Far from good enough, Mr. Putin !

By Johan Galtung

History matters, not only law; like how Crimea and Abkhazia-South Ossetia–basically Russian-Orthodox–became Ukrainian-Georgian. Two Soviet dictators, Khrushchev and Stalin, attached to Ukraine and Georgia, so decided, by dictate. The local people were not asked, nor were Hawaiians when the USA annexed their Kingdom in 1898–by dictate.

The first referendum in Crimea was held last Sunday, 16 March 2014: 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 But the Soviet Union collapsed and the Red Army became the Russian army; the conditions were no longer valid. 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. Although Russia moving into eastern Ukraine could be–as the West says–invasion-occupation-annexation. But highly unlikely.

Unless civil war breaks out between Ukraine West and East and the Russian minority in the East–Donetsk–is in danger. Russia will not stand by watching, just as NATO would not if something similar happened close to the Polish border in Lvov.

This simply must not happen; nevertheless it is getting close.

Putin has the formula: a Ukrainian federation. Look at the maps, for instance the votes for Julia Timochenko in West and North and for Viktor Yanukovich in East and South Ukraine in the 2010 elections. Elections decided by longitude-latitude means two countries, and yet there is only one. Solution: a federation with high levels of autonomy for both parts. Educated guess: and so it will be.

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. He knows the West better than they do–compare him talking about the USA with Obama-Cameron talking about Russia. 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), Catalunya (illegal). What then happens is a very different matter. If divorce, so be it. But make it clean. Putin has made it dirty so far–but the situation can be remedied.

Putin should have called a conference right after the referendum, before any annexation, making it clear that he would respect the call for an entry of Crimea in the Russian federation; but would take the concerns of all touched directly by the outcome seriously.

The Tatars, muslim, not orthodox: Not unlike the Serbs in Kosovo, orthodox, not muslim as the Albanian majority. Respect them, offer them the dignity of autonomy within Crimea, try to amend the horrors perpetrated on them in the past, open for 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 how, when, where and by whom to be discussed at the conference.

The Russian-speaking in Ukraine (16%?): Keeping the door open for a Crimean process with referendum and annexation if they so want–but making it clear that the West of Ukraine would have the same right. Providing a neutral buffer might be better for all, and how could the European Union-Russia–NATO-Shanghai Cooperation Organization–cooperate in making that a reality? Let them benefit jointly from the offers to make them lean one way or the other, to the EU or to Russia. Could West do one, and East the other?

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

Kiev-Rus. Yes, there is an origin of Russia in the Ukrainian capital. This does not give Russia legitimate claim on Kiev and beyond; nor does origin give Israel legitimate claim on Palestine land even if the West accepts; nor does origin give Serbia legitimate claim on all of Kosovo; or Damascus-Baghdad legitimate claims in Southern Spain. European borders have moved a lot, there are many origins to claim.

But there is now a Euro-space, EU, with open borders; Europeans move and meet. A Yugo-space with open borders for former Yugoslavs to do the same. This blunts the agonies. There is nothing like that for Al Andaluz–not even in the mezquita, the mosque-cathedral in Cordoba. And no Middle East Community with open borders, bound to help.

The conclusion is a “Soviet-space”, and it exists in embryonic form as the CIS, the Commonwealth of Independent States. The English knew the colonial empire was gone but there is a need to meet and discuss: hence the Commonwealth. Wisely, it was not called English or British; wisely the Russians did the same, just “commonwealth”. Invigorate it, use it as an umbrella to meet and settle conflicts.

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

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 for instance 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 recognizing 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 recognize Kosovo–asking them to use Yugo-space as he will use CIS.

Not realist, the surprise would be lost? But more realistic.

Originally published at Transcend Media Service here.

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