Friday, October 17, 2014

Window on Eurasia: No Russian State in Occupation of Crimea Can Be Considered Democratic, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 17 – Now that Aleksey Navalny has said that he won’t return Crimea to Ukraine and Mikhail Khodorkovsky has added that “only a [Russian] dictator” could do so, other “representatives of Russian democratic society have hastened” to assure Russians that they won’t either as they live in “a democracy” in which “all issues are decided by the will of the people.”


            But that begs the question, Vitaly Portnikov points out, as to which “people” one is talking about: “the people of that country, part of which is from a legal point of view an occupied territory or the people of the country which is in occupation.”  Anyone who knows anything about international law knows it is the first not the second that has the right to decide the issue.


            People like Navalny and Khodorkovsky thus need to be told, he argues, that the issue of the occupation of Crimea is “in general not your affair.” That is, “it is yours only while you live in harmony or in disharmony with the authoritarian regime which spits on you and on Ukrainians and on the international community” (


            For the current Russian regime, “Helsinki will be ours and Tallinn too,” if that is what Vladimir Putin wants. “But as far as law, international or domestic, is concerned, such issues do not have any relation at all.” Indeed, “no Russian state will be considered democratic until that moment when a state border will be restored between it and Crimea.”


            Once that occurs, what happens there will be of interest to Russian “democrats” only as “observers,” Portnikov continues. The status of Crimea within Ukraine is “another question, but this too is an issue “the leadership of Ukraine will discuss with the legitimately elected parliament of the autonomy and not with the occupier.”


            Russia will have some responsibility for those to whom Moscow’s agents have handed out Russian passports, but dealing with them is not hard. If the international agreements Russia has assumed are in fact “higher than its domestic laws, then all decisions about the unification of Crimea are legally meaningless and all the consequences of these decisions are annulled.”


            As Postnikov points out, “the recognition of Ukraine as a territorial whole” can be found “in several international agreements signed by the presidents of Russia and ratified by its parliaments. And any Constitutional Court – or at least a professional one of a democratic country and not Zorkin’s simulacrum -- can resolve this problem in one sitting.”


            But the Kyiv commentator says that he would be prepared to be “more humane” than the law requires and be happy to see those who have taken Russian passports be able to move to Russia and even help them to do so. As for those who want to remain in Crimea, their legal status could be like that of “Russians in the Baltic countries or in the countries of Western Europe: they would not vote but they would pay taxes, work and not rush to go home.”


            And as far as out “Crimea is ours’ democrats like Navalny and Khodorkovsky are concerned, Portnikov says, they are welcome to come to Crimea at any time and enjoy its pleasures as long as they “observe its laws and do not interfere in its affairs, for those are the usual rules of politeness” when one visits another country.


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