritt
Tom Merritt
Hey folks,
Thanks for all the great feedback last week! Turns out you like my musing! So we’ll keep the musings coming.
In fact this week it’s classic musing. At Justin Robert Young’s suggestion, I am sharing with you a paper I wrote in 1992 about the Crimean problem. It goes into the negotiations being done at the time over whether Crimea should stay with Ukraine or move back to Russia. It’s written during the break up of the USSR but I think it’s interesting to read in light of the current war in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Hope you enjoy it.
Oh and I got a 92 out of 100 on the paper. My TA wrote “good paper.”
Ukraine and the Crimean Problem by Tom Merritt, 5/6/1992 - PoliSci 280 - Greg Chen
   The independent republics of Ukraine and Russia are in dispute over who controls a peninsula called Crimea, which is headquarters to the soviet Black Sea Fleet. Crimea is now in Ukrainian hands but some in the Russian government claim that Crimea is not a legal part of Ukraine. Ukraine is also claiming that part of the Black Sea Fleet should be theirs. 
   One of the most confusing aspects of the situation is the blurred distinction between Ukraine and Russia. This warrants a look at their histories especially regarding Crimea. The people who became the Ukrainians were originally called “rus’”. The Russians evolved in the 10th and 11th centuries from a combination of migrating Rus’ and indigenous Finns. (Doroshenko, 1984) The two peoples have been united aristocratically, by church and government, through most of history but have developed distinct cultures and senses of nationality. 
   When Tsarist Russia fell in 1917, Ukraine received a grand opportunity for independence. Several groups competed for control of the Ukrainian government. V. I. Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Communists in Russia, manipulated the nationalist feelings in Ukraine to ensure that the fertile Ukrainian fields would remain under the control of Moscow. (Shandruk, 1959) He allowed for “national sovereignty” in Ukraine until the Bolsheviks there began to falter. He then declared a confederation between “Little Russia” (Ukraine) and “Greater” Russia. Eventually with a heavily Russified government, bolstered by Moscow, Ukraine became a permanent part of the Soviet Union. (Vowles, 1939) 
   In 1954, to ease nationalist tension, Soviet Premier Krushchev transferred Crimea from the Russian Federation to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. (Doroshenko, 1984) Much has been made of this transfer recently because the Russians Claim that Crimea has historically been part of Russia. Ukrainians claim that historically, and geographically, since Crimea cannot be reached by road from Russia, Crimea is part of Ukraine. The fact is that definite borders and separations of people into ethnic boundaries only came into practice recently during the height of Tsarist power. Historically, Crimea has been a property of whichever power was dominating central Eurasia at the time. It was Tsarist Russian in the 19th century (As was Ukraine), Soviet Russian from 1920-1954, and Soviet Ukrainian until today. (Sysyn, 1991)   
   In July 1990 under Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine voted in a referendum to be sovereign over its own land, leaving only central matters to the USSR. (Korotich, 1991) In August of 1991, hard-line communists attempted to oust Soviet Premier Gorbachev from power and reassert the power of the central government. In three days the coup failed and the disintegration of the Soviet Union began. 
   After the coup, Ukraine proclaimed independence from the Soviet Union, which was affirmed in a referendum on December 1 1991. (Tsikora, Dec. 2, 1991) President Leonid 
Kravchuk was also re-elected at that time. On December 10, 1991, Ukraine, Russia, and Belorus initiated the forming of the Commonwealth of Independent States which would eventually include all former Soviet Republics, except Georgia. (United states, Dec. 11, 1991) 
   When Ukraine became independent it also put the army under its command. (Tsikora, Aug. 28, 1991) The Ukrainian government has encouraged all Red Army troops serving on Ukrainian soil to take an oath of loyalty to Ukraine. So far, approximately half of the one million troops stationed in Ukraine have switched allegiances from the USSR to Ukraine. (Economist, March 21, 1992) 
   In signing the agreement for the Commonwealth, Ukraine pledged to send all its tactical nuclear weapons to Russia for destruction by July of 1992 and all strategic weapons by 1994. However, progress was delayed by President Kravchuk during March of 1992 and the July deadline will most likely not be met. (Economist, Mar. 21, 1992) 
   In the commonwealth agreement, all countries agreed to recognize the inviolability of borders. Also in the agreement, “strategic” forces were to remain part of the Commonwealth while “non-strategic” forces would belong to the individual republics. (USSR Monitor, Feb, 1992) Russia agreed in January that Ukraine had rights to the “nonstrategic” parts of the Black Sea Fleet but the two sides cannot agree on a definition of strategic. (Monitor) 
   There are several approaches that Ukraine might take in dealing with this problem. The alternatives that Ukraine can consider range from an appeasing approach to a hard-line approach. Since risking a conflict with Russia would be ridiculous both politically and practically, the hard line approach is not truly worth considering. A somewhat less adamant approach could be termed realistic. 
   A moderate approach best represents what most of the West would like Ukraine to do. It would involve much dealing with the United Nations and to a lesser extent the United States and Europe (especially Germany). Daniel Franklin of The World Today takes this kind of stance. 
   In Daniel’s opinion Ukraine should promote economic integration. The argument is based on the fact that the republics of the former Soviet Union need economic unity akin to Europe’s if they are to survive. In this case promoting economic unity takes the emphasis off borders, eases the separatist tendencies of Crimea and allows more room for negotiation the Black Sea Fleet issue. 
   While Kravchuk feels a commonwealth economic agreement is important he is not as committed to it as other states of the commonwealth. (Tsikora, Feb. 7, 1992) Ukraine even tried to change the economic agreement to include border fees for shipments into its territory. (Rosiiskaya Gazeta, Feb. 10, 1992) Stressing Economic ties ignores the strong nationalist sentiment which is driving the republics apart not together in union. They cannot be changed merely by wishing it. 
   Daniels also stresses that commonwealth states should abide by the Helsinki agreement and allow borders to stand as they are. This is also part of the Commonwealth agreement. To respect borders is an easy solution but should borders never be changed? Daniels suggests an organized transfer of minorities where border disputes become heated. The problem is choosing who goes. The Russians living in Crimea feel the land is theirs and so do the Tatari. 
   Daniels stresses respect for minority rights. So far the Ukrainian nationalist fever has not overtly oppressed minorities. Culture, language and self-government are important in Daniels’ plan for keeping minority populations from causing trouble. He suggests the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe as a standard by which to measure the republics. 
   One of Daniels’ strongest measures is to respect self-determination. In the referendum on Ukrainian independence the Crimean vote was a mere 54 percent with a high abstention rate. (Economist Feb. 1st, 1992) On the other hand a Crimean vote on independence from Ukraine failed. This policy would benefit Ukraine only if Crimea sees it as the lesser of the two evils. Since Crimea couldn’t make it alone and since they don’t seem extremely eager to join the Russian federation, they will most likely stay with Ukraine. A Russian reporter commenting on the Crimean question wrote, “· .. a tranquil life and confidence in the future are far more important today than the color of the flag … ” (Shipitko, Oct. 16, 1991) 
   Finally Daniels calls for insistence on security treaties. If they follow the Helsinki Accord and do not try to increase their border anywhere and if they respect minority rights and self-determination then chances are that they will receive UN support for a breach of any security treaties that Ukraine has with Russia. This of course is assuming that Ukraine does not breech any security treaties. 
   Overall, Daniels’ plan seems sensible but there is no reason to believe that Russia will respect any accords and agreements anymore than the United States does when such agreements run counter to their plans and interests. And Russia is much more powerful than Ukraine, so the use of military force while potentially catastrophic is certainly not impossible when looked at from the zero-sum perspective. Also Daniels doesn’t pay enough attention to nationalism and the deep resentment of Russian chauvinism that resides in the mind of Ukrainian people. 
   While Daniels’ approach may be idealistic it is not passive. An article in New Statesman Society (1992) advocates an even less active strategy on the part of Ukraine. According to this strategy, Ukraine should not risk conflict with Russia by any means. The might of the former Soviet army would most likely be brought to bear on the sizeable but new and inexperienced Ukrainian militia. While this is fairly true, it fails to take into account that there are deterrents to using force on the Russian side as well. 
   New Statesman recommends that minority cultures should not only be cultivated but virtually pandered to. Much is made of the idea that Ukraine be divided up into several ethnically oriented republics; one for Ukrainians, one for Russians, one for Jews etc … This is pure pipe dream. The Ukrainian people would never stand for it. Besides, that doesn’t really solve the Crimean question it just means that two of the three largest ethnic groups would have to leave the peninsula. 
   New Statesman also highly recommends that Kravchuk use his personal influence to make progress with the military. This is a surprisingly realistic element of their approach. Kravchuk is a former communist party boss. The red army has many Ukrainians in it since Slavic people were normally favored in promotions and positions. Kravchuk should pull some strings in favor of Ukraine with any friends he has in the army. This may be a good idea no matter what approach is used, however in this approach it is the main thrust which seems unreliable if the persuasion cannot be made. Influence is important but should not be wholly relied upon. 
   Ukraine is also advised to try to influence the peoples of Crimea to remain a part of Russia because Ukraine has fewer of the economic problems that the other republics have. It is true that Ukraine has incredible agricultural resources but even with its advantages it is going to take a while to restart the economy. In the meantime empty shelves and stomachs mean more than government promises. 
   New Statesman cites the communist government as an advantage in this respect because the president isn’t as impeded by the parliament as in Russia but Kravchuk is also like Gorbachev in that one day he is a wild nationalistic reformer and the next day he takes two steps back. (Economist, Feb. 8 1992) The people may soon lose confidence in his word. 
   Finally we have a realistic approach which seems to guide the thinking of the writers in the Economist. This is the harder of the two moderate approaches. First and foremost Ukraine should keep commitments to Nuclear Disarmament. This will ensure that the west does not withdraw support of Ukraine. Not keeping the commitments will send a very wrong signal to the west that Ukraine might consider using those missiles and that the nation is insincere about its commitments regarding nuclear weapons. 
   As all three views recommend, Ukraine should resist conflict with Ukraine. While the Economist doesn’t rule out military conflict it advises Ukraine that it would be foolish to engage its neighbor because Russia is so heavily armed. In this view, the threat of conflict should most likely not be ruled out because that would give Russia more of an upper hand than it already has. Instead Ukraine and Russia both need to recognize that a war could only serve to harm both countries internally, while virtually assuring that aid from the west would be cut off. 
   In this plan it is important that Ukraine remember that Crimea does not want to be a part of Russia any more than it wants to be a part of Ukraine. (Economist, Feb. 1, 1992) This is the same argument as in the Daniels’ recommendation. However the Economist notes that Crimea is still under tight communist control. Apparently the control must be kept up while this dispute continues. 
   The Economist advises Ukraine to put less faith into nationalist causes. (Economist, Feb. 8, 1992) This does not mean that Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet should just be handed over to Russia but that actions should be guided by advantage not nationalist sentiment. Nationalism only scares the west and can lead to trouble if the government plays the “nationalist card” too many times and then is forced to retreat against the fire of the nationalist feelings it was using to its advantage. Also, The Black Sea Fleet and Crimea are not predominantly composed of ethnic Ukrainians, so taking courses of action that appeal to nationalist sentiment will not win much support there. 
   Finally the Economist says that Ukraine should concentrate on Economic Reform to gain more support from the west. A huge army will do no good if the country is too poor to feed it. Crimea should remain Ukrainian because it is economically beneficent. However, if Ukraine needs to give a little on the Black Sea fleet issue to keep Crimea then it should do so because the military will only drain money from the budget anyway and Ukraine can gain more assurance from the west through economic reform. The Ukraine would need the west in any security matter no matter how big its fleet and army were. 
   If elements from all of these proposals are synthesized, a successful plan of action can be mapped out. Ukraine should resist any conflict with Russia. A clear commitment of minority rights and self-determination should be espoused while stressing that Ukraine is “Ukrainian”. However, the Black Sea Fleet issue should not be ignored. 
   The reason that Ukraine should resist conflict with Russia is not a meek one. First of all foreign condemnation is sure to follow any kind of military action on either of the republic’s part. The flow of western aid from Germany is essential to Ukraine’s survival. Even a winnable war would devastate the Ukrainian economy which is still in transition from the leeching effects of communism. Ukraine needs to proceed prudently, even though it is the strongest of the former Soviet Republics. 
   However, Ukraine should not prostrate itself to Russia. Russia certainly cannot afford a war now either. It is far more dependent on western aid and behind Ukraine in economic development. (New Statesman) Resisting conflict, then, means not fanning the flames too hot while holding a firm line.
   On the domestic front, Ukraine should do everything within its power to keep Crimea content to be Ukrainian. This does not mean extreme measures such as the ethnic regions idea. Crimea voted for Ukrainian independence and has not voted to leave Ukraine. As long as it is not persecuted the threat of secession will remain dormant. Kravchuk should resist any referendum as long as the Black Sea Fleet and Russian Vice President Rutskoi are making campaign speeches in Crimea. (United states, April 7, 1992) 
   This means, however, that Kravchuk should ease the language requirement in Crimea. While Ukrainian must be taught there, Kravchuk should certainly not ban any language from being used or taught in schools. In October there was a backlash against the increase in Ukrainian language classes and the new policy of all government documents being in Ukrainian. (Kondratov and Fillipov, 1991) If local business were allowed in Russian or Tatar depending on the place, tensions might be eased.
   Also, Kravchuk should come out in support of the CSCE and abidesby it in respect to the minorities in Crimea and the Donbass. He is likely to win support from the international community if he does. If the question ever comes before a UN committee Kravchuk will need a good record on his side on human rights, minority rights and a respect for self-determination. 
   Finally, keeping the Black Sea Fleet is also essential to keeping Ukraine. Here I agree with the perspective propounded by the Economist. Do not be quite so adamant about keeping the whole army yet remain strong on keeping what is needed to defend Ukraine. 
   Allowing Russia to gain control of the whole fleet would in effect give them the Crimea because that is its headquarters. Ukraine has a legitimate claim to the fleet and should stick to its bargaining position of requiring all of the fleet except for the strategic part. However, Ukraine should be willing to bargain from this position. 
   Allowing room for movement in respect to the question of what is strategic and what is not will give Ukraine the elbow room it needs to accomplish its goal. Without giving up any of the clearly non-strategic forces Ukraine should eventually allow Russia to take no more than 10 percent of the fleet with the stipulation that it can no longer be based in Sevastopol, Crimea. 
   The possibility of joint cooperation on the defense of the Black Sea, similar to the joint air defense that the Baltic states have worked out, should be left open. But Ukraine should by no means allow the red army to set up camp in its own backyard. There is too much power grabbing and to much envy on the Russian side to make that a safe maneuver. 
   Ukraine should stick to its claims while garnering as much western and UN support as it can as a safeguard, thereby assuring a good stance to bargain from and offsetting the military advantage of Russia. They can achieve their goals of retaining Crimea and a Black Sea Fleet while avoiding a serious crisis. 
Works Cited 
Doroshenko, _Dmyt~o & Gerus, Oleh. (1984). A survey of Ukrainian History. Trident Press: Winnipeg. 
Economist (Feb. 1, 1992). “A New Crimean war?” unauthored. 48-49. 
Economist (Feb. 8, 1992). “Message to Kiev.” unauthored. 15. 
Economist (Mar. 21, 1992). “Up In Arms”. Unauthored. 53-54. 
Franklin, Daniel. (1992). “International Boundaries: exSoviet Union and Eastern Europe”. The World Today. March, 38-40. 
Kondratov, E. & Fillippov, v. (Oct. 16, 1991). “Crimea: Should It Stay in Ukraine.” Izvestia, p. 3. Korotich, Vitaly. (1991). “The Ukraine Rising.” Foreign Policy. 61: 73-82. 
New Statesman Society. (1992). “A Forgotten Lebiathan Surfaces”. Unauthored. 17: 31-32. 
Rosiiskaya Gazeta. (Feb. 10, 1992). “Meeting of the Council of CIS Heads of Government”. Unauthored, p. l+ 3. 
Shandruk, Pavlo. (1959). Arms Of Valor. Robert Speller and Sons Publishers: New York. 
Shipitko, G. (Oct. 16, 1991). “It’s Not Clear What’s Going on with the Union but What Will Happen to Russia?” Izvestia, p. 1. 
Sysyn, Frank. (1991). “The Reemergence of the Ukrainian Nation and Cossack Mythology”. Social Research. 58: 845-864. 
Tsikora, s. (Aug. 28, 1991). “What Path is Ukraine Taking?”. Izvestia, p. l. 
Tsikora, s. (Dec. 2, 1991). “Ukraine Votes For Independence • I Kravchuk”. Izvestia, p. 1. 
Tsikora, S. (Feb. 7, 1992). “Leonid Kravchuk Calls the Crimean Question ‘An Artificial Problem’ "· Izvestia, p. 1-2. 
United States Government. (Dec. 11, 1991). Daily Report on the Soviet Union. 
United States Government. (April 7, 1992). Daily Report On Central Eurasia. USSR Monitor. (Feb. 1992). "Rising Russian-Ukrainian Tensions.” Unauthored. 29: 1. 
Vowles, Hugh P. (1939). Ukraine and Its People. University Press: Edinburgh.

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Tom Merritt
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