How to bring Crimea back: a power-sharing recipe

Author : Maksym Kolos

Source : 112 International

At the beginning of this year, after a long silence, European and Ukrainian officials with one accord recalled the reoccupation of Crimea. According to the President, Petro Poroshenko, the year 2016 will be marked by the return of the peninsula. These terms, to put it mildly, are quite optimistic. At the moment, Mr. Putin is denying even the possibility of discussing the status of the region. However, in the mid-term, economic pressure will inevitably force the Kremlin to loosen its tenacious grip on Crimea and enter into negotiations.
14:15, 15 February 2016

By that time, Ukraine should have formulated a clear reintegration strategy, realising that a peaceful Crimea could be entirely dominated neither by the Russians, nor by the Ukrainians or Crimean Tatars. On the contrary, it should become the centre of a multilateral system of checks and balances, insofar as the Crimean crisis is not only about the territorial dispute. It is also about the silent internal conflict between pro-Russian supporters and Crimean Tatars, who have been strongly opposed to the annexation.

The interstate dimension of the Crimean crisis is even more complicated. On one hand, the peninsula is economically dependent on mainland Ukraine and is unlikely ever to be officially recognised as Russian. On the other hand, it would be foolish to deny that the region could not be returned without Kremlin’s goodwill. Even so, it would be far from having its “Ukrainian spirit” in the near future. Finally, being an indigenous people of the peninsula, the Crimean Tatars have a right to self-determination and will undoubtedly require more political influence, backed by Turkey and its Western allies. In this triangle there could be created a stable system of political balance, which would determine the future of the disputed territory.

Key prescriptions for Crimea are not unique. They have been time-tested across the Europe, from the South Tyrol, which had suffered from the tensions between the German-speaking Tyrolese and the Italian population, to Northern Ireland, which had turned into a battlefield between Catholics and Protestants. They include power-sharing among the opposing camps, a broad autonomy from the centre and a parallel recognition its sovereignty over the region. 

The status of Crimea should be defined through international negotiations between Ukraine as a victim, Russia as an aggressor, Turkey as a key ally of Crimean Tatars, the USA and Great Britain as signatories of the Budapest memorandum, as well as an EU representative. The negotiations should result in a broad autonomy for the peninsula on condition of recognition of Ukrainian sovereignty over the territory. These steps are impossible without a mutual demilitarization of the peninsula, together with maintenance of tight economic links with Russia and strengthening of cross-border cooperation with Turkey.

On the regional level, the Crimean Tatars’ influence on the decision-making process should be increased. It would mean the legalisation of Mejlis - their representative body - and the ensuring of quotas for its delegates in the local executive and legislative bodies. Crimean Tatar officials should also get positions of vice-prime-minister and deputy ministers in the local government. Taking into account that the proportion of Crimean Tatars in the population had been strongly diminished because of Stalin’s expulsion, it seems to be the only way of restoring inter-ethnic justice.

The Crimean Tatar community should also to get the right to impose a veto on crucial decisions, made in the region. Moreover, their mother tongue, as well as Ukrainian and Russian, should be really implemented as official in the judicial system, local authorities and education. As a result, Crimean Tatars will obtain real political influence and cultural autonomy in their Motherland. From the point of Ukrainian interests, it means they could become a counterweight to Russian influence on the peninsula. The role of arbitrator should be delegated to a prefect, adopted by the central government in Kyiv. He could apply to the Constitutional court if the local authority kept within the terms of reference.

Of course, the peaceful implementation of the power-sharing model seems to be under threat at the moment. On the other hand, it is not impossible, because the history of the peninsula has been a long tale of mutual tolerance and inter-ethnic cooperation. The prolonged sense of diversity has often served as a basis for dialogue, where the cultural space of different ethnic groups was very closely intertwined, resulting in a sense of unity. Moreover, Crimea is not divided by the silent borderline of war and deaths like the neighbouring Donbass. Besides the local dialogue between citizens, the political leaders of both camps have also been highly cooperative. In the 2000s, the Mejlis delegates obtained ministerial portfolios in a local government, representing the interests of Crimean Tatars.

At the international level, a power-sharing compromise on the status of Crimea would benefit all parties. Ukraine would maintain territorial integrity, obtain effective tools for the peninsula’s soft integration, attract additional investment to the demilitarized Crimea and get rid of the Russian military threat from the south. Russia would finally come out of its international isolation and cut billions of dollars maintaining vital functions of the peninsula. At the same time, it could retain mechanisms of political and economic influence on the territory. Turkey would strengthen its leadership in the Black Sea region and, together with its Western allies, obtain an additional factor to deter the Russian military machine. The last goal completely coincides with the interests of Ukraine. But to realise this scenario, Kyiv should act as an initiator of negotiations, with a clear vision and a cool head. 

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