Given the democratic and civilized way we’ve tackled Quebec separatism, Canada’s counsel should have counted for something regarding Sunday’s referendum in Crimea.
But Stephen Harper has been sabre-rattling too much to be of any mediating benefit to anyone.
In Crimea’s rushed referendum, there’s no clear question and there won’t be a clear majority.
The ballot choice is not between yes and no — it is either yes to joining Russia or yes to autonomy that would pave the way for Russian annexation.
The peninsula’s minority Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, more than a third of the population, are boycotting the vote.
They rightly do not want to lend legitimacy to the ethnic Russian majority’s machinations being carried out at Moscow’s behest.
This is a referendum being held at gunpoint after a Russian military takeover that is a violation of international law as well as bilateral treaties.
Under the 1991 terms of Ukrainian independence from the collapsed Soviet Union, Crimea was incorporated as part of Ukraine.
A 1994 agreement signed by Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and the U.K. obligated Moscow to “refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
The quid pro quo for that Budapest Memorandum was that Ukraine — then the third-largest nuclear power, with 1,900 long-range nuclear warheads and 2,500 shorter-range Soviet nuclear weapons — would give up that arsenal, which it did.
The terms of a lease for the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea require Moscow to seek Ukraine’s permission before moving its troops and equipment beyond its base in Sevastopol.
Vladimir Putin’s line that he acted at the “direct request for military aid from a legitimate president,” the ousted Viktor Yanukovych, echoes the 1979 Soviet propaganda in invading Afghanistan — that it had been “invited” by Kabul.
The thousands of unidentified “pro-Russian forces” operating in Crimea and the hundreds of armed thugs in Kiev and in cities across eastern Ukraine are typical of mafia states.
In Egypt, the army deploys the baltageya, axe wielders, who wade into crowds or take positions on rooftops as snipers.
In Iran, the mysterious Baseejis, a “volunteer” wing of the Revolutionary Guards, crush pro-democracy forces by cracking skulls.
Putin’s propaganda that the popular revolt in Kiev was the work of neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic ultra-nationalists is being too readily repeated by our media.
There are some such elements but the democratic movement is mostly liberal and, encouragingly, includes Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
Putin is lying when he says that he is “only answering the call for fraternal assistance by Russian citizens.”
Ukraine’s eight million ethnic Russians who speak the Russian language are citizens of Ukraine.
In handing out Russian citizenship papers to some of those ethnic Russians, especially in Crimea, Russia is violating Ukrainian law, which does not allow dual citizenship.
Ethnic Russians in Ukraine are far better protected than the five million to seven million Ukrainians living in Russia.
Nearly a third of schools in Ukraine are in Russian language but there are no Ukrainian language schools in Russia.
And the only major Ukrainian library in Moscow was vandalized recently.
Putin invokes the tribalism of helping “our Russian compatriots.”
By that measure, Turkey should be championing its ethnic-religious compatriots, the Tatars.
The Ottoman Empire’s Crimean Khanate (governorate) extended up to Ukraine.
Maidan, the Tahrir Square of Kiev, is a Turkish word (of Arabic origin) for open space.
The main square in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, is also Moedano, the site of the 2003 Rose Revolution.
When Czarist Russia took control of Crimea in 1783, it forced hundreds of thousands of Tatars out to Turkey.
Today, between four million and six million Turks are of Tatar descent.
Nor is Turkey a disinterested party in the geopolitical calculus.
It is the NATO front-line state in the region.
Its fighter jets have already intercepted a Russian spy plane and an American destroyer passed through Turkey’s Bosporus Straits on its way to the Black Sea.
But it would be absurd for Turkey to wage war on Russia.
It is not about to.
Its choices are even more limited than those available to Europe and the United States.
Like Europe, it depends on Russian gas.
It also has Russian troops at its door, in Armenia.
It has been paying the price of Russian support for Bashar Assad’s butchery in Syria that has sent 600,000 Syrian refugees into Turkey.
It has no wish to pick a fight with Moscow, even while speaking up for the Tatars.
The tepid American and European response to the Russian-Syrian axis only emboldened Putin, just as their non-reaction to his 2008 grab of the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia (where also he handed out instant Russian citizenships).
Crimea is the third test case.
If allowed to get away now, Putin would feel freer to not only have Ukraine as a Russian protectorate but also assert Russian hegemony from the Baltic to Central Asia, to resurrect the old Soviet empire.
The West does not want war.
But its moral standing is weak in lecturing Putin — given Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, South Sudan, etc.
The 1994 Budapest memo has no enforcing mechanisms.
The U.S. needs Russian co-operation in Syria and Iran; in the passage of American equipment and troops in and out of Afghanistan; and Moscow’s continued compliance with the mutual nuclear arms reduction treaty.
Still, the West is not helpless.
Tough economic sanctions, of the kind imposed on apartheid-era South Africa, are called for.
Source: Toronto Star