In Response to IEXC on LinkedIn Re Situation in Ukraine and Solutions
by Pierre Coupet
When I was a kid, whenever my dad got into an argument with anyone about a subject that they were both passionate about and could not agree on, he used to end the discussion with the following words: "My friend, there is no need for us to pursue this discussion any further because 'L'idee d'un homme est son Dieu'" - meaning "A man's idea is his God." In other words, if you try to win a discussion about God, you are wasting your time. In a sense, if we try to approach the current situation in Ukraine from an ideological standpoint, then we'll all be wasting our time. The only way to look at it is from an honest standpoint which is what I intend to do.
The way I see it, when Khrushchev "gave away" Crimea to Ukraine, he had absolutely no idea that the Soviet Union would one day be dissolved. That was only intended to be an "administrative matter - a redrawing of borders and districts for administrative purposes" and NOT a "direct giveaway" or "gift" of Russian land to "another country" since no ruler can really "give away" land that isn't theirs to give in the first place.
The land belongs to "a people" and "not" to one man or one political party. There was never any plebiscite or referendum in 1954 by the people of Crimea to join another country at the time that Crimea was supposedly "gifted" to Ukraine. There was never any referendum in Russia proper for the purpose of giving Russian land to another country or territory. There was never any referendum throughout the entire Soviet Union for the purpose of giving away Crimea to Ukraine. There was never any international treaty or UN resolution or other legal basis to effect such transfer of Russian land; the lack of which confirms that this was indeed only a "redrawing of borders and districts for administrative purposes" instead of a legal, internationally-recognized transfer of land from one sovereign country to another; an administrative process that ALL nations on the planet are familiar with and which the West seems to conveniently forget or claim ignorance of.
There was never any "due consideration" for such land giveaway. "Due consideration" means that you are giving away or doing something in return for something of "value." In which case, the question then becomes: Even if Ukraine was a separate and distinct country at the time of this "giveaway of Crimea," which was certainly NOT the case, what did Ukraine provide in return that was of value? The answer, as far as I am aware of, is "Zilch. Absolutely Nothing. Zero. Nada."
Thus, that transaction never involved any "due consideration" and, therefore, even in Ukraine's wildest dreams and most vivid imagination, Crimea never did legally belong to Ukraine and, therefore, could never-and should never-have been transferred to Ukraine when the decision was made by Ukraine to secede from the Soviet Union. Also Russia should have never entered into any "leasing agreement" on its own territory - territory that legally, rightfully and "morally" belongs to Russia. That is what I call "adding insult to injury."
Therefore, all agreements entered into by Russia with Ukraine with respect to Crimea have no legal basis, should have never been made in the first place and are, therefore, null and void; and a strong case can even be made "for the return to Russia of all lease payments made to Ukraine for the naval base in Crimea." Of course, that would be unwise but nonetheless no further lease payments should be made.
It's obvious that these four (4) monumental mistakes and errors in judgment by the Kremlin over the past 60+ years have led us to this critical situation. The first mistake can be attributed to the lack of a crystal ball since no one could have ever imagined the dissolution of the Soviet Union during peace time.
But the second mistake, NOT passing a simple resolution to "ungift" Crimea when Ukraine decided to secede in 1991 is really mind-boggling, to say the least. Did that ever enter into anyone's mind in the Politburo? I am sure it did for some of them but somehow or another it may have been discounted for one or more reasons.
One of these reasons could have been that the Kremlin was simply in denial. They probably assumed that these newly independent countries would: (a) be "independent" in "name only"; (b) would be more like "U.S. or British or French territories" or have a status similar to Scotland, Wales, Ireland, or Australia within the UK; and (c) would remain within their sphere of "economic and military" influence; and that neither NATO nor any other alliance would ever dare encroach on Russia's backyard. Besides, the Kremlin had much more urgent problems on its plate while witnessing the "lightning speed" disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Is it possible that they, at the Kremlin, never imagined that NATO would "slowly and surely and slyly" begin to encircle them and that there was, as the maxim goes, "more than one way to skin a cat" - Russia being the cat. After all, "all is fair in love and war." They may have believed in the fairy tale that "they were no longer adversaries."
The fact that the NATO alliance, a military alliance with only one purpose -- to defeat Russia in whatever name or form it exists (be it the Soviet Union or the Russian Federation or the Commonwealth of Independent States) -- never disbanded "but instead rapidly grew" in size in terms of member countries, personnel, and sophisticated weapons means that the West will never think of Russia as a true partner.
For the West, Russia will always be an "enemy" to always be on the lookout for, regardless of how many smiles, handshakes, summits, friendly gestures, space cooperation, military cooperation, business cooperation, naval port visits, or votes siding with the US on UN resolutions. Whenever Russia disagrees with the US on any substantive matter of importance to both Russia and the US, it can be guaranteed that Russia will have no one on its side within or outside of the UN Security Council. Anyone who believes otherwise must believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. The best Russia can ever hope for is for China to abstain because China only looks after its own interests and will never allow itself to get dragged into a confrontation between Russia and the US. Truthfully, the same goes for Russia when it comes to a direct confrontation between China and the US.
With respect to the third monumental mistake, making lease payments for the Russian naval base, what were they thinking at the Kremlin? Even if they believed that these countries were part of a Russian Commonwealth and didn't care to pursue the Crimea matter at the time of Ukraine's secession, why did they even "contemplate" entering into a "legal" agreement to make lease payments to another country for what they knew to be their territory? Not only Russian territory but such a strategic and vital national security asset. That is insane! At the very least, they could have kept title to the naval base. That's the part that makes absolutely no sense at all. Was everyone under the influence of too much vodka or were they scared of the West? And if so, why, when Russia has all these nuclear weapons?
As for the fourth and final mistake, and the most serious mistake of all, Russia should have long ago taken the legal steps to reclaim Crimea, regardless of the amount of tempest, furor and bad publicity they would have garnered for doing so.
There would have been no need for any UN Security Council resolution or any other country's approval since that is strictly an internal affair to be strictly decided by the people of Crimea and the Kremlin. The Kremlin made a mistake by "improperly and illegally ceding" Russian land (Crimea) to Ukraine when it had "no legal authority and internationally-recognized basis" for doing so when Ukraine became an independent state.
The "improper and illegal ceding" of Russian land did not take place in 1954 when Khrushchev "gifted" Crimea to Ukraine, since that was never a "legal and internationally recognized transfer of land" in the first place and that was merely a "redrawing of borders and districts for administrative purposes" within a sovereign country.
Therefore, all that the Kremlin needed to do was to convene parliament to discuss these matters and vote on a resolution that would effectively "ungift" Crimea, declare it Russian territory, and prepare a referendum that would give Crimeans a choice to either "secede" from "Russia" and become a "legally and internationally-recognized part" of "Ukraine" or to "remain within Russia." As well, the resolution would have annulled all previous agreements made with the country of Ukraine regarding Crimea since these agreements would have had "no legal basis" in fact; authorize Russia to request an immediate refund of all funds paid to Ukraine, "regardless as to whether or not Crimea had decided to become a part of Ukraine"; and regardless of the results of any referendum, maintain the Naval Base in Crimea as sovereign Russian territory. That could have been done as swiftly as the Crimean referendum which just took place. Ukraine and the West would have huffed and puffed and, after a few months or years, everything would go back to normal.
Putin is correct in saying that Crimea had been given away "like a sack of potatoes," however, that being said, it wasn't given away like a sack of potatoes by Ukraine or The West or any other country. It was given away by the Kremlin itself. And only a fool would turn down a "treasure chest full of pearls, gold and diamonds" that he didn't ask for or deserve.
What did you expect Ukraine to say? "Hey, Crimea and the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine don't really belong to me - Are you sure you want me to have them too?" Of course, not! They are not stupid and neither am I. I personally would have never turned down such a treasure chest. And, if after giving such treasure chest to me, you came to me and wanted to buy from me some of the gold that was in the treasure chest, I would have no problem selling you "your own gold."
In essence, that's what Russia had been doing with Ukraine with respect to Crimea. That is why I would have approached it the way that I believe it should have been handled. The referendum should have been about whether to "secede" from "Russia" and, either "become part of Ukraine" since, LEGALLY, Crimea has always been a part of Russia, or become an independent country. That way, instead of the global western media and propaganda machine talking about Russia infringing on the "territorial integrity of Ukraine," the discussion would be about Russia preserving the "territorial integrity of Russia." That is a much better narrative and something that every "sensible and responsible" person can understand. After all, no country's leaders have the right to "give away" land that belongs to the people. Our leaders are only caretakers of the land and don't have any ownership rights to it. Just as President Obama cannot give away California to Canada or Russia, Khrushchev cannot give away Crimea to England or any other country - which he did NOT.
Russia's argument would have been very simple: "Our previous leaders made a mistake and gave away Russian land (not in 1954 but in 1991) that wasn't theirs to give in the first place. Therefore, we are rectifying the mistakes we made by returning the land back to the people and offer our most profound apologies to the Russian people. We ask for the Russian people's forgiveness and guarantee that we will never do that again by putting into law a constitutional amendment that will forever prevent our leaders from ever repeating that same mistake." End of story.
That approach would have put Ukraine and the West in a very tough spot and an extremely difficult position to defend. Why is that? That's because the ball would now be put in Ukraine and the West's court. They would have to show and prove "how and why" Ukraine deserves the "gift" of Crimea, what Ukraine did to deserve such a gift, what treaty it signed, what price it paid for such "prize" and with what - in short, what was the "due consideration." They would have to be the most persuasive humans in the history of all of mankind.
The only answer they could provide is that "you were a fool to give me something that wasn't mine and didn't deserve, and now that it's mine, it's just too bad, you can't take it back - your mistake and your loss."
Now that I have firmly advocated Russia's case, it's time for me to advocate on behalf of Ukraine.
From Ukraine's standpoint, at least its western part, and most importantly from Kiev, they look at the West from a "the grass is always greener on the other side" standpoint and, as a sovereign country, they believe that they have the right to determine their own fate, regardless of what "Big Brother" next door thinks. That is completely understandable. In theory (although in the real world that's a different story), every country should be able to chart its own course without undue interference in its internal affairs from their neighbors.
Russia is powerful enough to destroy, if attacked, not only Ukraine but also any other country in the world, therefore, it should not have anything to worry about with respect to Ukraine. Being a next door neighbor which has a sizable Russian-speaking population within Ukraine, Russia could have sent a "very clear and unmistakable warning" to Kiev that the Kremlin would not tolerate any sort of military alliance with NATO since the whole purpose of NATO is to contain Russia instead of Iran or aliens in outer space.
Economic integration is fine and that is where it ends. And if such economic integration results in a very prosperous Ukraine, then the better it would be for Russia. Why? The answer is simple: new and prosperous customers for Russian goods and services. Let other countries invest as much as they want into Ukraine as long as it is not "military investment."
In fact, Russia should take that same position with every single nation within its sphere of influence. If other countries and businesses want to invest hundreds of billion of dollars into these former Soviet republics, Russia should strongly encourage it while at the same time developing and preparing to offer Russian products and services to these former satellite countries. The world knows that Russia has produced some of the best scientists in the world and that technology is indeed their strongest suit.
As well, Russia could very well send a "clear, unmistakable and unambiguous" message to NATO that Russia will not, under any circumstances, allow any of its next-door neighbor countries to join NATO and that any current or future discussions in that regard will be grounds for Russia to militarily intervene. Russia, in turn, could formally reciprocate with a friendship treaty with each neighbor that guarantees that Russia will never militarily intervene in their country as long as they do not join any military alliance that has its missiles pointed at Russia and refrain from participating in any hostile and harmful acts (such as sanctions) against Russia. That would solve the problem of worrying about NATO sneaking up on and slowly trying to encircle Russia - which can only be for one reason.
With respect to how the restoration of Crimea to Russia, its rightful owner, was handled, it should not have been linked to the "coup d'etat" which occurred in Kiev. By definition, all "coup d'etats" are unconstitutional. But nonetheless, whether or not it was unconstitutional, that is still an internal matter which should be left to Ukrainians.
As to whether Russians living in Ukraine were in mortal danger, that is somewhat debatable and highly suspect, to say the least, although there was a great deal of anti-Russia sentiment and resentment in Kiev.
Was there a possibility that some of the "nut cases" and "extremely dangerous" reactionaries who engineered the murder and mayhem in Kiev and took over the Ukraine government, would next turn their sights on the Russian-speaking population and begin to repress them? Yes. Would these Russians be in mortal danger? It's highly unlikely.
There is absolutely no doubt that these reactionaries were operating in complicity with certain powers-that-be in the West who saw Ukraine as a very tempting "prize" to wrestle away from the Russian Orbit AND that the initial, moderate elements who had legitimate motives for wanting to join the West were more than willing to give a nod of approval to these reactionary forces since these moderate elements stood to benefit from the dirty work that was being done on their behalf.
However, that being said, Russia could have assembled a force on Ukraine's borders and tell them to cool it or else, without linking that move to the coup d'etat, the status of Crimea or blocking Ukrainian bases within Crimea with "self-defense forces." I am sure that Ukraine would have sobered up in a flash second and realized that they had awakened and pissed off an angry bear. Although they did realize that, they were however given the wrong reasons.
Did Russia use the coup d'etat as a perfect excuse to take back Crimea? Yes.
Should Russia have openly admitted that its forces were responsible for blockading and effectively taken over Crimea since that was clearly evident to the whole world?
Yes, although I understand why Russia did not want to openly admit to it. After all, why should Russia be the only one coming out of the shadows to admit what it has done, while everybody else, meaning all the other shadowy and manipulating forces out there, are hiding their roles and true motives behind these well-orchestrated and well-funded protest campaigns that only had one motive in place, which was to bring down the current government and put someone else in place. And they were very successful at accomplishing their mission.
As far as everyone in the West is concerned, based on what they hear from the media, they believe that this was just a group of protesters who were unhappy about the Ukrainian government changing its mind about signing an economic integration agreement with the European Union. That is the simplistic explanation that they're getting and "they could care less one way or another." After all, we have better things to worry about in the West.
I believe that if the Russian people and Ukrainians were presented with the argument I made regarding Crimea on behalf of Russia PRIOR to these protests, or perhaps a week after the coup d'etat, without linking that argument to the Kiev coup d'etat and the safety of Russian-speakers, Ukraine and the world would have had no choice but to accept Russia's decision as a fait accompli - one that was legal, moral and just.
Would the leaders of Ukraine have given up without a fight? Without complaining or trying to bargain or "crying foul"? No, not at all. They would have done the exact thing that they are now doing. However, that being said, they would not have had a chance to cast themselves as "victims" of the "big bully" next door. Russia would have had the chance to cast itself as "the victim" in the case that I've put forward; and Ukraine would have been portrayed as the "greedy" country that just wasn't willing to let go of "ill-gotten gains" received in error from certain "incompetent or ill-advised" leaders in the Kremlin during a turbulent and very confusing time in Russia's history.
As for the West, of course, we in the West would holler, kick and scream about "territorial integrity" and the rule of law, etc. But it would not have the same effect as it now has with the rest of the world since Russia would have first had a chance to shape the discussion going forward.
Well, now that Crimea has been restored to its rightful owner, how does the world proceed?
The West should allow things to cool off and then quietly drop all sanctions and go back to business as usual. Nobody wants a war over Ukraine or Crimea, and the West certainly cannot afford it. We cannot afford another arms race. We need to increase our own standard of living. We have enough weapons to insure our security and safety for a long time to come. In fact, we should establish "more commercial ties" with Russia so that when the "warmongers" in our countries start talking about war, the business establishment who stands a lot to lose from war can step in and tell these idiots in Congress to cool off because it's not good for business.
As for Russia, since you now have Crimea, it's time to move on with taking care of your own people. Leave Ukraine alone and let them chart their own economic future as long as they remain neutral and stay out of NATO. There is no need to encourage "unrest" in the eastern and southeastern parts of Ukraine. If the Russian-speakers in these regions desire more autonomy, you can offer moral support to them. However, that being said, encourage them to do so within the legal and constitutional framework of Ukraine. Do your best to make some friendly gestures toward the entire people of Ukraine. If you can offer some economic aid to them, now would be a good time to do so. No need to cancel the natural gas discount they were getting. As well, do not shut off gas deliveries to them. After all, there are a lot of Russians in Ukraine who would also suffer from that move.
As well, you are in the same situation as the West. Another arms race is useless. You already have enough weapons to guarantee your security for hundreds of years. NATO may be a pest in your backyard, however, they know full well not to piss off an angry bear. You should let them know in "clear and unambiguous" terms what you will not accept in your backyard and demonstrate the resolve to follow through if they want to test you. It's always good to know where you stand with your enemies. Always remember, the West is not your friend, however, that being said, you can co-exist with your enemies. Co-existence should be your mantra.
As for Ukraine, I know how hard it is to give back something that was originally given to you. However, that being said, don't be greedy. It was never yours to begin with in the first place and you know that full well. So stop playing the "victim" and go on with your life. You cannot afford an arms race with Russia nor should you. This is money that can be used to build your economy and increase the standard of living of your people. After all, that was your reason in the first place for wanting to link your economic future with the West. It was never meant to wage war or protect your people against Russia. Your reason was purely economic and it should stay that way. Russians don't want to kill Ukrainians and Ukrainians don't want to kill Russians. In one way or another, you are all members of the same family. Therefore, set aside this little spat, nurse your wounds and go on with your life. Do not allow strangers--the West--to come in between family members and turn brothers and sisters and cousins against each other. It makes no sense whatsoever. A prosperous Ukraine, the largest country in Europe in terms of land size, will be a blessing to Ukraine, Russia, and all of Europe. In due time, Ukraine will become a shining beacon for all of Europe.
I pray that all of you--meaning the West, Russian Federation, and Ukraine--heed this advice. Peace be upon all of you.
on The New Virtual Organization World Consortium