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Ukraine — mysteries and myths

Apr 01,2014 - Last updated at Apr 01,2014

Winston Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.

That quip probably reflected his frustration from dealing with Stalin 70 years ago. 

There are no mysteries about Russia’s bullying behaviour of Ukraine in recent weeks. But there are plenty of myths.

For example, the Russians claim that their annexation of Crimea is in line with international law. Yet their action is directly contrary to Russia’s own international guiding principles, which their ministers trot out at every opportunity, notably their commitment to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of other countries.

By acting in this way Russia has thrown away the international rulebook, including the UN Charter.

Moscow also claims that it is acting in defence of Russian nationals. But experts from internationally respected bodies have stated that they have found no evidence of any violence or threats to the rights of Russian speakers in Crimea.

A further claim is that the Crimean referendum was legitimate.

Leave aside the fact that Russia was completely isolated when it vetoed the draft UN Security Council resolution on March 15, which declared the vote illegal.

Leave aside the fact that the 96.7 per cent result of the referendum was wildly out of kilter with a representative opinion poll in February, which showed that only 41 per cent of Crimean voters favoured joining Russia.

The essential fact is that it was held under conditions of direct military interference with less than 10 days preparation. It was unrepresentative and a mockery of justice.

The result cannot be presented as the statement of the free will of the people of Crimea.

Another red herring is any comparison between Crimea and Kosovo. Independence for Kosovo was a response to a humanitarian crisis and indisputable evidence of ethnic cleansing. In Crimea there wasn’t even any serious unrest.

Moreover, Kosovo’s independence followed long years of diplomatic effort; in Crimea, Russia went for a military option first. 

Finally, the crisis in Ukraine is seen as a classic cold war-style tussle between East and West, a choice between Moscow and Brussels.

It is true that the protests in Kiev were driven by the desire of Ukrainians to share the prosperity that their neighbours, like Poland and Hungary, have enjoyed in the EU. But opening the door to the West does not close the door to the East.

Closer alignment to Europe would make Ukraine a more stable and prosperous partner for Russia and the region.

The result of this illegal land grab has been to isolate Russia, undermine the internationally accepted rules-based system and make Russia look like a bully to the rest of the world.

Russia’s isolation was illustrated last week when 100 countries voted at the UN General Assembly to dismiss Russia’s annexation of Crimea as illegal.

Only 10 countries voted against the resolution with Russia.

We should not give up on diplomacy in the face of a bully.

The risks of escalation — not only for Europe but also for other vital issues — are clear.

We need to continue to work with Russia to find solutions to the crisis in Syria, the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme and the Middle East peace process.

There are no riddles or enigmas behind Russia’s precipitate action in Crimea. The mystery is how the Russians failed to realise that a short-term populist move against Crimea would lead to the inevitable international reaction against them.

The writer is British ambassador to Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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