Crimea voted ‘Out’. Yatsenyuk should offer East Ukraine the same choice

I wrote for Civitas:

Both Ukraine’s territorial integrity and Russia’s respect for the 1994 Budapest memorandum are dead in the water. The EU and Obama are powerless to stop further land grabs. Avoiding bloodshed and establishing stability is imperative.

While Kiev still controls the mainland territory, it should itself announce referenda in the eastern provinces, and invite a large international observer force (OSCE, UN) to keep the peace, regulate these referenda and ensure Russia does not import protesters/voters or agitate the regions.

These referenda should not be ‘snap’, but leave a few months for campaigning, debate and civil conversation to take place. The question could ask: ‘Should x region remain in Ukraine or become independent?’, with the independent states able to negotiate entry into Russia. Unlike in Crimea, there must be a ‘remain Ukrainian’ option.

At the same time, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and his government should strive, with the international community, to show that Ukraine (‘Rump Ukraine’) does not and will notpersecute Russian speakers, ethnic Russians or others. This is one justification for the international observers – averting the fear of nationalist-fascism.

While Moscow is not currently communicating with Yatsenyuk’s interim government,informal channels should be used to impress on Russia the importance of respecting the rights and freedoms of the Crimean Tartars, many of whom boycotted Sunday’s referendum. Not doing so could ferment a Chechen situation.

If a dialogue between with Moscow can be established, Kiev should aim for the peaceful and unimpeded removal of its armed forces from the numerous mini sieges across the Crimean peninsula, into mainland Ukraine.

Russian troops are massed on the eastern border, performing huge ‘exercises’. Their justification for occupying Crimea (protecting Russian speakers from Kiev’s fascists) applies equally to Donetsk.  Call my proposal defeatist by all means – it’s very easy for me to suggest breaking up a country I know little about from an office in London – but from all I can see following the conflict, Western pressure isn’t having even miniscule effect on Putin. Eastern Ukrainian cities like DonetskDnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv are in chaos.

My colleague said I’m advocating appeasement: I don’t think so. Appeasement is already happening. It’s clear that there’s severe dislocation in the East, and simply hoping the Putin’s ambitions go no further than Crimea is hardly constructive. Yatsenyuk’s government should get on the front foot, act in a stable and statesmanlike manner, and avert war. This way it will retain control of all parts of the country that genuinely want to be Ukrainian anyway.

A split could be best for both ‘halves’. As we’ve seen since 2004, Ukrainian presidential politics is largely a pendulum between east-facing and west-facing leaders. This reduces the importance of constructive policy differentiation (e.g. a socialist – capitalist split). Whoever is in, nearly half the country is unsettled, and not to mention the steady stench of corruption. Separated, Western Ukraine could embrace Europe and the East could join Russia. It’s a messy compromise, but might well be the safest.

For Civitas I’m limited by time and word count, and obviously there were other thoughts I had when discussing breaking up a country. Here are some

– It’s obviously very difficult for Yatsenyuk’s coalition government to enact this or any social policies without a mandate and with so much going on, plus Ukraine’s economic troubles. Nevertheless, they should seek to normalise diplomatic relations with Crimea as soon as possible – will Crimeans keep Ukrainian citizenship? Will they be allowed to relocate into rUkraine? Will some Ukranians wish to be Russian move into Crimea?

– Promising to hold observed referenda might bring calm back to the country and ensure serious interaction with the upcoming Presidential elections.

– A condition of Eastern oblasts’ secession (if they so vote) must include agreements on gas and oil supplies, border cooperation, mutual respect of passports and future sovereignty.

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