Crimea, sanctions against Russia and Pope: a year later
BEYOND THE HEADLINES
Crimea: sail away from Kiev
Russia and Crimea have signed treaty of accession of the Republic of Crimea and city of Sevastopol in the Russian Federation following the results of a landmark referendum, held in the Black Sea region last Sunday. Nearly 98 percent of the Crimean population voted for the secession from Ukraine and integration into Russia. In his address to Federal Assembly President Putin congratulated Crimea with the reunification with Russia, seen as a return to native harbor.
1. Alexander Domrin, visiting professor of law at the University of Virginia, and editor-in-chief, “Constitutional Law review”, based in Moscow, Russia:
What is happening in Ukraine right now? What is legal and not legal – self-determination or territorial integrity?
Indeed there are several legal topics here. Number one of course is the fact itself that it was a referendum and of course referendum is the ultimate form of democracy. We mentioned Kosovo, they didn’t even have a referendum there. They just proclaimed independence and many countries in the world recognized that independence right away. What we have here besides the question about legality of referendum, is also the question regarding inviolability of a post-World War II borders. But didn’t we forget that Europe is so different now that principle of inviolability of border doesn’t work anymore. Take a look at disintegration of the Soviet Union, disintegration of Yugoslavia, even disintegration of Czechoslovakia. So, this principle which was proclaimed after World War II doesn’t work, and the principle about territorial integrity is actually the same principle. And then of course the right of people of self-determination is a very tricky principle because the right of nation’s self-determination does not necessarily mean that the self-determination is supposed to be in a different state, in a separate state, but that is exactly what we have with the referendum in Crimea when they didn’t proclaim independence unlike it happened with Kosovo. They just decided, and they voted, believing that their right of self-determination can be better exercised not within territorial borders of Ukraine but rather within the territorial borders of Russia which was also absolutely legal and absolutely legitimate. So, I was in the US just last month and we spoke about the possibility of this kind of referendum with my American partners and my American friends in one of the best American universities, the University of Iowa College of Law who were so happy about independence of Kosovo, I just repeated the arguments that say given the 15 years ago, and they just killed them with their own arguments.
Boris Korkodelovich, editor and political analyst in Belgrade, Serbia:
In view of what is happening in Crimea right now, talking about Kosovo, what does it make the political establishment feel like in Serbia right now?
You see, there is a lot of silence I would say because we are in a delicate situation as a very small country. It is a small population, a country which has passed through 4 wars. We are very vulnerable at present. So, we are trying not to side with anybody at the moment. We are looking for those days when we have been nonaligned and when we could manage things dealing with both East and West. So, yesterday Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that government is in technical capacity after the elections, we still don’t have a new government, temporary government can’t go out with its own stand regarding the Crimea and parallels which have been drawn between Crimea referendum and reunification with Russia, and Kosovo which as you have said legally seceded from Serbia. The only, I would say, clear stand was expressed by president Tomislav Nikolic few days ago, when he said that in Ukraine the changes in the government have been exercised in non-acceptable way, he said that one group of people in Ukraine have been moved by their own ideas or ideas from far and they have changed the course of events. That is not the full quotation, it is just what I remember. So, that is the only clear expression of our stand. We are in a quite confusing situation because it is a matter of the territorial integrity and sovereignty and if we would say that things are otherwise completely on the side of self-determination of the people, it would be a huge step towards eventual recognition of the UDI of Kosovo. On the other side we are looking towards the right of self-determination because in Northern Kosovo majority of population are Serbs and they would like, they are desperately trying to reunite with Serbia. Also in Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina the majority of population are Serbs and they would like to reunite with Serbia. So, this is as I have said on few occasions confusing situation, that fight between the rights of the self-determination of the people and protecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty. And the main problem is that there is no international law at the moment as somebody before has said, from the end of the cold war that principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty is in tatters. And on the other side, we now hear from the same people or the same states who have been working very hard to undermine the international law and principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty that they are now going 20 years back and they are promoting that principle at the moment.
Western world applauded Kosovo’s independence. Why are they denouncing now the choice which was made by the people of Crimea?
I have no idea, it is a question for them. That is a real politics I would say – those double standards. They have been applied by many people in the world politics. So, what I am trying to say is that we have a feeling of sort of a satisfaction if I can put it in that way, because we have been predicting it. We here in Belgrade and in Serbia, our part of our political elite was predicting this course of events. If you make a precedent with Kosovo, you can’t say it is unique case. Every case is unique, every state in unique. So, you can always manage to have unique proposition or unique picture for any state in the world or any group of people which want to secede. So, it can be horrible situation in the international community if something is not drawn as a lesson out of this very difficult crisis in Crimea, of course, with the events in Ukraine and now with the unification of Crimea to Russia federation.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Sanctions against Russia: a double-edge sward
President Obama imposed sanctions against a handful of high-rankling Russian officials for what is described by the White House as “undermining democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine”. In a separate move European Union approved its own black list of prominent Russians to face travel bans and asset freeze. Meantime, independent experts warn Western pressure can backfire as Russia would never tolerate the language of sanctions.
Arkady Moshes, Director, EU Eastern neighborhood and Russia Program, Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
Is there a change of tone right now that we’ve seen that these sanctions are imposed? Could you explain to us what is happening?
What is happening is that from my point of view the European Union is trying to react in a certain way. I mean it certainly sees the US reaction, it is trying to emulate it to a certain extent. However, there are no economic sanctions in fact imposed on Russia. There are sanctions imposed on some individuals. But these are still very symbolic sanctions. I don’t think the EU in the next days or so, depending on circumstances on the ground in Ukraine of course, but if the crisis doesn’t escalate, and the Eastern Ukraine does not follow the rest of Eastern Ukraine and Russian behavior in the Eastern Ukraine does not follow the suit of Crimea, I don’t think sanctions would be extended because the EU has enormous difficulty with finding a common position on Russia. Although it is quite clear that these sanctions are based on the lowest common denominator approach, we know that the southern members of the EU are not really in favor of any sanctions. We know that Germany is deeply split inside. We have statements of Americans but we also know that the position of the businesses is absolutely, predominantly against the sanctions, and therefore I think the EU is really trying to walk between the raindrops. They want to show certain kind of results, which they in reality do not have.
To what extent both sides can afford themselves?
It is true that what we have is called Russia-EU economic interdependence. I mean the gas and the energy supply is one part of the story but I think what is no less important is that the EU countries need access to Russian markets. I mean Russia-EU trade is more than a billion dollars a day. I mean this is quite a significant trade and definitely if the sanctions are imposed, if Russian exports are limited, then of course the EU exports to Russia will be limited as well. We’ve seen this discourse during the 2008 economic crisis. Of course, there were no sanctions, objective economic development very quickly demonstrated the less Russia was able to export to Europe, the less is was buying. But still this interdependence is not an absolute thing of course because the devil is in the details. Certain companies will suffer more than the others. In principle, in theory, the EU is able to diminish somewhat over the years, not over night of course, its dependence on the Russian energy but it is not willing to do so. I mean I can give you an example of Germany: 6000 German companies are operating in Russia and they are not interested to lose this market.
MAN IN THE NEWS
“The people’s Pope”: an year after
Catholic world marks an anniversary of Pope Francis who was enthroned last March to become the first Pope from Latin America in the history of the Catholic Church. A year after he was elected as a new Pope the 77-year-old Jesuit is leading "a revitalization of the church", trying to make it more tolerant and close to people.
Riccardo Cascioli, editor-in-chief of La nuova Bussola in Italy
In Italy, how are people looking at his one year legacy of being at the top in the Vatican?
Pope Francis is clearly very popular. He has a way to talk and to behave that goes straight to the hearts of the people. And you can see it by the number of people attending the every meeting with him.
But, at the same time, we should also say that this way of popularity is strongly supported through the media by some powers that want a radical change in the Catholic teaching and it is very evident in this period.
They are building hope that their desire for a revolution based on changes of fundamental values and even doctrine will finally be carried through, starting for example from marriage and family.
As you know, next month there will be a big assembly of bishops discussing the challenges regarding the family and marriage. And it is clearly a topic where these powers are acting to change the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Reverend Michael Ryan, Parish Priest of the Parish of our Lady of hope in Moscow
To what extent all those media reports that are describing the new Pope as revolutionary are credible?
I would say that any reform takes a long time, any reform takes the good will of the people that are involved in the process. That good will has to go down to every last young mother looking after children in difficult circumstances in Moscow, in London, in New York or whatever. It is not just the Pope who is meant to be imagined to be sitting on top of the pile.
During an impromptu press conference on the plane from Brazil to Rome Pope Francis said the now five famous words about gay priests “who am I to judge”. Do you think we have a more tolerant era ahead of us?
There is an element of sin in the world which sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge. We have to acknowledge that we are all sinners, well need help and that the Son of God doesn’t come to come to judge us.
Father Yanes Sever, Priest, Society of Jesus
What are your thoughts and emotions on what’s been happening in the last year in regards to Pope Francis?
Last year, and even a little bit before, when Pope Benedict decided to resign and step down from the papacy has really been an extraordinary year. It’s been a time of so many new things and a lot of surprises because these are things that we haven’t seen for hundreds of years. So, I think the new Pope, whoever it would have been, was someone who was eagerly expected. And then, with Pope Francis, what we have is someone with the very outgoing personality. And so, I think he’s become very popular because of that.
The Fortune magazine named him the world’s greatest leader. What has brought him closer to people?
Pope Francis has received so much positive publicity from the very beginning. His newness and the circumstances into which he was elected has created this great interest. And then, I think the world’s attention has been there because the media has really decided to follow him and has been enamoured with him. Every action has been really looked at and publicized. But they are the actions that I think other Holy Fathers have done too, expect that they were not really publicized as much.
I don’t think that Pope Francis would really want to be called a revolutionary. He also doesn’t like the idea that is some sort of superhero. He’s been portrayed as that, but he is really in line with what’s been happening all along.