With no votes against and no sign of dissent, Russia’s Duma yesterday adopted an address to the Ukrainian parliament that made a direct claim to Sevastopol and, obliquely, to Crimea. The document argues that the Russian Federation is legal heir to the Russian Empire’s and the USSR’s sovereign title to Crimea and Sevastopol. It claims that the USSR leadership’s 1954 transfer of Crimea from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR was unlawful and anti-constitutional, and that in any case the transfer did not cover Sevastopol which — the address asserts — remains legally part of Russia. The Duma holds that "all of Ukraine’s unilateral acts asserting its jurisdiction over Sevastopol can not be recognized as legal," and that Russia is the rightful holder of state jurisdiction over Sevastopol. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, October 24)
The Duma’s action attempts to upgrade the territorial claim from the political to the constitutional and state level. The Duma’s key argument is that the 1954 transfer of Crimea to Ukraine did not mention, and consequently left standing, a 1948 decision to place Sevastopol under all-Union jurisdiction. Sevastopol, it alleges, was until the dissolution of the USSR subordinated to and financed by the USSR, not Ukraine. Russia is legal successor is the USSR. However, this argument would seem to refer to Sevastopol’s naval base system, not to the city as a whole. The Ukrainian side correctly points out that after 1954 Sevastopol became one of two Ukrainian cities directly subordinated to republican authorities — the other one being Kiev itself — and that it was the Ukrainian state budget that financed Sevastopol’s expenses.
The Duma chose the day when Kuchma was in Moscow to adopt this document. "Where were the votes against? Where was [the pro-government deputies’ group] "Russia is Our Home"? Where were the democrats?" Kuchma wondered aloud at his news conference. Days earlier, the Duma had almost unanimously adopted a bill on halting the partition of the Black Sea Fleet and claiming exclusive rights in Sevastopol. Indirectly answering Kuchma’s rhetorical question, a statement in the name of the Yabloko faction yesterday disapproved of the two acts. But it did so only after Yabloko had failed to oppose them in the chamber. Yabloko’s own Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the Duma’s foreign affairs commission, justified the Duma’s actions by suggesting that Duma deputies were frustrated with Ukraine for allegedly "torpedoing" agreements on the fleet. (Interfax-Ukraine, Western agencies, October 23 and 24)
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