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Andrey Yepivantsev: Only time may show if we have opened Pandora's box in the Crimea or not

ArmInfo’s interview with Andrey Yepifantsev, Russian political expert, head of the analytical bureau Alte et Certe

  • by David Stepanyan

  • Tuesday, March 18, 19:37

 The situation in Ukraine has led to a collision between two international principles: peoples’ right to self-determination and territorial integrity. Will the Crimea become another Kosovo and are there any differences between them?    


Many parallels may be drawn between the situations in the Crimea and Kosovo, but there is also a great difference between them: if the West recognized Kosovo but did not attach it to anywhere, it is very much possible that Russia will involve the Crimea within itself. Such a difference will change much if not everything. There was nothing of the kind in post-war Europe. Earlier, the inhibiting factor for some countries was the fact that they will not be able to take the disputed territory within themselves. It means that such a territory is doomed to semi-isolation and vegetation. However, now we have got a precedent for settlement of this issue, and sooner or later it will start playing a core role for somebody. One should not lessen the significance of this precedent. However, at present one must not say for sure if the event is positive or negative. Only time may show if we have opened Pandora's box in the Crimea or not.


Some experts in Armenia have already started speaking of the Crimea’s precedent for Nagorno-Karabakh. In the meantime, Yerevan is mostly convinced that the Crimean scenario is unacceptable for Karabakh. How would you comment on this?     


The solution to the Crimea issue: referendum and joining the Russian Federation, if it happens, will become a very serious precedent for Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. It will be a great opportunity to settle the most complicated problem. At the same time, there are some differences that impede repetition of the Crimean scenario. Here are the main three differences. The first is the factor of refugees. The referendum in Crimea involved all the residents of the peninsula and claims true expression of will. Meanwhile, dozens of thousands of refugee-Azerbaijanis left Karabakh and the refusal to involve them in the referendum will become a very vulnerable point in the issue of Karabakh's self-determination. Secondly, it will be very hard for Armenia to repeat the Crimean scenario due to its complementary policy. Russia does not fully depend on the countries opposing it. They are mutually dependent. Moscow has been independent in its policy for many years. It can afford making challenges to the countries that oppose such a solution to the territorial dispute. As for Armenia, it wants to favor everyone at once, which makes it dependent on many countries. It will hardly manage to combine the challenge to the West with the desire to favor the West and get money from it. So, the price of the policy of complementarism is the unresolved Karabakh conflict. Maybe, Russia and Armenia have different weight categories and Yerevan cannot blindly copy Moscow's decisions. However, Armenia could neutralize part of that through closer cooperation with Russia. Anyway, it does not cancel the abovementioned disadvantages of complementary policy. Thirdly, Ukraine cannot declare war on Russia for a range of reasons, meanwhile in the case of Nagorno Karabakh, Armenia must be sure that Baku will unleash military actions with quite different consequences as soon as it makes sure that Yerevan and Stepanakert have chosen the way "referendum-unification with Armenia".


Won’t the Crimea’s separation from Ukraine on the basis of the principle of people’s self-determination plant a bomb under the Russian Federation given the separatist sentiments in some entities of the Russian Federation?     


I think, it will plant no bomb but it will raise some issues. The national regions decide to separate not because they have such a right or precedents to do that. They do it when they can no longer exist within some state. This has happened to Ukraine. The key reasons of the Crimea's separation were the disputed boundaries after the collapse of the USSR, the lack of an accomplished ethnos, the hard economic situation amid the collapse of the state machine, large-scale corruption, etc. In case of such prerequisites one should expect something very serious. I’d like to stress one again that it is the domestic problems, not the precedents or incitement that matters. I offer those who disagree with me to try to separate the national regions from Switzerland, for instance. I am sure that if the Russian authorities make the situation as desperate as the Ukrainians did, it will be possible to speak of a bomb, but it will hardly be directly related to the Crimea's separation. In the meantime, I think that the social strata and groups inside Russia, which do not fully agree with the Government, will try to hold a referendum and settle their problems in the Crimean way. To justify the legitimacy of the referendum in the Crimea, Moscow pointed at the principle "People must have an opportunity to decide their fate themselves". Now the residents of Stavropol region, for instance, who are eager to withdraw their region from the North-Caucasus Federal District, may demand a similar referendum. So, Stavropol also has many parallels with the situation in the Crimea. It is also necessary to defend the Russians there. The Kremlin did not ask their opinion either when giving their region to another entity of the Russian Federation. They are also eager "to return to Russia”. There are a lot of such examples, and the refusal to hold a referendum will improve neither the attitude towards the Russian authorities nor the interethnic situation.


Ukraine, which assumed CIS chairmanship in Jan 2014, has already announced its withdrawal from the CIS. How will it affect the prospects of the CIS in general?   


Ukraine is likely to leave the CIS just the same way as Georgia in 2009. However, this will not change the general situation at the post-Soviet area just the same way as it did not change when Georgia left. I should confess that at present several CIS countries have several formal reasons, which were used for conditioning of the Russian stance on the Crimea. A part of their present territory was transferred to them during the Soviet time. For instance, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Some of them have a big Russian diaspora that has turned into people of the B class who need protection, for instance, in Turkmenistan, etc. For this reason, elites of these countries will fear in a certain sense. On the other hand, I am confident that any integration processes contain an economic and political interest for these countries, which will not be able to get rid of them or find an alternative to them. So, these processes will go on developing. In this context, I do not put stress directly at the CIS, as this project is more turned to the past. And establishment of the Customs Union and Eurasian Union is on the agenda at present. In this context, Ukraine's leaving the CIS will hardly affect anything.


Since the termination of the Warsaw Pact, the appearance of the dividing lines between the countries that have chosen the European vector of development and the countries considered authoritarian by the West has always been accompanied by NATO’s expansion into the East. Russia has always been concerned with it. Don’t you think that having received the Crimea today, Russia may see NATO’s bases and anti-missile defense systems near its borders tomorrow?       


First of all, one must not watch the situation in Ukraine only like losing of the Crimea. The disintegration processes go on developing and nothing has ended yet. The fact that the authorities of Kyiv do not recognize the referendum and the Crimea's joining Russia in future, is evidence of the fact that Ukraine will not be able to join NATO as this organization does not receive the countries which have territorial claims. But if to imagine that something has changed and NATO has suddenly changed its basic principles, nothing fundamental will change for Russia. Being NATO's neighbor is unpleasant but not catastrophic. It is already for many years that Russia has been NATO's neighbor and they have already learned how to live next to each other. Anyway, for Russia, Ukraine's split and joining some of its part NATO is better than absolute control of the whole territory of Ukraine by the anti-Russian tuned ethnic Western Ukrainians. Sooner or later the whole territory of Ukraine would turn into the anti-Russian foothold if Moscow did not tamper with the situation.

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