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Ukraine-Crimea – The Solution Is a Federation with High Autonomy

In this column, Johan Galtung, rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University and author of "50 Years - 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives" (, writes about the situation in Ukraine and Crimea and possible solutions.

ALFAZ, Spain , Apr 1 2014 (IPS) - History, not only law, matters: like how Crimea and Abkhazia-South Ossetia – basically Russian-Orthodox – became Ukrainian and Georgian, respectively.

Two Soviet dictators, Nikita Khrushchev and Joseph Stalin, transferred Crimea to Ukraine and Abkhazia-South Ossetia to Georgia by dictate. The local people were not asked – just as Hawaiians were not consulted when the U.S. annexed their kingdom in 1898.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

The first referendum in Crimea, held Mar. 16, resulted in an overwhelming No to Ukraine and Yes to the Russian Federation.

Khrushchev’s 1954 transfer of Crimea was within the Soviet Union, and under Red Army control. But when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Red Army became the Russian army, the conditions changed.

Former U.S. president George W. Bush wanted Ukraine and Georgia to become NATO members, moving the Russian minorities two steps away from Russia. Nothing similar applies to the other Russian minorities in the former Soviet republics. They are people living on somebody else’s land, not people living on their own land.

What happened to Crimea was a correction of what had become a basic mistake. However, Russia moving into eastern Ukraine could be – as the West says – invasion-occupation-annexation.

But that would be highly unlikely, unless civil war broke out between Ukraine West and East, and the Russian minority in the East – Donetsk – was in danger. Russia would not stand by, just as NATO would not if something similar happened close to the Polish border in Lvov.

This simply must not happen, but the possibility is growing.

President Vladimir Putin has the formula: a Ukrainian federation. Look at the maps, for instance the votes for Yulia Tymoshenko in the West and North and for Viktor Yanukovych in East and South Ukraine in the 2010 elections.

Elections decided by longitude-latitude mean two countries, and yet there is also just one.

The solution: a federation with high levels of autonomy for both parts. Educated guess: it will happen.

This is where Putin made his basic mistake: he moved too fast. He is more intelligent -better informed, more able to manage many factors mentally at the same time – than Western leaders. Others are slower; they need more time.

A referendum is the right of any people regardless of what the law says, a serious act under freedom of expression – whether in Crimea (illegal), Scotland (legal), Catalonia in Spain (illegal). What then happens is a very different matter. If people vote for a divorce, then so be it. But make it clean. Putin has made it dirty so far – but the situation can be

Putin should have called a conference right after the referendum, before any annexation, making it clear that he would respect the call for Crimea’s entry into the Russian Federation, but would take the concerns of everyone touched directly by the outcome seriously.

The Tatars are Muslims, not Orthodox. Not unlike the Serbs in Kosovo, who are Orthodox, not Muslim like the Albanian majority. Respect them, offer them the dignity of autonomy within Crimea, try to amend the horrors perpetrated against them in the past, be open to reconciliation.

The Ukrainians in Crimea, soldiers or civilians: If firmly rooted, invite them to stay; if garrisoned soldiers, invite them to leave peacefully before any annexation makes it look like surrender.

The Russian-speaking in Ukraine (16 percent): Leave the door open for a Crimean-style process with referendum and annexation if they so wish – but make it clear that the West of Ukraine would have the same right.

Providing a neutral buffer might be better for all. How could the European Union-Russia-NATO-Shanghai Cooperation Organisation cooperate to make that a reality?

Let them benefit jointly from the offers to make them lean one way or the other, towards the EU or towards Russia. Could the West do one, and the East the other?

The how, when, where and by whom to be discussed at the conference.

Kievan-Rus: Yes, there are Russian origins in the Ukrainian capital. This does not give Russia a legitimate claim to Kiev, just as origin does not give Israel legitimate claim to Palestinian land even if the West accepts it, origin does not give Serbia legitimate claim to all of Kosovo, and origin does not give Damascus-Baghdad legitimate claims in Southern Spain.

European borders have shifted a great deal; there are many origins to claim.

Sanctions against selected individuals: Make it clear that Russia has not and will not kill anybody if not attacked, and that sanctions may also one day be applied to individuals who launch aggressive, not defensive wars, such as the one in Afghanistan; admit that the Russian invasion there was also a mistake.

Kosova/o. The Albanians based on an overwhelming majority took Kosovo out of Serbia, but they did not have the right to take the Serbian minority with them – a good reason for not recognising Kosova. The solution is a federation with high autonomy for Serbs.

Now Putin has to show his willingness to do that for the Tatars and then recognise Kosovo – asking them to use Yugo-space as he will use the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

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